A proud Mfengu that advanced African Feminism
Elijah Makiwane was an ordained priest, editor of the bizarrely named Kaffir Express and a strong proponent of education for women.
Elijah Makiwane may have experienced his proudest moments in 1876, when he was ordained as a reverend and appointed helmsman of the first vernacular newspaper named Isigidimi Sa maXhosa (The Xhosa Messenger).
He headed the publication for five years until John Tengo Jabavu succeeded him in 1881. He was a talented Mfengu who proudly penned his writings in the xhosa language.
The Mfengu settled among the Xhosa people during the Mfecane wars, which saw widespread conflicts between indigenous ethnic communities, leading to death and displacement.
Peires explains that Mfengu is a generic term to describe descendants of several groups – people of the Hlubi, Bhele, and Zizi origin.
The rivalry between themselves and the Xhosa was fuelled by the British colonial administration. Upon their arrival in Peddie, which was then their capital, they vowed to be subjects of the British Empire and converted to Christianity. They also welcomed British colonial education. The perception was that the Mfengu gained advantages like gaining land at the expense of the xhosa people.
The Xhosa-Mfengu rivalry did not stop Makiwane from marrying a Xhosa wife, Margaret Majiza, in 1877, according to his biographer S.E.K. Mqhayi’s The Life of Elijah Makiwane.
Makiwane instilled the African intellectual culture among African people after rejecting westernised identity and missionary perspectives. Makiwane was a firm believer in women’s education and he was quoted as saying, African men needed wives “who have imbibed the same ideas of progress which we suppose a young man has to receive.”
Majiza also studied at Lovedale and became an assistant teacher in a girls’ school prior to her marriage to Makiwane.
Elijah was born in the Victorian East district in the Eastern Cape in 1850, the second son in a polygamous arrangement. In 1858, when he was eight, his parents became part of the Wesleyan Methodist Society (WMS). He went to Healdtown for four years where he studied Xhosa, English, Arithmetic, Bible History and Geography before he went to Lovedale in 1865.
Within the ten years he spent at Lovedale he became an intern in the positions that were prominent among the school elite and received the best education in the colony of the Cape. He worked as a teacher and telegraph officer for twelve months. In 1875, the Free Church of Scotland allowed him to practise as a clergyman while two years later he was ordained a Reverend in 1877 in the Macfarlan congregation.
Isigidimi Sa maXhosa started as a supplement in the Kaffir Express a precursor of South African Outlook which was a missionary journal in South Africa. It was predominantly aimed at the Xhosa Christian community in July 1873. It appeared as a regular monthly in 1879 and fortnightly in 1884 until it stopped running in December 1888. Makiwane became the assistant editor to Reverend Dr James Stewart as well as the editor of the Kaffir Express. He headed the newsroom for eight years and became the first known African editor of the mission journal in Southern Africa. In 1881 he was succeeded by John Tengo Jabavu and became a founder-member of a number of prominent African educational and political organisations.
Isigidimi had comprised over 20 correspondents representing about 30 rural and urban areas in the colonies of Cape and Natal. Some of its contributors and editors were the African elite who were conscious of the politics of that time and advocates of its readers’ opinions.
Makiwane was an African clergyman and a pioneer journalist whose career spanned 40 years, between 1877 and 1917. He advocated strongly for education for women and believed that African men and women should only use the English language and mission education to advance themselves but not determine their identity. Makiwane died in 1928.
Hunt Davis, R. 1979. School vs. Blanket and Settler: Elijah Makiwane and the Leadership of the Cape School Community. African Affairs, 78(310): 12-31.
Peires, J. 1980. Lovedale Press: Literature for Bantu Revisited. English in Africa, 7(1): 71-85.
Switzer, L. 1984. The African Christian Community and Its Press in Victorian South Africa (La communauté chréstinne africaine et sa presse dans l’Afrique du Sud victorienne). Cahiers d’Études Africaines, 24(96): 455-476.
Walshe, A.P. 1969. The Origins of African Consciousness in South Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 7(4): 583-610.