Sharing the Books

Starting in 1856 The Cape Colony made a major shift in its policy towards the indigenous African people. Rather than fighting each other as enemies, Governor Sir George Grey sought to win Africans’ loyalty by incorporating them more fully into the colonial economy and culture. This required providing European-style education and new forms of land ownership, based on individual title deeds. Both approaches had an impact on Grahamstown.

Prior to this time period, education took place on a rather informal basis. Missionaries taught African people the rudiments of reading and writing, primarily so that they could read the Bible. Army chaplains, such as ?? Van der Linde, started preaching and teaching to soldiers from 1814. Around 1816, Makhanda was a regular visitor to Van der Linde, trying to learn all he could about the new Christian religion. The English settlers mostly organised their own schooling for their children, either at home, or by sending them to a private teacher or small school for lessons. Farmers from outlying areas sent their children to Grahamstown for schooling, but they had to find boarding with others.

Gov. Grey’s most ambitious educational innovation was the creation in 1858 of Zonnebloem College in Cape Town for the education of the sons and daughters of chiefs throughout southern Africa. Grahamstown followed in 1860 when St. Andrews College, which started in 1855, received government funds to add a special section for the education of young men of colour. It was originally named the Kaffir Institute, but is now known as the Mullins Institute, after the missionary who built it up. It was the first secondary school for black children in the eastern parts of the colony.

The school averaged about fifteen students at a time. They came from well beyond Grahamstown. In 1869 the student population consisted of 6 Xhosa, 6 Mfengu, 2 Bathlaping and 1 Baralong. At first they stayed in a series of small houses near the classroom, but in 1866 the Anglican Church provide funds for a dormitory to be built on top of the classroom. This allowed for closer control and supervision.

The school curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, dictation and learning how to do translations. In addition to classroom work, the boys learned practical skills, such as carpentry and gardening. A Xhosa graduate of Zonnebloem College doubled as both the carpentry teacher and the choir master.

The typical school day opened and closed with prayers. Church membership was not compulsory, but most of the students did seek baptism. The boys spent their afternoons doing manual labour, mostly in the school gardens, and their evenings in choir practice.The plan was to keep them busy and under supervision at all times, leaving no room for ‘mischief’.

At meals, the boys set the tables and brought the food, but did not do the cooking. They also did their own laundry and mending of clothes. According to Rev. Mullins, “The boys are all taught to make their own clothes, moleskins, or cord suits, and some of them have turned out as very good tailors.”

After leaving the school, most of the young men worked as teachers in other schools and mission stations. Most were considered a success by the church, but a few broke with their church connections by practising the traditional Xhosa circumcision rites. It was very hard for graduates to find other forms of work, as the local settle population felt reluctant to employ educated Africans. They saw them as offering competition to their own jobs.

The value of an advanced formal education was readily understood by the people. “We have no dearth of boys and men desirous of attending the institution.”

• Report of R. J. Mullins, Grahamstown, to USPG, 23 October 1869.

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