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The Art of Life in South Africa

The Art of Life in South Africa

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The Art of Life in South Africa

614 Seiten
8 Stunden
Nov 9, 2016


From 1952 to 1981, South Africa’s apartheid government ran an art school for the training of African art teachers at Indaleni, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal. The Art of Life in South Africa is the story of the students, teachers, art, and politics that circulated through a small school, housed in a remote former mission station. It is the story of a community that made its way through the travails of white supremacist South Africa and demonstrates how the art students and teachers made together became the art of their lives.

Daniel Magaziner radically reframes apartheid-era South African history. Against the dominant narrative of apartheid oppression and black resistance, as well as recent scholarship that explores violence, criminality, and the hopeless entanglements of the apartheid state, this book focuses instead on a small group’s efforts to fashion more fulfilling lives for its members and their community through the ironic medium of the apartheid-era school.

There is no book like this in South African historiography. Lushly illustrated and poetically written, it gives us fully formed lives that offer remarkable insights into the now clichéd experience of black life under segregation and apartheid.

Nov 9, 2016

Über den Autor

Daniel Magaziner teaches South African and nineteenth- and twentieth-century African history at Yale University. He is the author of The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968–1977.

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The Art of Life in South Africa - Daniel Magaziner




Books in this series are published with support from the Ohio University Center for International Studies.

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Belinda Bozzoli, Theatres of Struggle and the End of Apartheid

Gary Kynoch, We Are Fighting the World

Stephanie Newell, The Forger’s Tale

Jacob A. Tropp, Natures of Colonial Change

Jan Bender Shetler, Imagining Serengeti

Cheikh Anta Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad

Marc Epprecht, Heterosexual Africa?

Marissa J. Moorman, Intonations

Karen E. Flint, Healing Traditions

Derek R. Peterson and Giacomo Macola, editors, Recasting the Past

Moses E. Ochonu, Colonial Meltdown

Emily S. Burrill, Richard L. Roberts, and Elizabeth Thornberry, editors, Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa

Daniel R. Magaziner, The Law and the Prophets

Emily Lynn Osborn, Our New Husbands Are Here

Robert Trent Vinson, The Americans Are Coming!

James R. Brennan, Taifa

Benjamin N. Lawrance and Richard L. Roberts, editors, Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake

David M. Gordon, Invisible Agents

Allen F. Isaacman and Barbara S. Isaacman, Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development

Stephanie Newell, The Power to Name Gibril R. Cole, The Krio of West Africa

Matthew M. Heaton, Black Skin, White Coats

Meredith Terretta, Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence

Paolo Israel, In Step with the Times Michelle R. Moyd, Violent Intermediaries

Abosede A. George, Making Modern Girls

Alicia C. Decker, In Idi Amin’s Shadow Rachel Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights

Shobana Shankar, Who Shall Enter Paradise?

Emily S. Burrill, States of Marriage

Todd Cleveland, Diamonds in the Rough

Carina E. Ray, Crossing the Color Line

Sarah Van Beurden, Authentically African

Giacomo Macola, The Gun in Central Africa

Lynn Schler, Nation on Board

Julie MacArthur, Cartography and the Political Imagination

Abou B. Bamba, African Miracle, African Mirage

Daniel Magaziner, The Art of Life in South Africa





Advance praise for The Art of Life in South Africa

"The Art of Life in South Africa is a richly suggestive and moving contribution to South African intellectual history. Weaving in a highly imaginative way the two concepts of life and art, Magaziner opens unique pathways for research in the historical sociology of the object-worlds South Africans invented, created, and inhabited during the long twentieth century. Written with extraordinary clarity and precision, this book will appeal to anyone curious about new trends in the historiography of culture."

—Achille Mbembe, author of Critique of Black Reason

"The Art of Life in South Africa contributes to a global conversation about ‘art’ and ‘craft’ at the same time as it challenges neat distinctions between center and periphery, metropole and margins. Art education provides rich terrain through which the entangled relations of modernity, subjectivity, and materiality can be explored. This book is as important for students of global modernism as it is for scholars of South African art, history, and politics."

—Tamar Garb, author of Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography

Magaziner tells a profoundly human story of the institutional and social constraints under which African artists operated and the different ways in which they sought to find a way to produce beauty in the midst of oppression.

—Frederick Cooper, author of Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State

"The Art of Life in South Africa is beautifully rendered, well researched, and tells an important, scarcely told story. Combining in exciting ways intellectual, cultural, and social historical approaches, Magaziner offers a meditation on what happens if we examine a past that is shaped by broader historical forces (in this case apartheid) but that cannot be reduced to them."

—Clifton Crais, coeditor of The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics

"In this beautifully written book, Magaziner opens a small story to reveal expansive, deep questions. The Art of Life in South Africa offers an unexpected and transcendent intellectual history of African self-making and art practice."

—Julie Livingston, author of Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic

"The Art of Life in South Africa is an astonishing book, powerfully constructed, intricately researched, and gorgeously written. From the focused study of individual lives and practices that flourished in and around the Ndaleni art school, Magaziner extends the possibilities of a more democratic form of art history."

—David Doris, author of Vigilant Things: On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-Aesthetics, and the Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria

Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio 45701

© 2016 by Ohio University Press

All rights reserved

To obtain permission to quote, reprint, or otherwise reproduce or distribute material from Ohio University Press publications, please contact our rights and permissions department at (740) 593-1154 or (740) 593-4536 (fax).

Printed in the United States of America

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Magaziner, Daniel R., author.

Title: The art of life in South Africa / Daniel Magaziner.

Other titles: New African histories series.

Description: Athens, Ohio : Ohio University Press, 2016. | Series: New African histories | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016036236| ISBN 9780821422519 (hc : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780821422526 (pb : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780821445907 (pdf)

Subjects: LCSH: Ndaleni Art School. | Art teachers—Training of—South Africa. | Art—Study and teaching—South Africa. | Blacks—South Africa—Social conditions—20th century.

Classification: LCC N88.5.S6 M34 2016 | DDC 707.1068—dc23

LC record available at

In a secluded corner of the yard he stumbled upon a gigantic operation. It was the work of the little girl. She was in the process of building a model village, all carved out of mud. There were mud goats, mud cattle, mud huts and mud people, and grooved little footpaths for them to walk on. He stood staring at it for some time, a look of pure delight on his face. Then he turned and chose a site as far removed as possible from this sanctuary of genius, and with lengths of string marked out the shallow foundation for the tobacco curing and drying shed.

—Bessie Head

Genius is never a case apart.

—Jon Berger


List of Illustrations


Prologue: Handwork

Chapter 1: A Hillside in South Africa

Chapter 2: Craftwork

Chapter 3: Art

Chapter 4: Journeys

Chapter 5: Learning

Chapter 6: Apartheid

Chapter 7: Artists

Epilogue: The Art of the Past






A.1. Detail of a mural by Hamlet Hobe, 1960

Pro.1. Basketry class at Indaleni Mission, date unknown

Pro.2. Carving tools and objects at Grace Dieu Mission, late 1920s

1.1. A man in black and brown shoe polish, by Winston Radebe, 1965

1.2. Carving outdoors at the Ndaleni art school, late 1960s

1.3. The Hand of Destruction, by Fish Molepo, 1979

1.4. Stoking the kiln, Ndaleni art school, 1975

1.5. The kiln, Ndaleni art school, 1975

1.6. I Am Longing to Be One of Your Art Students, by Dominus Thembe, 1975

1.7. Daphne Biyela and classmates preparing wood for sculpture, 1978

1.8. Mercy Ghu at Ndaleni art school, 1969

2.1. USiko, by George Pemba, mid-1930s(?)

2.2. Ernest Mancoba with a bust of himself, Grace Dieu Mission, late 1920s

2.3. Grass brooms and baskets, unknown artists, drawn by Jack Grossert, 1950s

3.1. Jack Grossert, Durban, 1978

3.2. A Basotho Village, drawn by Jack Grossert, 1958

3.3. Children’s art class, the Art Gallery of Toronto, 1937

3.4. Mask (Senegalese), artist unknown, drawn by Jack Grossert, 1956

3.5. Broom handles by Natal schoolchildren, drawn by Jack Grossert, 1950s

3.6. Design by Gcinisiwe Gumede, displayed at the Eshowe Craft Show, drawn by Jack Grossert, 1950s

3.7. Beaded objects, unknown artists, drawn by Jack Grossert, 1950s

3.8. Cover, Native Teachers’ Journal, by Selbourne (Selby) Mvusi, 1953

4.1. Aerial view of the Indaleni Mission, 1957

4.2. The girls’ hostel at Indaleni Mission, 1950s

4.3. Cleaning the kiln, from a mural painted by Abednego Dlamini, 1960

4.4. Detail of a mosaic by Powell Xaba, 1962

4.5. Covers by Alois Mokoena and E. E. E. Mkize, submitted to Native Teachers’ Journal, 1950

4.6. Covers by Kenneth Masuku and Simon Gama, submitted to Native Teachers’ Journal, 1950

4.7. Teaching staff at the Indaleni Training College, including Peter Atkins and Peter Bell, late 1950s

4.8. Abednego Dlamini discussing a sculpture with a fellow student, 1960

4.9. Peter Bell and students, early 1960s

4.10. Lorna Peirson and Enid Motjale, 1967

4.11. Leave Taking, by unknown Ndaleni student, 1950s(?)

4.12. Detail of a mural painted by Sophie Nsuza, 1963

4.13. Solomon Baloyi at Ndaleni art school, 1976

4.14. Thabo Morathane, Credo Kubywana, and Christina Jikelo prepare for the year-end exhibition, Ndaleni art school, 1976

4.15. Practicing school students pose with Monster, by Silverman Jara, 1960s

5.1. Detail of a mural by Samson Mahlobo, 1962

5.2. Foot Prints, drawing and poem by Solomon Mabusela, 1966

5.3. Queen of Beauty, by Ernest Majova, 1964

5.4. Students building the entrance to the girls’ hostel, early 1960s

5.5. Completed entrance to the girls’ hostel, late 1960s

5.6. Detail of a mural by Hamlet Hobe, 1960

5.7. Seesaw, by Elliot Nyawo, 1964

5.8. Detail of a mural by an unknown artist (girls’ dining hall), late 1950s

5.9. Man with Stone, by Leonard Mbuli, 1980

5.10. Students hiking in Giant’s Castle, 1964(?)

5.11. Students sketching in Giant’s Castle, 1964(?)

5.12. Crab, by Fish Molepo, 1979

5.13. Wood Working Room, by Wiseman Mbambo, 1965

5.14. Carving, late 1960s

5.15. Fikile Langa blocking out a sculpture with an ax, 1975

5.16. Untitled sculpture, by unknown Ndaleni art student, year unknown

5.17. Student with a railway sleeper, cover by Hilda Mohlopi, 1966

5.18. Angel Mavuso digging clay, 1980

5.19. Susan Leboso digging clay, 1981

5.20. Railway Workers, by Michael Likhi, from the collection of Brenda Eckstein, 1967

5.21. Jacob Ndlazi and Dimbaza Family, 1972

5.22. Why? by Alphey Motsomane, 1976

5.23. George Kulati with birdbath, 1964

5.24. Ntombi Mdunge (formerly known as Daphne Biyela) at Ndaleni art school, 1978

5.25. Nathaniel Ntombela and Rightwell Temba examine student works, 1966

5.26. Exhibition in the main hall, Indaleni Training College, 1971

5.27. Exhibition at the Metropolitan Methodist Hall, Pietermaritzburg, 1975

5.28. Alex Mauwane at the exhibition, 1978

6.1. Ndaleni residents and Monster, by Silverman Jara, 2013

6.2. Practice teaching, Indaleni Practising School, 1968

6.3. Solomon Sedibane at Ndaleni art school refresher course, 1968

6.4. Students of Amelia Shishuba with grasswork, 1970s

6.5. Students of Godfrey Mpulu, with masks, 1970s

6.6. Lorna Peirson at home in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, 2013

6.7. Students of Elijah Zwane building a hut, Transvaal, 1971

7.1. Mother and Child, by Dumile Feni, 1966

7.2. Selby Mvusi, with his Adam and Eve (1955), 1958

7.3. Introspection I, by Paul Sibisi, 1972

7.4. Group shot, Ndaleni art school, late 1970s

7.5. Leslie Cindi at Ndaleni art school, 1973

Ep.1. Atomic Sausages, by Cyprian Ramosime, early 1960s

Ep.2. Mural at P. J. Simelane School, Dobsonville, Soweto, 2013

Ep.3. Entranceway to girls’ hostel, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 2009

Ep.4. Statue by unknown Ndaleni art school student, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 2009

Ep.5. Students of the Indaleni School for the Deaf meeting in the main hall, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 2014

Ep.6. Artwork by the students of Busi Mkhize, masonite and plastic, Indaleni School for the Deaf, 2014

Ep.7. Birdbath, by Phanuel Pooe, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 2009


Christ, by Phillip Ndwandwe, 1964, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 1993

Sower, by Abiah Ramadi, 1966, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 1993

Garden Water Tap, by Wiseman Mbambo, 1965, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 1993

Birdbath, by Phanuel Pooe, 1965, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 1993

Mural by Sophie Nsuza, 1963, photograph by Cedric Nunn

Solomon Sedibane leads a woodworking group at Ndaleni art school, 1968, unknown photographer

Detail of a Bible scene by Francis Halala and Jacob Masike, 1962, photograph by Cedric Nunn, 2009

Giraffe mosaic by Gabriel Vilakazi, 1961, photograph by the author, 2011


1.1. Southern Africa. Map by Jennie Miller


This book is a study of art education in South Africa, under segregation and apartheid. It considers the community of artists and educators who came together to create at numerous places—in Bulwer near the Drakensberg, in Pietersburg in the far northern Transvaal, in Johannesburg, and especially at Indaleni, outside Richmond in what is today KwaZulu-Natal—under the considerable cloud of white supremacy and structural poverty. It is the story of a community that nurtured its own ideals and practices and promoted nothing less than a new way of being in the world. The art teachers whose stories follow have taught me a tremendous amount about creativity, consciousness, and aesthetics; I hope that I have learned some of their lessons about being as well. At the very least, I share with them the experience of being nurtured and enriched by a beloved community.

Figure A.1   Easel painting at the Ndaleni Art School, from a mural painted by Hamlet Hobe, 1960, photograph by the author

This project began in the basement of the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), with the discovery of a book about the artist Dan Rakgoathe and the promise of another archive—of his alma mater, the Ndaleni art school, a few hundred kilometers away in Durban. I am forever indebted to the incredible team of archivists who helped me find my way: Jo Berger at the JAG; Michelle Pickover and team at Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand; and especially Mwelela Cele, Senzo Mkhize, and Nellie Somers at the Killie Campbell Collection at the University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal. Nellie was especially generous with her time, given my limited stay in Durban and the sheer volume of the Ndaleni material. I am also grateful to archivists at the Mayibuye Center at the University of the Western Cape, the South African National Gallery, the South African National Archives in Pretoria, the University of Fort Hare archives in Alice, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. Michael Gardiner provided me with critical documentation, as did Brendan Bell of the Tatham Art Gallery, Lorna Peirson, and her former colleague Craig Lancaster.

Lorna Peirson was also incredibly generous with her time, humoring me through numerous visits and an unceasing barrage of questions. I am grateful. She passed away in mid-2015 and although it saddens me that she will never see this book, I will always remember the look on her face while I read a draft of the first chapter to her when last we met. I am grateful as well to the numerous former Ndaleni students and other South African artists who took the time to speak with me. Not all of their stories made it into this book, but each of them is responsible for whatever sense I have been able to make of the terrain of creativity in twentieth-century South Africa. All errors are, of course, my own. Special thanks to Bongi Dhlomo, for her friendship and her many lessons about what it means to create. I was fortunate that my long-standing relationship with the Steve Biko Foundation granted me the opportunity to meet and spend time with Bongi, as well as to present a version of this work at the foundation’s wonderful new center in King Williams Town, which was an amazing experience.

I benefited from presenting parts of this book to engaged and critical audiences and colleagues at Emory University’s Seminar on African History, the African History and Anthropology Workshop at the University of Michigan, the University Seminar on Africa at Columbia University, Yale University’s Council on African Studies Seminar, the Witwatersrand Institute of Social and Economic Research WISH seminar, the University of Johannesburg Historical Studies Seminar, the African Studies Working Group at the University of Notre Dame, the African Studies lecture at Colgate University, the Red Lion Lecture at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, the Northeast Workshop on African Studies, and the African Studies Association. Karen Ijumba, Jennie Miller, Sam Appel, and Mariana Arjona Soberon all played critical roles in helping me manage this material and shape it into presentable form.

I am fortunate that colleagues and friends across continents and campuses have contributed to this work and the living that produced it. In South Africa, Cedric Nunn, Elza Miles, Joey Kok (who helped so much with translations!), Berno Schneider, Anitra Nettleton, Laura Phillips, Jacob Dlamini, Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi, Achille Mbembe, Nafisa Essop Sheik, Stephen Sparks, Natasha Erlank, Juliette Leeb-du Toit, Andries Bezuidenhout, Irma DuPlessis, Brown Maaba, Mwelela Cele, Sarah Emily Duff, Shireen Ally, Thembisa Waetjen, Goolam Vahed, Simphiwe Ngwane, Omar Badsha, Clive Glaser, Keith Breckenridge, Catherine Burns, Khosi Xaba, Obenewa Amponsah, Nkosinathi Biko, Julie Parle, Vanessa Noble, Councilor Thulani Shabalala, and so many others were critical interlocutors and friends. While writing this book, I lost my friend and mentor Mbulelo Mzamane; I treasure the memory of describing this project to him when last we met.

This book was conceived and written during a period of personal and professional transitions. The project developed first at Cornell University, and I am grateful to colleagues there who offered advice and encouragement. I need especially to note Salah Hassan, who took the time to tutor me on the history of twentieth-century African art. Support for my initial research was provided by the Society for the Humanities and the Institute for the Social Sciences, both at Cornell.

Since 2011, I have been fortunate to call both Brooklyn and Yale home (with plenty of Metro North in between). I’m grateful to the Macmillan Center for International and Area Studies and the Whitney Humanities Center for supporting my research, as well as to the latter’s Hilles Publication Fund for helping defray the costs of producing this book. A hearty thank you to Ian Shapiro for his support, again and again. Colleagues at Yale have been generous with their time and suggestions; I am grateful to Anne Eller, David Blight, Paul Sabin, Kate Ezra, George Chauncey, Paul Freedman, Francesca Trivellato, Alejandra Dubcovsky, Rohit De, Julie Stephens, Jenifer Klein, Jennifer Van Vleck, Jenni Allen, Albert Laguna, Ned Blackhawk, Rosie Bsheer, Laura Engelstein, Greta LaFleur, Mike McGovern, Katie Lofton, Naomi Lamoureaux, Steph Newell, Louisa Lombard, Kate Baldwin, Jonathan Wyrtzen, Joanna Radin, Michael Cappello, Chris Udry, Richard Anderson, Joshua Rubin, Matthew Keaney, Samuel Severson, Efe Igor, Thuto Thipe, Keri Lambert, Nikita Bernardi, Py Killen, and many others. I offer special thanks to Bob Harms, Alan Mikhail, and Ben Kiernan, each of whom read the manuscript carefully and offered vital interventions. Thanks also to the amazing staff in both the History Department and the Macmillan Center. I am grateful to Dana Lee, Denise Scott, Caryn Carson, Liza Joyner, and especially Lina Chan for her patience with my inept bookkeeping. Beyond New Haven, I have been lucky to be able to stay connected with old colleagues and mentors and to develop new networks. For advice, critiques, assistance, and camaraderie, my thanks to (in no particular order) Tom Spear, Clifton Crais, Jim Sweet, Neil Kodesh, Mark Hunter, Johanna Crane, Priya Lal, Meghan Healy-Clancy, Jill Kelly, Liz Thornberry, Khwezi Mkhize, Anatoly Pinsky, Paul Landau, Laura Murphy, Rian Thum, Jon Soske, Andy Ivaska, Brian Rutledge, Leslie Hadfield, Emily Callaci, Tyler Fleming, Carina Ray, Lauren Jarvis, Robert Vinson, Minkah Makalani, John Mason, Kim Miller, Naaborko Sackeyfio-Lenoch, Elizabeth Perrill, Shannen Hill, Kathryn De Luna, Kristin Phillips, Pier Larson, Butch Ware, Michael Panzer, T. J. Tallie, Marissa Moorman, Joshua Cohen, Chris Lee, Dennis Laumann, Mamadou Diouf, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Sean Hanretta, Noah Tamarkin, Jon Glassman, Jeremy Foster, Michelle Moyd, Jeremy Braddock, Mukoma wa Ngugi, Suman Seth, Mindy Smith, Guy Ortolano, Jenny Mann, and many others. Working with Ohio University Press has been a comfortable homecoming in itself; my thanks to the entire team, including Rick Huard, Beth Pratt, Gill Berchowitz, Nancy Basmajian, Joan Sherman, Samara Rafaert, two anonymous readers, and, of course, Jean Allman, Allen Isaacman, and Derek Peterson. Portions of this book were previously published as Two Stories about Art, Education, and Beauty in Twentieth-Century South Africa, American Historical Review 118, no. 5 (2013).

Book one was bylined Ithaca, book two Brooklyn, and it is better for it. This commuter’s gratitude to the New York City Africanist community overflows. I am grateful for the time, ideas, inspiration, and support of Julie Livingston, Fred Cooper, Hlonipha Mokoena (whom NYC misses terribly), Shobana Shankar, Ben Talton, and Greg Mann. Frequent lunches with Sean Jacobs have sharpened my conception of this book and the politics it articulates. Through him, I have been able to learn so much from the wider Africa Is a Country community, of which I am proud to be a part. Friends and family in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, California, and beyond have stepped in to help Katy and me walk the razor’s edge of two jobs, unforgiving schedules, little kids, and a dog. I’m so thankful to the grandparents, neighbors, nannies, babysitters, and teachers who made this possible.

I was fortunate to write most of this book in the home I share with Katy and Liya, while listening to new addition Micah learn first to crawl, then walk, then run (and fall) upstairs. As a historian, I cannot help but be keenly aware of the passage of time; I lost my last grandparent while writing this book; I welcomed my nephew Rafa Henry; and I watched my baby girl become a prototeenager who dances, swims, and loves to build and draw. She will be able to read these words, which freaks me out. Time passes and things change, but Liya Reba and Micah Leon always bring me joy beyond words.

And to Katy . . . again, words just will not do. This book began with us together in Johannesburg and Durban and continued with us together in Ithaca and Brooklyn. It began in school and ended with you at work, so able, so passionate and skilled and smart. It has not always—or often?—been easy, but I believe with all my heart that this process has been and will be worth it. Together, we keep the balls in the air, across cities, train lines, and continents. Our family is a refuge of love and joy. Everything I have ever written has been for you, but this book is truly yours. I dedicate it to our lives together, to our future, and to you, my love.

Brooklyn, NY

May 2016



IN 1926, Fred Sithole was a teacher at the Lurani Government School, outside Bulwer in the Union of South Africa’s Natal Province. Lurani was one of a few dozen schools that the Natal provincial government ran without the aid of the country’s ubiquitous Christian missions. In the years since World War I, Natal’s education department had embarked on an ambitious program of school building and curriculum overhaul. The percentage of African students who attended schools was small—only between 7 and 15 percent during the 1920s—but those who were in schools experienced new pedagogical imperatives that spoke of education for the sake of life, not just for learning. Such new ideas grew out of decades of debate about the role Africans were to play in South Africa’s schools and the colonial economy. These debates would likely have seemed quite abstract from both the teachers’ and the students’ perspectives. For Sithole and his students, new educational theories boiled down to the real, material fact that children devoted at least an hour of their school day to manual work.¹

In his presentation to his fellow teachers in Bulwer, Sithole noted that some schools did a good deal more, citing one in which two-thirds of the time is devoted to Manual Work. He was not suggesting such a dramatic overhaul for Lurani, even if his research indicated that their students would have supported such measures. Like many of his colleagues, Sithole had been educated under the old dispensation, when missionary education had focused on classical instruction—primarily the three Rs, which he referred to as school subjects. But that was then; now, in the mid-1920s, he surveyed his students about whether they preferred to spend their time on school subjects or on manual work. Their response was unequivocal: I think Manual Work must be given more time, wrote one. Between these two, myself I choose Manual Work, added another, reasoning that school subjects will not help us much when we are old. Manual Work makes us better people. Manual work took some of the mystery out of school. Its purposes and outcomes were apparent and translatable to life outside the classroom. We make the baskets even at home when the teacher is not present, a student explained. Unlike the alchemy of mathematics, which frequently saw students fail to make a hard sum, manual work was accessible to all: to make a basket or a spoon or a piece of furniture, we only use hands and look with the eyes.

Figure Pro.1   Basketry class at Indaleni, date unknown, photographer unknown, with the permission of the Richmond/Byrne District Museum (hereafter cited as Richmond Museum)

As Sithole saw it, through manual work schools would, in time, pay real, tangible dividends for both students and their community. Why bother with school subjects when we have no school-fees and money for books, a student asked; rather, we can make baskets and sell them. The subjects cannot give us money, another added, and Sithole drew the collective conclusion: All students see that Manual Work will help them to earn their living. This was a selective survey, to be sure; Sithole was a teacher in favor of manual work over and against schooling’s traditional emphasis on the subjects. Moreover, he published the results of his survey in the Native Teachers’ Journal, a publication founded by the recently invigorated provincial department of education, which had emphasized manual work (also known as industrial education or handwork) as part of its post–World War I reforms. Yet even if biased and edited, Sithole’s conclusions spoke eloquently to the unfolding ideology of African education in 1920s South Africa. Education for life was for the real world beyond the school. Students were poor, and manual work offered them the chance to make some money. Contemporary evidence suggests that even the small percentage of African youth who went to school spent fewer than five years there. Sithole and others contended that those few years were best spent giving students practical skills for the rest of their lives—which meant reading and writing, to be sure, but also basketry, sewing, and woodworking.²

Sithole’s claims were parochial, limited to his school near Bulwer. Yet consciously or not, he invoked decades of global debate about the position of the black student. From the turn of the twentieth century until the eve of World War I, educational theorists across Africa and elsewhere reevaluated whether the European-derived colonial education system was appropriate to the needs of the African child, as increasing numbers of the latter began to enter schools.³ This continental debate was part of a larger discussion about mass education globally, driven by industrialization and urbanization, among the other epochal shifts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In British colonial Africa, these issues took on a new urgency after World War I, following the evolving needs of the colonial political economy and the growing authority especially of American social scientists and philanthropists who were eager to extend their country’s ideological influence.⁴ Reflecting on the precedent of the post-slavery US South, American theorists taught that education worked best when it promoted social cohesion, not the splintering of the community into educated and not educated segments. Prevailing social and cultural conditions being what they were across Africa, it was presumptuous and foolhardy to apply metropolitan educational practices willy-nilly across the empire. Rather, education needed to proceed slowly and practically, just as Booker T. Washington had demonstrated in the United States after emancipation and as Washington’s acolytes, both black and white, were attempting to replicate across colonial Africa.

Paul Monroe of Columbia University’s Teachers’ College called this Washington-derived scheme adapted education. Monroe had no particular expertise in colonial pedagogy, but he was nevertheless assigned by the US State Department to issue a report on education in colonial Africa in 1919. Monroe’s conclusion was simple: African society was at a different stage of development than European society. Monroe believed that although education for Africans should contain the essential elements of modern civilization and Christian culture, there was nothing more essential than equipping students with modern methods in industry and agriculture.⁵ Until the 1910s, dominant imperial practice was to import metropolitan teaching to the colonies, with little or no adaptation or curriculum reform to accommodate local circumstances.⁶ With faith in the potency of European culture, metropolitan educationists and their far-flung missionary networks were cultural imperialists, trampling on African traditions in the name of progress and neglecting what Monroe called the unique genius of African societies.⁷ Monroe condemned this. South Africa had been exemplary here, at schools such as Adams College and Lovedale, where those who devised the curriculum learned from the best practices of metropolitan society and foreswore any adaptation to African economic and social circumstances.

The situation changed dramatically during the years bracketing World War I, under the influence of one of adapted education’s most strident proponents, the South African and Natal-born Charles Loram. Loram was a graduate of Teachers College, where he had studied with Paul Monroe and completed a PhD on the education of the South African Native. Upon returning to Natal to serve as the chief inspector of native education in 1918, he quickly ascended to the highest echelons of the native administration. In 1920, he left the Natal Education Department to serve on the Union’s Commission of Native Affairs; in 1921, he joined the Phelps-Stokes Commission on its educational survey of the region.⁸ Loram’s reputation was built on his efforts in Natal, where he worked assiduously to reshape the province’s approach to African education. As historian of South African education Peter Kallaway explained, Loram had left the United States deeply wedded to the adapted education model. The desire of Natal’s African population for schooling and the provincial government’s interest in a more scientific approach gave him a suitable laboratory for his experiments.⁹ It was Loram who organized the Lurani Government School and Loram whose insights and authority provided the context for Fred Sithole’s confident assertion that the best education began with the hands.

Loram had reviewed the education systems of the US South while studying at Teachers College; he had traveled both to Tuskegee and to Hampton, and not surprisingly, he found a worthy model in Washington’s adaptation of the white school form. Washington had done more to advance the Negro than any white American, he claimed, and so will it be with the Native peoples of South Africa.¹⁰ Washington had valorized the image of the African American farmer and craftsman, tilling the land and producing useful goods. Loram’s syllabus similarly demanded that manual training take up an increasingly significant proportion of the learning week. The course in industrial training should have taught him the simpler Native crafts, the useful European art of sewing and the elements of practical agriculture, Loram contended, while proving that there is nothing lowering in manual work.¹¹

Loram’s tenure as chief inspector of native education in Natal was short but evidently long enough to enact much of his program. Within a year, 73 percent of the African schools were doing manual work; by the mid-1920s, that number had risen to 86 percent.¹² Historians have noted his success; more and more, Loram’s tenure in Natal is seen as a rehearsal for the apartheid government’s efforts in favor of own lines, or adapted education. Such teleologies aside, the fundamental fact is that over the 1920s, more and more African students entered schools like Sithole’s, there to work with their hands.¹³ Carpentry and woodworking; basketry and sewing by children in schools—this was to be the foundation of a future African society’s economy in their villages and native reserves.

This separate future was, of course, an illusion. White artisans looked jealously at African vocational training. Indeed, previous efforts to promote African industry had foundered because of outspoken white opposition, and it was far from certain that handwork would save Africans from going up and down the streets looking for jobs.¹⁴ Even more fundamentally, adapted education assumed that Africa would continue to consist of exclusively rural societies—small in scale, cheaply supported by domestic agricultural production—but the 1920s instead saw the dramatic decline of independent African farming and the beginning of a still-ongoing tide of urbanization. Industrial education was premised on the faith that African students could sell the things they made in school, yet by the end of the 1920s—and especially with the onset of the Depression in the 1930s—the market for African industrial work seemed to have dried up.¹⁵

Figure Pro.2   Carving tools and carved objects at Grace Dieu Mission, late 1920s, photographer unknown, Historical Papers Research Library, University of the Witwatersrand, File AB750Ga8.36, with the permission of the Anglican Church of South Africa

Loram and Sithole’s own department took note of this. In 1929, a regional inspector named Dent surveyed his schools and concluded that the market value of their crafts was uncertain. In fact, in most cases there is no visible market, and the articles accumulate to become mere lumber, he informed the provincial authorities. But he did not call for students to stop working with their hands; rather, he suggested that the department cease to emphasize the market value of student work to the exclusion of other aspects of Native crafts. Dent proposed a shift in the purpose of handwork, away from inculcating industry to aesthetic appreciation.¹⁶ If not industry, then why not art? The last was an intriguing idea, and other educationists developed it over the course of the next decades. All the while, African students in South African schools continued to work with their hands—to build, weave, model, and carve—sometimes for an hour per day and sometimes more.

Map 1.1   Southern Africa. Map by Jennie Miller,

Chapter 1


FOR MOST, the greatest challenge was the lack of materials. The syllabus called for students to weave with grass, but in many areas, no suitable grass existed; teachers reported using wool instead. When the lack of paint demanded similar improvisation, we are using wet chalk and crayons.¹ The syllabus was unrelenting, no matter whether teachers taught in rural schools with ample stone and wood or in denuded urban areas where there is no wood because the school is right in the Location.² Teachers were forced to find creative solutions to their particular experiences of material want, and they eagerly exchanged advice and suggestions. Wood for sculpture can often be obtained free of charge from municipalities when trees such as Jacaranda, Silver Oak or Syringa have to be pruned or cut down, one teacher reported, John Ngcobo succeeded in getting some wood in this way in Pietermaritzburg.³ Vivian Bopape frequented waste yards outside factories and in industrial areas; her quests were often rewarded with spoiled newsprint, broken glass, and torn sponges—all of which proved useful in her lessons.⁴ Material want affected teachers’ own art practices as well. Winston Radebe was a talented draftsman, but he lacked the money to buy conté crayons or charcoals. So he drew with shoe polish—Nugget brand, black and brown—and proudly enclosed a sample for his art teacher.⁵ Correspondence about materials dominated the pages of the art teachers’ newsletter from its initial publication in 1961. Lack was the major enemy of Ndaleni graduates, and its defeat drew the community of teachers, students, and artists together.⁶

Figure 1.1   A man in black and brown shoe polish, drawing by Winston Radebe, 1965, photograph by the author

Between the early 1950s and the early 1980s, South Africa’s Department of Bantu Education ran a school for the training of specialist arts and crafts teachers at Indaleni, outside Richmond in the Natal Midlands. Over those decades, nearly a thousand students attended the course, which qualified them to teach the department’s arts and crafts syllabus in apartheid South Africa’s schools. As we have seen, long before the advent of the policy of Bantu Education, syllabi for Africans had mandated that black students engage in what was variously called art, handwork, industrial education, craftwork, or arts and crafts while enrolled in government-funded schools. This took on a new urgency in the 1950s, when arts and crafts featured in the apartheid government’s efforts to preserve the absolute distinction between African (or Bantu) and European education. In the years leading up to the adoption of the Bantu Education Act in 1953, apartheid bureaucrats and theorists considered how best to ensure that the syllabus promoted difference—and in the years that followed, qualified teachers went to Ndaleni to study the activities called for in the Bantu Education syllabus.

At Ndaleni, they studied grasswork, beadwork, bonework, painting, drawing, wood carving, and claywork, among other subjects; they also developed their own art practice and gained a working knowledge of art history. Paid for with government bursaries, the art program was a two-year course through the 1950s and was then reduced to a one-year program from the 1960s until the course’s end in 1981. In return for the government bursary and a pay increase upon completing the course, Ndaleni students agreed to teach art in the apartheid government’s African schools. Close to a thousand graduated, about one hundred failed to complete the course, and nearly two thousand more were turned away because of a lack of space.

That only one-third of applicants were admitted to the Ndaleni program indicates its appeal. A year at Indaleni (the former mission station as opposed to the art school, which did not use the locative prefix) was a year nestled in the Midlands, painting, sculpting, drawing, learning. The vast majority of Ndaleni students were already working teachers, so a year at Ndaleni also meant time away from their typically underfunded and overcrowded schools; it also meant a year without pay, being confined to shabby mission accommodations, and for older students being away from their families. Many considered themselves artists, even if society did not recognize them as such, and although it was not an art school in the strictest sense, Ndaleni was one of a very few places where black South Africans could study and develop their art.⁸ Yet attaining an Ndaleni certificate did not promise a much easier life. The same problems awaited graduates—more and more students, dilapidated working conditions, a pervasive lack of materials, and an even more pervasive lack of appreciation.

Figure 1.2   Students carving, late 1960s, photographer unknown, Ndaleni Scrapbook 4, with the permission of the Campbell Collections of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (hereafter cited as CC)

For many, it was worth it. Teaching art in Bantu Education schools could be rewarding, as Elijah Zwane wrote in the early 1960s. Wishing to see what I had in my class, I introduced modeling in clay and picture painting, and the work of the pupils struck me with wonder, he gushed. It was marvelous to see what talents remain buried in the nerves of an African child.⁹ A decade later, Mercy Ghu was similarly enthusiastic: [The students’] imagination is fairly wide when it comes to clay or paper mâché, she reported, they are not at all inhibited!¹⁰ Listening to them chatter while they worked, she was transported back to her time at art school, to the joy that resounded in the sound of the hammer and chisel in the free, open air.¹¹

Their world was different from ours. We must start there.¹² So wrote Nathan Huggins about the Harlem Renaissance, to free himself and his readers from decades’ worth of knowledge of what that era and its personalities meant. Let us start there: is it possible to tell the story of Elijah Zwane’s wonder or to exult in the free, open air of such a place as twentieth-century South Africa? Between the 1950s and the 1980s, hundreds of black South Africans journeyed across their benighted land to a hillside school to paint, to carve, to model, to think. The evidence they left behind suggests that, for the most part, they enjoyed the experience. They held fast to it, treasuring the school, their talent, their vision, their changed selves, and the community they made there amid society’s storms.

We know a good deal about those storms. As a way of life, the apartheid for which these teachers worked is still little understood. As a concept, it is a term immediately grasped and then shelved with colonialism, racism, segregation, and the Holocaust—the litany of a century’s wrongs.¹³ Generations of activists, artists, scholars, and others have condemned apartheid’s violence and urged resistance. Yet the term apartheid itself continues to do tremendous violence to those who lived under that system: when we invoke the word—and especially when we append the categories black and South African to it—it becomes too

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