A tribute to the late UFH Chancellor, Rev Dr Makhenkesi Stofile
Ikhaya lakwaStofile izizalwana nezalamane (oThahle, oDlangamandla, AmaBamba nabo bonke abasondele enxebeni), The Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa The former President of the Republic, Mr Kgalema Mothlanthe, The Members of the Judiciary, The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mr Pumulo Masualle Ministers of Government and Deputy Ministers, MECs, The members of the diplomatic corps Ministers of religion, Izikumkani neenkosi ezikhoyo Mayors, The Chairperson of Council of the University of Fort Hare and members of Council Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors from various institutions, Leaders of the ANC and other political organisations University Stakeholders, staff, students, The community of Alice and others from various corners of South Africa Honoured Guests, Ladies and gentlemen, Mandiqale ngokuthi “Ngxe” ko Thahle nakuni nonke. Masilivume elamanyange elithi akuhlanga lungehlanga kwaye akuhlanga olungehliyo. Lalani ngenxeba.
The late O R Tambo delivering the Canon Collins Memorial Lecture with the title “South Africa at the Cross Roads” in May 1987 had this to say:
“As a people we have lost a fellow-combatant for justice and liberation, a dependable ally in the struggle to abolish the system of apartheid. Yet such was the durability of his good works that it was inevitable that they would outlast the short life that is given to us all and thus serve the memory of the man into a material force that will continue to transform the destinies of the living”
South Africa is today once more at the cross roads as we prepare to lay to rest this great giant of our struggle for liberation, Makhenkesi Stofile. It may be a cross roads of a different context but it remains a situation were serious choices have to be made that will determne the future of this country.
The year 2016 is the centennial of the University of Fort Hare, a year of celebrations, a year of joy. That joyful period, the epoch of celebration and elation, is, however, united with its opposite as we go through various moments of sadness and depression. Charles Dickens saw this unity of opposites when he described that period of the bourgeois revolution in England in the Tale of Two Cities. We were with Rev Stofile on the 8th of February 2016 when we celebrated the Centenary of the University. There was no person more appropriate and suitable than him to switch on the Centenary Light next to the Stewart Memorial. The teacher in him glowingly emerged as we stood at the top of that mountain and listened to his exposition of the history of the area from the wars of dispossession to the successive royal houses and the founding of the University of Fort Hare. It is as if he was meant to switch on the light so that we could see the light in him forever. We looked at the Tyume Valley and its surroundings talking about future development. Perhaps a voice was speaking to him at the time indicating the land that had been promised to him when he retired but also informing him that he was not going to live in it for long. In his light shall we see light. He was
installed as the Chancellor of the University on the 5th of May 2016 following a pre- installation Chancellor’s dinner in East London the night before. Unbeknown to all of us he was officiating in his first and last graduation ceremony sessions as a Chancellor, a task he performed without missing a single one of those sessions.
On the 19th of May 2016 he gave his input in the big debate where he was part of a panel with other alumni like Prof Barney Pityana, Nomsa Mazwai and the Vice-Chancellor, putting building blocks to the vision of the University in its second century. Our Chancellor implored the University never to forget that it is located amongst communities, and that whatever it does in teaching and research would be meaningless if it did not impact positively on those communities. This was vintage Bra Stof talking about eDikeni, a place that ran through his veins and arteries. His passion for the Tyume Valley surroundings was so intense. On the 20th of May 2016 he was with us as the University hosted the historic moment of the international celebration of the Centenary Year. His last official function at the University was to welcome guests in that Centenary Celebration.
His university experience started at this historic institution in 1969 when he enrolled as a student and it so happens that the last institution he served in his life was this institution. The period between 1969 and August 2016 is filled a very rich history of a combatant as defined by OR Tambo when he talked about Canon Collins in the passage quoted above.
We are losing some of the greatest alumni of the University in quick succession. Between January and August 2016 many an illustrious alumnus of the University passed on and amongst them we can mention Phyllis Ntantala (Jordan), Yoli Soul, Amos Mdebuka, Simon Gqubule, Dumisani Mafu, Jacob Seretlo and Mthi Sipamla. This is also the second Chancellor we are losing in a space of eleven months. Last year as we launched the preparations for the centenary year we saw the passing of Judge Skweyiya in September 2015. That wound has not yet healed.
It is unavoidable that as a parent reaches a hundred years she will see some of her children and grandchildren passing on in front of her eyes. That has been the case with the University of Fort Hare. If it were not in the hundredth year of the parent we would say it is pardonable, but to have such losses in the hundredth year is very painful.
As we remember the life and times of our Chancellor it is possible that we could just list all the chronological events that bring him to life. It is, however, essential that we should go to the essence of his life and share what made him do the things that he did, what made him behave in the manner he did and made him be the person that he was. In that way we shall be beginning to “serve the memory of the man into a material force that will continue to transform the destinies of the living”. What is the DNA or genetic material that made up Bra Stof?
Albie Sachs in various conversations that I have had with him has a profound saying that “if a paternity test on the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa were to be done one would find the DNA of O R Tambo”. I also want to venture into that field of Albie Sachs genetics and say that if a socio-political and economic paternity test were to be done on Bra Stof we would find the DNA of Oliver Tambo, the first Chancellor after Fort Hare was liberated from the apartheid governors and managers in the early 1990’s. He is the fifth Chancellor after OR Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Danisa Baloyi and Judge Skweyiya.
A fearless, courageous, humble revolutionary who showed his mettle as a student, an academic, a politician, an administrator, a man of the cloth, a ballroom dancer and other roles so numerous to mention – Bra Stof brought us hope that he was going to be with us to transform UFH to be the premiere African university in its second century. He never expected another person to do what he himself was not willing or prepared to do. The genetic material of integrity, excellence, perfected and practical idealism, faith, commitment, memory, the people-oriented outlook and humility that you found in OR Tambo was transmitted to Bra Stof. This was no just a passive transmission but a process where the off- spring was actively involved in ensuring the genetic inheritance actually happened, not in a personality cult manner but in the true revolutionary process of being prepared by those who come before you, and being willing to be trained and nurtured. He also read widely and
sought the knowledge and skills that would prepare him for the roles he played. A well rounded complete person who demonstrated the combination of the three critical leadership qualities: insight, foresight and oversight (with trustworthiness and stewardship). I also dare say these did not go without some consideration of hindsight. He understood that one cannot have the abilities of self-reflection and self-criticism without having some hindsight. Bra Stof encouraged self- reflection and self-criticism both in an individual and in an organisation.
As a student at Fort Hare, Bra Stof showed that the world around us can be changed if one has got an insight into what the issues are and a foresight as to what they ought to be. In 1973 when the Blues Rugby team joined non-racial sport Makhenkesi Stofile, Silumko Sokupa, Thami Zani, Vuyisa Qunta and others were in the forefront. They convinced us that the time had come for UFH Rugby to belong to the fold of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and break away from the racially-based South African African Rugby Board (SAARB) which was meant for Africans whilst the South African Rugby Federation and the South African Rugby Board were meant for Coloureds and Whites respectively. That was the beginning of an understanding for many of us that there could not be “normal sport in an abnormal society”. He moved from that slogan to engage in the actual process of changing the abnormal society to be the one in which normal sport could be played. He also knew that a critical mass of people who needed to be part of that change were to be recruited and mobilised. Things could not just be left to chance or fate.
In Thahle as an academic one could see the manifestation and expression of the Tambo DNA again as Bra Stof became the revolutionary intellectual. Like the intellectual described by Gramsci, he identified “philosophy with history, with the act of thinking: an act in which truth and historical fact are united in a dialectical progression…” Bra Stof’s brain cells made him have such memory and quick wit that his recollection of events and the connectedness of those to the liberation struggle and human development would flow seamlessly as he began to argue and explain his position in any debate. A teacher, a nurturer, a developer of talent, a mentor, a scholar through and through, one who never left ideas in the abstract but linked them to practical steps of what needed to be done. That is the DNA of Oliver Tambo, which he made available to many a South African and a Fort Harian.
In any big family like the one in which Tambo left his DNA you will find those who inherited the genetic material intact and developed it further to achieve better results. However, there are also those in whom the genetic material did not express itself or mutated into different genes resulting in some serious negative results. We should, therefore, not be surprised when we find some offspring that does not show a neat fit with the genetic material of OR Tambo. It is everyone’s responsibility to retrain and re-educate those to know that they carry genes that gave birth to our Constitution.
Our Chancellor fitted very well with the intellectuals that carried the Tambo DNA. He knew very well that the oppressed and downtrodden need to have “one or more intellectuals [who] should adhere to [the oppressed people’s] programme and its doctrine; should merge with [the poor and vulnerable] becoming one with [them] and feeling… to be an integral part of [them]” (Gramsci, 1925). Makhenkesi, like Tambo was that type of an intellectual.
His links with Fort Hare never stopped when he was deployed elsewhere, whether in government or in the diplomatic mission. He continuously built bridges for the University and influenced its future. He championed the writing of the history of the University as its centenary gradually approached. It was in 2006-2007 that he, Tshezi Mafanya, Shepherd Mayatula and Sizwe Manona met with Derrick Swarts and I at the Fort Hare Foundation to discuss this project. He constantly reminded us afterwards that the generations are disappearing as they age and we shall lament the missed opportunity if we do not do the work quickly. We started the project but the first data collector, Sizwe Manona himself passed on. We have been fortunate to continue with the project and have Thahle’s own contribution to the book recorded this year although Prof Luvuyo Wotshela did not make the return journey to Thahle for more input.
As Tambo bemoaned the fact that “titans of our struggle as Canon John Collins [would] not be with us to celebrate the birth of democracy in our country”, so do we that this giant of our continued struggle against poverty, inequality and unemployment will not be with us as South Africa finds itself at the cross-roads. As we keep and promote his memorialization we must be that “material force that will continue to transform the destinies of the living” (OR Tambo)
Hamba kakuhle Thahle Hamba kakuhle Nyawuza
DR MVUYO TOM, VICE-CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF FORT HARE, 25TH AUGUST 2016