The fire next time? Generations, established/outsider groups and South African universities in crisis.

The fire next time? Generations, established/outsider groups and South African universities in crisis.

Part 4, Lovedale riots 1920, 1946 & others

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2017) ‘The fire next time; Part 4, Lovedale riots′ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.


1. The context

1.1 There have been many strikes, riots, marches and other protests by South African school, college and university students over the years, Some are now known world-wide, while the majority are largely forgotten. However, the riots in 1920 and 1946 at the prestigious Lovedale Institution in the Eastern Cape remain a topic of note, in part because Lovedale was seen as a flagship for black education and so events there caught both the public eye and that of officialdom, in part because protests occurred in other institutions too and were a harbinger of later change. It is also in part because various records of these events have survived in the Cory Library’s Lovedale collections, enabling some detailed investigation.

1.2 Missionary-founded Lovedale was not alone in experiencing disturbances on these occasions and the collections contain numerous references to protests occurring elsewhere. However, because the boundaries of Lovedale were both clear and permeated by outside happenings, and there is a considerable amount of documentation about the events that took place, it provides a useful case study. Tracing these events and how the various participants and onlookers responded to them in the Lovedale case also throws interesting light on the crisis in the universities concerning the protests of 2015 and 2016.

1.3 Lovedale of the day was a very large teaching institution with different kinds of schools under an umbrella centre – technical, biblical, teacher training, general education including at a high school level, plus a hospital. At the time of the 1920 riots, its Principal was James Henderson, whose family letters are part of WWW research. At the time of the 1946 events, the Principal was RHW Shepherd, whose family letters will later become part of WWW research. For many years, Lovedale was seen as the outstanding establishment for black education in South Africa, drawing its students from many parts of Southern Africa and including people of a range of ages and different ethnic backgrounds. It had white students as well as black and girls as well as boys, and its student complement included many from the black elite. In 1906, it was decided that a new Inter-State College, later a university, should be founded at Fort Hare rather than Lovedale. Fort Hare opened its doors as a degree-giving body in 1916 with Alexander Kerr its Principal. In many respects sister educational establishments, many students moved from Lovedale to Fort Hare. Both institutions (which still exist, in different forms) are located near Alice, in the Eastern Cape.

1.4 South African student ‘troubles’ in the form of protests and related activities in schools and colleges seem to have started in 1919/1920. They are usually associated with the rise of large-scale black/African militant labour and political activity, although there are other associated factors as well and these are considered later. As well as Lovedale, protests and other troubles occurred at some other education establishments catering for the black elite, including the Wilberforce Institute in Johannesburg, St Matthews in Keiskammhoek near King William’s Town, the Healdtown Institute in Healdtown, Blythwood near Butterworth, St John’s in Umtata, and a number of LMS schools. Most were mission-founded establishments, the Wilberforce Institute was an American-founded African Methodist episcopal college, while the most significant of the LMS troubles occurred at its mission-school at Inyati in 1932, amounting to what was referred to as an insurrection.

1.5 Protests involving students in these elite black schools and colleges were focused in a number of years. Those discussed or mentioned in the archived Lovedale documentation are:

  • 1919/20: The backcloth was one of wartime changes and then major strikes across South Africa, particularly in the area of Johannesburg. Protests in educational settings involved over twenty institutions, with letters on file from a number of the Principals concerned, including Henderson as the head of Lovedale, as well as other documentation.
  • 1929: The backcloth was provided by a National Party election victory and segregationist policies. A significant number of protests occurred starting at Blythwood, with Henderson mentioning that the Heads Association should pool information and responses to them – “steps must be taken to render a repetition of such incidents… [have] serious consequences for those taking part in them so they will, after perhaps more than one trial of strength, come to an end” (Notes of riots in 1920, File A1, MS 16,453).
  • 1944-5: The backcloth involved wartime privations and industrial militancy. A number of protests occurred sporadically across many schools and colleges, including Lovedale, Blythwood, Healdtown and others.
  • April 1946: A number of boycotts and other troubles at Lovedale, discussed below.
  • August 1946: The backcloth involved wartime changes and sporadic unrest of different kinds. Then a major strike in the Rand mines started in August, with smaller strikes and protests over many months in the build-up to this. Also in August, there were widespread students protests, including the riot that led to the closure of Lovedale, discussed below.
  • 1955-6: The backcloth was political change and the extensive arrests of ‘trouble-makers’ and the start of the Treason Trials (mass arrests in a show of strength and control by the South African state against dissenting voices). Widespread protests, including a riot that led to the closure of Fort Hare, discussed later.
  • 1957, 1960: With the backcloth of the continuation of the Treason Trials and other protests, there are mentions in passing but no details given of troubles in the years at Fort Hare specifically.

1.6 These student protests occurred, then, in the context of wider boycotts, strikes and other protest activity, with the student unrest contiguous with and to a large (but not total) extent part of these issues and movements for change. Some more detail on the political circumstances is now provided.

1.7 In 1919/1920, following the end of World War I, there were significant strikes of railway, mine, dock and other workers, many but not all centred on the Johannesburg area. These were major industrial and political events and led to significant changes in the organisation of and extensions of the control of the national state. In 1929, following the earlier growth of the Afrikaner nationalist movement in South Africa, there was a National Party election victory and under Hertzog as Prime Minister many segregationist policies were introduced. In 1944-6, there was considerable political ferment world-wide, while in South Africa radical political movements representing black people were on the increase, there was significant industrial action in the form of a major mining strike, and a prolonged drought led to food shortages. In 1955-6, apartheid policies were being greatly extended under the control of the reconfiguring national state, and there was a crackdown on political activism including mass arrests followed by the Treason Trials.

1.8 The riots of 1920 and 1946 are both documented in the Lovedale collections, especially that of 1946. These collections include many letters and other papers as well as general letters of the Principal of the day, RHW Shepherd; and a very large collection of over 30 archive boxes on the riots themselves, consisting of an opening section on the events of 1920, with the remainder on those of 1946. In what follows, an outline is given of events on both occasions, and then discussion turns to an Elias-grounded analysis of the combination of structural and local factors that were involved. This is focused on 1946 because of the extensiveness of the documentation, with briefer mentions of 1920 and 1956 when there are helpful comparisons to be made. In next week’s blog, some comparisons are made with the protests of 2015 and 2016.

2. Summary events of 1920

2.1 During World War I, the student population of Lovedale grew, there was some privation concerning food, as there was more generally in South Africa, and various staff members were absent, involved in wartime work. The ratio of staff to students was as a result decreased.

2.2 In 1919, there were strikes among different groups of workers in Johannesburg and its environs. The Lovedale riots of 1920 started on Sunday 25 April, with a riot in accommodation and other buildings, apparently over food and changes in the flour used to make bread. There were mass meetings of students following the first troubles and then another mass meeting which decided that there would be a strike the next day. But then immediately technical workshops and dormitories and other buildings were smashed up, the grain store set on fire and the electricity powerhouse damaged. Staff houses and some staff members were pelted with stones. A large number of students then removed themselves to the nearby Black Hill, where a further meeting was held and people stayed all night.

2.3 After the arrival of police, 198 rioters were brought before a magistrate’s court and most were found guilt. J. Lennox was the Acting Principal at the time, while Henderson was away on furlough, but on his return and following communication with Principals from similar institutions he instituted penalties for the rioters with many expulsions.

3. Summary events of 1946

3.1 Towards the end of World War II, there were around 1200 people sleeping at Lovedale each night, including staff, borders, hospital patients, farm and other workers. Between 1944 and 1945, there were more than twenty protest outbreaks in mainly Bantu Education Department institutions, including smashing and burning property, refusing to attend classes and showing ‘disobedience’ to authority.

3.2 At the end of the war there were food shortages because of a severe drought. In the period before the riot occurred, there were sporadic outbreaks of ‘insubordination’ toward staff, and also related events which a student described to one of the Council members, Senator Welsh, as a ‘reign of terror’ among the students themselves. On 7 August 1946, and apparently because of the sugar ration, around 200 male students rioted, broke panes of glass and damaged other Lovedale buildings including dwelling-houses and dormitories and the library. Attempts to set fire to various buildings were also made. Police from Alice were called and many students were arrested. After a trial, 152 students were found guilty of public violence and given various punishments including the then fairly typical ‘strokes with a light cane’ for some, and a fine or imprisonment with hard labour for a number. A notable feature commented on by the magistrate was that no one said anything about why they rioted; some of those questioned in the witness box said they were either forced or frightened by the mob, but with no names and no detail given.

3.3 The following day around 75 students marched into Alice where their fellows were held, to show solidarity. A day later, the remaining 185 men and 275 women students became involved by being ‘insubordinate’, jeering, catcalling, not turning up for formal events including classes, with some stone-throwing. ‘The students’ also issued notice of a strike unless certain conditions were met (Committee of inquiry report, 30 November 1946, File A4, MS 16,473). It was then decided to close the institution, which was done for nine weeks.

3.4 When Lovedale reopened, some 80 students were barred, reduced by Shepherd from a larger number because the Governing Council disagreed on how to handle those convicted. The Council also set up an internal but independent commission of inquiry, which met over a period of some days, took witness statements, considered written documentation, interviewed members of staff, reviewed verbatim reports of the trial and considered other related evidence. Much of the material now archived derives from this source, although there are many letters and other documents in addition.

3.5 Independently, the government’s Department of Native Affairs instituted its own inquiry into the more than 20 riots that occurred in 1944-6 in black educational establishments. Most of these were in government-controlled institutions. Nonetheless, it led to the end of a mission-governed independent Lovedale, which was taken into oversight and control by the Department of Bantu Education.

4. 1946 Triggering factors

4.1 Events at Lovedale occurred in a context in which a high proportion of the students were borders and over a third of the male borders were over the age of 20 (24 February 1947, breakdown of numbers, File B1, MS 16,453). The immediate triggering events were presented as specific to Lovedale and concern two things that were described by staff as a way to disguise pre-planning. These were the low level of the sugar ration, and changes in the bread ration, and were raised two days before the riot at a Student Representative Council meeting, with a staff member later commenting that “The food is always used as excuse” (McGillivray statement, 20 August 1946, Council minutes, MS 16, 453). This was followed by a large group of students wanting to go to a sports event at Fort Hare that became angry and disruptive when refused permission. Then the major riot occurred but with no other incidents in the intervening period.

4.2 The preceding events coincided with various of teachers returning from war work (over half of the white male teachers had been away), in particular in the large High School. This led to the imposition of a more stringent disciplinary regime concerning ‘proper’ behaviour by students towards staff, something that was resented particularly by the older students.

4.3 Previous lower-key ‘troubles’ towards the end of the war had been dealt with mainly by turning a blind eye or by levying a fine paid by parents etc. As a result, the student body had little experience of being themselves punished for disciplinary infringements. From statement evidence, many seem to have thought their behaviour in the protests would be fairly non-consequential. Certainly it is clear that they did not anticipate what was in effect expulsion and barring from taking the examinations necessary to properly matriculate from their courses, including teacher training courses. This was also so regarding the 1920 riots, where it was commented that the students had not anticipated the consequences, which seems to refer to references following them after expulsion (nd, T Atkinson to Henderson, File A 1920, MS 16,453).

4.4 The new 1946 intake of students was very mixed (this year of entry is underlined in red on lists of applications for readmission). It included quite a number of older students in their early and middle 20s, and a sizeable group of young men from Transvaal and the Johannesburg area with political and work experience including army service for some. There were also students from very different elite backgrounds in Bechuanaland, while the preponderance of the student population overall was Xhosa. There were important differences of culture, social standing, ideas, political views and so on, as well as some marked differences in age and experience.

4.5 The events that occurred included a mixture of ‘trouble’ activities. Some of the students had been involved in the boycotts and ‘insubordination’ occurring in 1945, and earlier in 1946; some were involved in the riot; some were involved in the marches; some in the meeting precipitating the call to strike; and nearly all of them participated in the main meetings of the whole student body. It remains difficult to pin down exactly who was involved in what, in spite of the large amount of documentation, even though quite a lot of it is concerned with individual students. This is because in none of the documentation do students apart from a very small number say anything specific about what happened.

4.6 Three examples of the prevailing silence are: the very perfunctory comments made in the witness box statements that appear verbatim in the trial report; the ubiquitous ‘do not know’ responses on the extant copies of a 96-question questionnaire circulated by Shepherd when assessing student requests for readmission; and the refusal to say anything when asked by the committee of inquiry to give  testimonies by nine students from different parts of the institution (Committee of inquiry report, 30 November 1946, File A4, MS 16,453). The reasons for this became apparent as the committee of inquiry into events preceded and can be traced in the extant documentation, and relate to pressures and fears of reprisal among the students themselves.

5. 1946 Local circumstances

5.1 In addition to resentment about the imposition of a new disciplinary regime by the returning ‘old style’ staff insisting on increased student deference, there was a more general negative view of and resentment of white-instituted authority, and widespread questioning of its legitimacy. This included when the edicts of authority were carried out by black and coloured staff. Shepherd recorded in his diary that a student had complained to him about “demands that student should say ‘sir’ when addressing staff…  they were not allowed to question things…” (Extract journal of RHW Shepherd, 30 November 1945, File B2, MS 16,453). It was also made clear in comments such as “The modern African boy… identify the European staff in the institution as part of the Government machinery…” and “The students had developed an attitude that was opposed to authority as such, And the riot was largely a rebellion against authority…   from their childhood they hear complaints against Europeans so their feeling is against the Europeans generally, not necessarily only the Government.  They regard the Government as the Europeans” (Committee of inquiry report, 30 November 1946, File A4, MS 16,453).

5.2 The issues identified were both local and also far wider. In the period before the 1946 riot, Shepherd wrote to the officer in charge of the Alice police that he had received “a long typewritten effusion… in large measure a political document demanding freedom for African youth, condemning the too strict discipline of Lovedale, and complaining about the food…” (4 December 1945, Shepherd to Officer in Charge Alice Police, File B2, MS 16,453). These wider concerns were shared: “…What is the good of going out and crying for Liberalism and yet you have not been allowed to study when your mind is fresh… That man is born free…  does not only apply to the European student but also applies to the African, Coloured and Indian student…” (nd ‘Inside Lovedale’, File B2, MS 16,453).

5.3 Authority was the target, and authority was associated with the institution as part of the state apparatus. All who worked for it were seen as implicated, including those who were black. An April 1945 letter from the head of St Matthews to Shepherd, for instance, commented that “‘… we have had serious trouble here with a group of our students, and there have been certain disturbances comparatively recently… We are of the opinion that there is a widespread anti-authority being disseminated among the African peoples….’; Shepherd’s reply pointed out that “the old-time relationship between the missionary and the African – a kind of master-and-servant relationship – has gone” (CE Hundleby to Shepherd, 6 April 1945; Shepherd to CE Hundleby, 8 April 1945; PR 3682). And two weeks later, the head of Blythwood wrote asking if Lovedale had been having trouble with its African staff and says that St John’s had experience this (DW Semple to Shepherd, 16 April 1945, PR 3682).

5.4 The student body was composed by people unused to being in mixed ethnic (and other) groups. Some groups within it were seen as subordinate and pressure was put on them in a variety of situations by those seen as the established, more powerful group. In particular, the numerical dominance of Xhosa was resented by many from elsewhere and those from ‘better’ ethnic groups, with tensions around this commented on in a number of statements. This had surfaced around the different languages that teaching was provided in: “I learned just this afternoon that there was some idea among the students that sooner or later the non-Xhosa speaking students would not be allowed to come to Lovedale. There is something in the Handbook that says that in some future date Basuto speaking students will not be at Lovedale…  There was created in the minds of these students the impression that in any case they were to be eliminated from Lovedale” (Dr Bokwe statement, 20 August, Council Minutes, MS 16,453). Commenting on the anger expressed by Basuto and Bechuana students, another teacher added that, following a school inspector report the second language teaching of Tswana and Sotho had been dropped in high school courses and in 1947 Xhosa was to be a second language course only, in favour of English (Dr Benyon, statement, 20 August 1946, Council Minutes, MS 16,453). Whatever ‘the facts’, clearly different sections of the student body thought that others were receiving preferential treatment.

5.5 The students at Lovedale and similar institutions were living in a situation in which traditional external mechanisms of ethnic, community and family constraints and controls over young people were not present except in a removed, distant way. The institutional expectation was that self-constraint would replace this, encouraged by a disciplinary framework and the regulation of this through staff vigilance. Thus the Lovedale committee of inquiry report stated about this that “the African people are passing through a period of transition – from the restraint of family and tribal control to the non-restraint of the outside world – with a strong tendency to assert freedom of action regardless often of the consequences” (Committee of inquiry report, 30 November 1946, File A4, MS 16,453).

5.6 In practice, the ethnic and other groups within the student body became more significant, with the framework of expectations and constraints exerted by these forming a counterveiling authority to that of the institution. A number of people – staff, students, outside authorities such as the police – mention the difference between the riot, and the boycotts and strike, a distinction also made by some of the student protagonists. This raises interesting issues concerning the relationship between the different groups involved and what the students involved in the different activities saw themselves as assenting to and participating in. The separation was however not complete and events unfolded quickly, and the boundaries between these activities were both fluid and under dispute, concerning some of the groups within the wider student population.

5.7 There are indications of a caucus or inner group with a plan or strategy, either pre-determined or making use of the prevailing circumstances, operating at two points in the 1945/6 events. In the earlier ‘pre-riot’ phase, a small but influential group existed within Form V which called itself ‘the Board’ (from Dickens’ Oliver Twist) and saw part of its work to be ‘mice-hunters’, that is, to’ hunt’ the more timid students in the pursuit of carrying out ‘insubordination’ of different kinds. In the main phase of the protests, a picture emerges of a caucus group of older students, predominantly from the Transvaal, who promoted the range of activities that occurred, but where they stayed out of the limelight themselves and so were mainly not among those arrested (Interview with Potlako Kitchener Leballo, 1968 Aluka Digital Library).

5.8 Particularly in respect of the mass meetings of the student body, a number of witnesses including some students mentioned the existence of compulsion by a few of the many, in stirring up feelings to promote more extreme actions through meeting rhetoric, providing paper propaganda that supported action, and threatening reprisals against those who did not join in and greater reprisals against those who broke ranks and provided information to outsiders. Whether this was confined to the exertions of caucus members, or also involved intra-group authority figures or established groups against outsider ones, is not clear. However, those seen as the caucus members were certainly involved.

5.9 There were student channels of communication from institution to institution, with information and sometimes people moving between them regarding the protests. Obviously both Lovedale and Fort Hare being in the same place facilitated exchanges between them, but it also existed more widely, with the rapid conveyance of information about events elsewhere. Similar channels existed among the Principals of colleges in addition to the Association of Heads meetings, sometimes using the telephone, and there are also letters requesting information about signs of unrest. For instance, when the Wilberforce Institute in Johannesburg later experienced protests and a strike, its Principal BS Ranjuili wrote to Shepherd requesting information about Leballo. In thanking Shepherd for his reply, he commented that “Re K. Leballo. A very bad student indeed!!! He and a few others have worked our Institute into a most unfortunate strike – a passive sit-down counterstrike. And there is also evidence that some nine members of the staff are behind it all’ (BS Ranjuili to Shepherd, 14 April 1948, File A7, MS 16,453).

6. 1946 Wider context

6.1 Change and unrest were being experienced in the post-war context in many parts of the world and there was a kind of zeitgeist sense that the old order needed to change still further. Some members of subordinate race/ethnic communities in South Africa had been in wartime contexts, including military, educational and religious ones, in which their circumstances were very different from pre-war and new and better possibilities for the future became envisaged by them.

6.2 From Union in 1910 on, South Africa experienced an unfolding process of major socio-economic changes involving urbanisation and industrialisation along with a high level of migrant labour use, combined with the more traditional parts of its economy and society. These also saw major extensions of the state and its abrogation of powers. Many people lived, either short-term or for some longer-term, outside of traditional constraints and controls of an ethnic, community and family kind. Many were also living in situations in which more rapid forms of information and communication – and also organisation – were available, adding to the stock of knowledge about change elsewhere, the range of possibilities that could exist for subordinate groups within the country, and the growing number of radical groups organising for change.

6.3 The widespread processes of social change happening were not just the product of the prolonged period of warfare. They were also connected with factors that were to an important extent connected with international movements regarding labour and race movements (and later women’s movements) and were associated with ideas about freedom, equality and justice. These movements were premised on and promoted a different kind of mind-set, concerned with rights and human worth. In a letter to Shepherd after the 1946 riots, the Council member Walter Webber (who taught at another institution) wrote “I was not surprised to learn that you had traced the trouble to the entrance of a few ringleaders, and fortunately you are now able to identify them… but this does not go far to solve the real problem, which is how we are to deal with the spirit of unrest and even antipathy among the educated Natives”, and he went on to identify the colour bar and the denial of the franchise among other things producing problems (23 September 1946, Walter Webber to Shepherd, PR 3682).

6.4 A pattern of contrary changes was happening in South Africa, in which increasingly stringent crackdowns were associated with its political changes and its general movement in a retrograde nationalist and racist direction. Such changes were marked after Union and are symbolised by the 1913 Land Act and the major strikes and protests of 1919 responded to by the institution of more centralised state powers. In a very real sense, the National Party election victory of 1948 and subsequent introduction of apartheid policies was the combination and codification of a process already underway. The measures then introduced became increasingly intrusive, discriminatory and frequently violent in their effects, removing rights and denying human worth for the majority populations.

6.5 At least from the 1920s on, there was widespread and increasing resentment about prevailing social conditions, including relationships between the established and outsider groups in race terms. This was coupled with a high general level of awareness of political and equality issues, including a change in subordinate race group ideas and expectations. For many, there was also disillusionment with or rejection of earlier ways of promoting change. Black labour and related organisations grew and became highly organised. Again from the 1920s on, there was the growth of racial political organisations and groups and a black political communications industry, all providing a radical voice. Regarding the now well-known examples, the ANC underwent a process of radicalisation over time; the South African Communist Party was founded in 1921; the All-African Convention was founded in 1935; its Africanist/black nationalist successor, the Pan-African Congress (PAC) of Anzania, was founded in 1959; the Inkata Freedom Party was founded in 1975. Many protests of different kinds and degrees of militancy occurred throughout concerning the discriminatory and punitive racial measures introduced and enforced.

7. Some Eliasian discussion points

7.1 In trying to work out what happened and why regarding the riot in 1946, staff and others at Lovedale focused almost entirely on the immediate aspects, and also the apportioning of culpability and blame as part of how they should deal with the aftermath of the events. This is why a number of ‘narrative of events’ kinds of documents can be found in the records, with the different events and the order in which these occurred being detailed as part of making sense of what seems for many, including Shepherd, to have been almost unthinkable. The effect was to see the narrative of occurrences in the institution as itself providing a causal pattern, and because of this as giving a sufficient explanation. Concerning the 1920 riot, for instance, teacher Charles Pilson emphasised in a written statement a number of local factors: not being careful enough in selecting pupils, ensuring the payment of fees, needing to be more willing to expel or punish those “whose conduct has been a source of trouble to their particular dept… Lack of knowledge of native character in seeing such a change in food especially soon after seeing an increase in fees” (20 July 1920, Pilson to Henderson, File A, MS 16,453)

7.2 It is difficult to assess now how important the specific triggers that appear in the documentation actually were, although they were mentioned as a legitimating rationale for the outbreak of the riots by some students and this is picked up and repeated in the various investigations and statements. There is more sense that the complaints mentioned in 1920, actually were a factor, for the different aspects (bread, change of staff, new disciplinary regime) are spelled out in detail and seem to have coalesced into a sense of grievance arising in the period immediately before.

7.3 The food complaints in 1946 are stated in a more perfunctory way, and anyway the protests followed some months of increasingly serious troubles, both those expressed towards staff, and those that remained largely within the student body until the riot broke out and which seem to have involved sufficient force or its threat to have been described as ‘terror’. For instance, collating the evidence he had collected, on 20 August 1946 Shepherd presented a long typed narrative of the main events to the Council, and among other things this comments that “during a few days preceding this strike, and actually during the day of the strike, and on the few days following there was an actual reign of terror in the Institution. Some boys terrified the weaker ones… There appeared to be a certain clique of students who were responsible for action, and it managed to keep this section very secret… Unfortunately, those boys were not all of them amongst those taken over to gaol…” (20 August 1946, Lovedale Governing Council minutes, File A1, MS 16,453). He adds that he was told by a number of students training as teachers that there would be violent reprisals against them if they did not participate in meetings and other events.

7.4 In contrast, the internal committee of inquiry appointed by Lovedale’s Governing Council seemed much more aware of events and changes in the wider world, and its report focused particularly on the long-term structural aspects. And while its committee worked through all the immediate matters raised, by and large its members did not see these as having a causal role. They did however identify an ‘intermediate’ issue concerning the ratio of staff to students as having played a part. The ratio had decreased because of wartime increases in student numbers and decreases in the number of staff available, and it was the post-war reverberations of this that they focused on. That is, the returning staff regulated student behaviour more, but in a context in which there were still too few staff to keep tight disciplinary control outside of classrooms. Insofar as a 1946 triggering event is identified in the report, it is this.

7.5 In this present discussion, all three of the levels of events (triggers, local, contextual) which have been used to structure this account seem important, to different degrees. ‘Big events’ happen in small ways in local places involving specific people and particular incidents, and it is a combination of the latter things which provide the trigger in particular localities. The particular ‘big events’ of the student protests of 1920, 1946 and 1956 occurred in each case as a series of local events with local flash points, but which shared some particular aspects, not least because these unfolded in a domino-effect way and with channels of communication existing between the different institutions.

7.6 It seems clear that it was the existence of widespread changes in thinking and of self- and group-identity, along with political protests and related activity arising from events taking place outside of the educational context, which provided the stimulus for the within-education protests. Overall, the events of the 1946 protest, and also those of 1920 and 1956, seem ‘tip of an iceberg’ in character and closely associated with and arising from wider troubles and political protests. These student protests do not appear to have been initiator events in their own right.

7.7 In addition, ‘triggers’ do not have inevitable effects, nor do changes in the zeitgeist necessarily result in grounded radical action, and it requires the existence of suitable contexts in which all of the factors involved come together and coalesce. Obviously, there were many such contexts in 1920, 1946 and 1956 or the protests would not have been as widespread as they were. Equally obviously, mines, docks, railways and their workers are very different from the largely mission-founded elite educational institutions in which the student protests occurred in 1920, 1946 and 1956. Regarding Lovedale and its companion institutions, the school or college was a ‘place out of place’, one where there was unusual mixing of different kinds, cross-ethnic, to an extent cross-gender, also white-black, as well as pupil-teacher, with a range of established and outsider formations around these.

7.8 The particular ‘place out of place’ of Lovedale was a largely boarding establishment with an artificial mix of people of different ethnicities, skin colours, ages, and positions in different power-structures. It was also characterised by the absence of the ordinary constraints of a family, community and ethnic kind, and the existence of a formalised, rather authoritarian if also well-meaning, white-provided one. This increased the influence and importance of the within-group hierarchies that existed among the students in the institution. These divisions created tensions and could in themselves cause troubles, and they could also become magnified in out of the ordinary circumstances.

7.9 The differences were volatile in character because deriving from a set of cleavages of different established and outsider group kinds and these sometimes overlaid each other and were sometimes separate, depending on circumstances. A result was that a wide range of events or issues might propel the differences into more open conflict, again of variable kinds. An interesting example is mentioned by a number of the staff at Lovedale, but not any of the students. This concerned women teachers and that they should not take classes of older pupils because they were not respected and also that discipline needed to be maintained outside of classrooms as well as inside and women teachers could not go with students to the river and onto sports fields et cetera. Pilson indeed although present did not check boys who jeered or barracked women teachers (‘Unrest in Lovedale in 1945’, File B1, MS 16,453)

7.10 At Lovedale in both 1920 and in 1946, there were small caucuses involved in spearheading the different protest activities. The 1946 caucus of ‘the Board’ in Form V of the High School seems to have been home-grown and composed by a small number of very politicised long-term students at Lovedale, who operated in a self-consciously literary as well as political way (Committee of inquiry report, 30 November 1946, File A4, MS 16,453). The 1946 caucus was different in character and how it operated, which was very much in the immediacy of the moment and also largely behind the scenes with other students foregrounding the different activities. It seems to have been composed largely from the 1946 intake and with a preponderance of Johannesburgers.

7.11 This was conjecture and supposition in the evidence collected at the time by Shepherd and others. However, it was confirmed in a later interview statement by the young man identified as the key organiser and ringleader. At the time he called himself Kitchener Leballo, and later was the well-known Potlako K Leballo. Leballo had a long, complicated career as a political activist and was General Secretary of the PAC for many years.

7.12 A similar kind of caucus was also identified as existing at Fort Hare when a riot occurred there in 1956 (MS 14,717, ‘Fort Hare trouble. A narrative of events’). Its Acting-Principal HR Burrows reported to its Senate that a group known as ‘the caucus’ was responsible for intimidating many students and propelling the riot that occurred at the start of May, with earlier frequent boycotts, including acts of violence and also ‘insubordination’. The riot eventually led to temporary closure of the institution. The ‘narrative’ written on these matters by Shepherd comments in passing that some of the more violent activity such as stone-throwing had also been directed at visiting African preachers and lecturers as well as white. Authority may well have been seen as white, but the idea of ‘quislings’ was mentioned by some. For instance, teacher McGillivray had been told by angry students that “Bokwe is with the authorities” (McGillivray statement, 20 August 1946, Council Minutes, MS 16,453). At the same time, it is notable that the earlier boycotts and acts of violence were not ‘dealt with’ by the Fort Hare Senate because of “sympathy with African aspirations and realisation that racial tension had increased all over South Africa” (nd, ‘The Fort Hare Trouble. A Narrative of Events’, MS 14,717).

7.13 Immediately before the 1956 riot itself occurred, Fort Hare’s Student Representative Council resigned because unable to do its work, due to the “unmistakable evidence of the existence within the student body of the College of a secret authority, sometimes referred to as the caucus, whose instructions are obeyed by students, often through fear of physical violence and other forms of intimidation” (nd, ‘The Fort Hare Trouble. A Narrative of Events’, MS 14,717). Immediately following its resignation, the ‘riot proper’ broke out. As a result, on 4 May the students were informed the College was closing and special trains had been arranged to take them away that day.

7.14 It is worth adding that of course radicalism and protest were and are by no means confined to students. In December 1956, Shepherd wrote to a Council member, James Dougall, that Fort Hare had become involved in the mass arrests leading up to the Treason Trials because its Professor ZK Matthews had been arrested and a fund started to support his defence. He goes on to write, “In a publication called World Dominion he is quoted as saying ‘What we Africans are aiming for is the creation of a purely African State, that is, the re-orientation of South Africa towards an African character, Africanization of this country, as a prelude to its inclusion in a United States of Africa’… this is typical of the statements he has been making in recent years” (28 December 1956, Shepherd to James Dougall, MS 14,724).

8. A coda on whiteness

8.1 The many events involved in the protests referred to in this discussion concerned the growing political consciousness of the majority population and rapidly growing feelings about equality and justice, while at local levels they took many forms and a wide range of motivations and political activities were involved. To a large extent the targets were authority figures of all kinds, embodied in the staff and their associates and disciplinary measures of all kinds, with the institution seen as part of a state apparatus, and the state apparatus seen as promised on discrimination, segregation and the enforcement of unjust inequalities.

8.2 As the November 1946 report by the Lovedale committee of inquiry emphasised, the basic problems were strong feelings about the ‘colour bar’ and the measures which enforced it; and the students identified the white staff as part of government machinery and vented their unhappiness on school authorities. Anyone who helped the authorities was seen under the heading of ‘amatshaka’, a coward or traitor. The report also suggests that “There was no evidence that animus was directed against Missions as such, but thoughtless identification of the European staff with the system responsible for these grievances had left to unhappy relations with the European teachers. In the minds of the students, the European teacher at a Mission School is no longer regarded as a missionary but as a secular worker keeping an African out of a well-paid post… there is a growing middle class comprising the advanced elements of the African people, which is becoming of great political significance, and which has its most active expression in demands for the abolition of laws especially affecting Africans and for increased representation on public bodies and in the Legislature… Complaints about discrimination, pass laws etc are part of their upbringing and their complaints are against Europeans generally not just the government” (Committee of inquiry report, 30 November 1946, File A4, MS 16,453).

8.3 Whiteness had nothing to do with it; and whiteness had absolutely everything to do with it.

9. A final comment

9.1 Part 5 will conclude this discussion of South African universities in crisis by offering some comparisons between the events and circumstances of 1920, 1946 and 1956 with those of 2015 and 2016.



Interview with Potlako Kitchener Leballo, Aluka Digital Library 1968,

GC Oosthuizen 1970 Shepherd of Lovedale: A Life for Southern Africa Johannesburg: Human Sciences Research Council/Hugh Kearthland.

RHW Shepherd 1971 Lovedale South Africa 1824–1955 Lovedale, Eastern Cape: Lovedale Press.

Cory Library Collections, Rhodes University, Eastern Cape.
MS 14,717 Fort Hare Troubles in 1955
MS 14,724 Foreign Mission Committee of the Church of Scotland and the South African Treason Trials 1956-7
PR 3682 General Letters
PR 3683 General Letters
MS 16,453 Lovedale Riots


Last updated: 21 December 2017