It’s most unjust: Shepherd to Klazo, 20 July 1960

It’s most unjust: Shepherd to Klazo, 20 July 1960

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2022) ‘it’s most unjust, 20 July 1960’, and provide the paragraph number as appropriate if quoting.









(Robert Shepherd to Mr Klazo, 20 July 1960. Shepherd PE 3682, Cory Library)

Charing Cross Hotel,

Strand, London, W. C. 2.

20th July, 1960

Dear Mr. Klazo,

Your letter of 17th June reached me only yesterday. I thank you very warmly for it. I handed to the Secretary of the Monkton Commission this morning the extract from your letter which speaks of how you would like your evidence to be dealt with. I have no doubt that your wishes will be adhered to.

Thank you also for the cutting you sent me from the “Mail”. For well over thirty years I was minister of what was probably the most inter-racial congregation in South Africa. Sunday by Sunday people of all races worshiped together in Lovedale, and our Kirk Session and Deacons’ Court were thoroughly inter-racial. For years my Session Clark was an African, thereby holding the chief office next to the ministers, and my Deacons’ Court Clark was a Coloured man. Yet I am described in the fashion the MAIL states. I suppose it is one of the things one has to bear, but it’s most unjust. What troubles me most is that it shows an irresponsibility in statement that does not bode well for the future, when Africans may have to carry much heavier responsibility than now.

With every good wish,

Yours sincerely,

[Robert Shepherd]


  1. From the 1930s until 1955, Robert Shepherd was the head of the well-known Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape (famous in its day for providing a higher level of education for elite black scholars) and also the other educational bodies attached to it. He then retired to his native Scotland but remained active in various respects, including in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, of which he was a past Moderator. He also returned to South Africa and he continued to play a fairly high profile in public life, with an example alluded to in this letter.

2 The 20 July 1960 letter for discussion is a typescript. But, somewhat unusually, it is not a carbon copy, but rather typed from scratch and with no signature at the end, which would have been provided on the version that was sent. It seems that it might have been his practice to send the carbon copy, which he signed, and to retain the top copy.

3 Shepherd was in London on this date as a member of the Monkton Commission. This was a commission of inquiry set up by the British government and its role was to consider what the governmental future was to be of what were then northern and southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It recommended a majority of Africans on representative institutions and federation of these territories, with them remaining as a British colony. As might be expected, this recommendation pleased neither the white supremacists nor the black radicals. The so-called liberals involved as Commission members spoke and wrote in terms that now make uncomfortable reading, for they seem unbearably patronising at points.

4 Shepherd’s letter was sent to a Mr Klazo, who has not been traced. So no further information is available about him. However, what is clear from the letter is that Shepherd was the recipient of comments which Klazo wanted to be taken into account regarding how his evidence was to be put to the Commission. It also comes across that Shepherd expected Klazo to agree with his views about Africans and responsibility.

5 The press cutting that Shepherd refers to cannot be traced as there are many newspapers of the day with Mail in their title. From the comments made, it is possible that the Mail is newspaper in one of the three countries concerned. Searching the content of the UK’s Daily Mail did not solve the mystery.

6 At various points there were debates in the UK House of Commons about Commission witnesses making ‘inflammatory’ statements after they had given evidence. These statements in the Commons can be found by searching Hansard using Monkton Commission as the search term. Although not stated as such, the reference to them being inflammatory probably means the people who made such comments were advocating the independence of these countries in the name of their black majorities. The times they were a-changing, and even at the time the recommendations and language of the Monkton Commission were seen as iffy by many.

7 What is expressed in the letter as ‘described in the fashion the Mail states’ is likely to be a veiled reference to ongoing debates and discontent about the powers that be at Lovedale College. Shepherd’s liberalism was located within a hierarchical and patriarchal mode and he had remained firmly in charge at Lovedale in what was thought by some of its students to be a rather dictatorial fashion, including that it resulted in adults being treated as though they were children. This dissent is the implication of his comment that in the future Africans will have a greater responsibility than in 1960, and they were not behaving responsibility at the time of writing because they had described him thus.

8 Riots had occurred at various points from its inception onwards (and persisted after Shepherd retired) when the students at Lovedale rebelled against authority, and a bone of contention was that many of both male and female students were mature adults, but subject to a school-like regimen. The wider context was that many of them were involved in radical groups and organisations seeking to overturn the minority white government in South Africa and the various bodies associated with it, including those that were educational.

9 What this says and implies about the liberal establishment version of whiteness is interesting and with benefit of hindsight dismaying. Clearly Shepherd thought he was in the vanguard, and lays out his credentials as a leader presiding over inter-racial religious services and institutions. He appears oblivious of the fact that many of the black majority wanted control, not to be second or third in line to a white authority. However, life and the world had overtaken his approach and the majority population wanted clear majority control and this was the source of the many revolts and disturbances among the student body at Lovedale.

10 An interesting footnote exists among other letters in the collection which throws further light on Shepherd’s style of liberalism and its severe limitations.

11 A former missionary and Governor of Nigeria, Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam, had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1956. During the Biafran War (1967-1970) he resigned all the various honours he had been awarded. Not surprisingly in context, this was because of the patent failure of liberalism to act in a principled way about Biafra.

12 Earlier, in July 1962, Ibiam had written to Shepherd setting out his principled disagreements with Shepherd’s position in the Monkton Commission, the ethical redundancy of that position, and he also pointed out that Shepherd hid considerable hypocrisy behind his credentialist liberal claims. Ibiam also dared him to publish his letter in the Presbyterian Church Outlook magazine that Shepherd edited.

13 The correspondence on file about this makes it apparent that neither Shepherd nor the white correspondents he communicated with about Ibiam’s letter had any idea why a black public figure (and indeed any aware person) might feel strongly about the proposals being considered by the Commission and think them outmoded and hypocritical. Shepherd and his correspondents, however, viewed Ibiam’s reactions as over the top. Shepherd has in fact closed the correspondence by hand-writing on Ibiam’s letter, ‘No notice taken of this’.

14 A discussion of troubles and dissent at Lovedale will be found in a WWW publication: Liz Stanley (2019) ‘Protest and the Lovedale Riot of 1946: “Largely a rebellion against authority”?’ Journal of Southern African Studies. 44, 6

Last updated: 17 March 2022


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