Tribute to Dr Makhaya Mjana by Dr Alvin Benito Petersen
During my tenure as Head of Music at the University of Fort Hare between 2001 and 2006, the Music Department was, along with the University of Venda and the University of Zululand, a beneficiary of funding from the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in order to promote indigenous Xhosa music and oral history, as part of the DAC’s National Indigenous Music and Oral History Project (NIMOHP). As a result, it was enabled financially to appoint the Ngqoko Group as performers-in-residence on an annual basis; to have the BA Honours students do field work in the Ngqoko Village, just outside of Queenstown; to invite several cultural groups to perform at Heritage Month (September) celebrations, and to equip learners (both at secondary level and at the University of Fort Hare) with the skills in making uhadi bows and performing on them, and to appoint Mr (later Dr). Makhaya Mjana as a research associate of the project. After he was interviewed for this position the committee had no hesitation in appointing this kind gentleman.
Mr Mjana was based at NAHECS and his presence both there and at UFH served as a breath of fresh air. He did not require any introduction to anybody, since he was so well known both at UFH; all over the Eastern Cape Province and, indeed, in South Africa as a composer of note, as a legendary conductor and as a cultural activist, and his kind manner and endearing smile captivated all those who had the pleasure to meet him for the first time. Still, his humility ensured that even though he was able to interact with South African presidents and university rectors, he never lost the common touch. He brought choral excellence to all, irrespective of socio-economic status. This ensured that, even in the smallest town, dorpies and villages of the Eastern Cape Province, he needed no introduction.
This is the Makaya Mjana that I got to know personally and as the head of the NIMOHP at UFH. I learnt a lot from him.We regularly invited the Ngqoko Group, from the Ngqoko Village, just outside of Queenstown, to serve as performers-in-residence at UFH. Mr Mjana ensured that NAHECS would always be available for them. In this and in other ways too numerous to mention here, he made a huge contribution towards the overall vision of NIMOHP, which was: “To be the most authoritative repository of indigenous music and oral history in the Eastern Cape Province, specializing in the collection and preservation of indigenous music and oral history of the amaXhosa.”
The Ngqoko Group attracted not only the attention of the staff and students of the Music Department NAHECS and other academic departments of UFH, but even members of the service staff and security services of the university as a whole. The field visits of the BA Honours students to the Ngqoko Village were crowned with success, largely because of Mr Mjana’s organizational abilities.
May I end in the words of the Irish Blessing, which I deem appropriate, since Makhaya Mjana was a blessing to all who were privileged to meet and know him:
May the road rise to meet you;
May the wind be always at your back;,
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
May the rain fall soft upon your fields;
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Dr Alvin Benito Petersen, March 2019