Giving history a human face

I SUPPRESSED a lump in my throat when I read an epitaph published in 1959 in a student publication called the Fort Harian.

I SUPPRESSED a lump in my throat when I read an epitaph published in 1959 in a student publication called the Fort Harian.

An eulogy to the Fort Hare University of old, it lamented the death of "principles, ideals, traditions and injustice" that came with the dying of what the institution used to represent.

The epitaph marked the end of an era for the institution, which came with the passing of the Fort Hare Transfer Act, placing the university in the hands of the apartheid government.

Daniel Massey's book traces the roots of the University of Fort Hare (formerly known as the South African Natives College) to its disintegration as a "bush" college.

The institution was renowned for being a "diversity" rather than a university because it catered for African, coloured and Indian students - which at the time defied the government's agenda of segregation.

As could be expected of something based largely on the memory of the subjects interviewed, the book carries a sense of nostalgia, which should not in any way undermine the relevance of the subject.

It gives a more human, immediate and tangible face to the history of South Africa, which is intrinsically linked to the history of the ground-breaking university. It makes for fascinating reading.

Under Protest is based on interviews with former students, most of whom did not graduate in protest against the oppressive policies of the time.

Some of those interviewed include influential but contentious political leaders such as Mangosuthu Buthelezi, George and Kaizer Matanzima, Thenjiwe Mtintso and Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri.

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