Progressive engagement at UFH advances Lovedale Press revitalization efforts

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A forward-looking meeting aimed at revitalizing the historic Lovedale Press, located in the town of eDikeni (Alice), got underway at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) yesterday.

This is a collaborative effort between the university, The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), the Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF), the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture (DSRAC), the Eastern Cape Provincial Heritage Resource Authority (ECPHRA), alongside trustees of the Lovedale Press.

By consolidating and enhancing existing efforts, the joint initiative aims to develop new strategies that will ultimately revive Lovedale Press in a re-imagined form that meets the current demands of publishing.

The meeting, held with enthusiasm and commitment from representatives of the collaborating stakeholders, marks a significant step towards preserving the rich heritage and cultural impact of one of South Africa's oldest publishing institutions.

Established over 200 years ago, Lovedale Press empowered Black writers to communicate with Black readers in their native languages, which was crucial during an era when Black authors faced marginalization from white-owned presses that exclusively published in English and later in Afrikaans.

A plaque on an exterior wall of the modest building in the small town of eDikeni commemorates this milestone, stating: "The earliest record of anything written by any Bantu-speaking African in his own language in South Africa, was made at the small printing press at Old Lovedale," as noted by AC Jordan, a prominent isiXhosa writer and one of the esteemed alumni of Fort Hare.

Over time, Lovedale Press expanded its influence to become a prominent publisher in southern Africa, producing notable literature not only in isiXhosa but also in other Southern African languages, including English.

Sadly, today, the establishment that was liquidated in 2001 and auctioned off to 18 former employees, now trustees, lies in shambles. However, from yesterday’s meeting, a beacon of revival shines, attested by one of the trustees, Mr Cebo Ntaka.

“A new sense of hope has been instilled during the meeting, that indeed Lovedale Press will rise again. When we approached the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu in 2018, the objective was to ensure the literary heritage was preserved. With the support shown during the engagement from all stakeholders, we are certain that the objective will be met,” said Ntaka.

A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for early July, where additional stakeholders have been identified to strengthen further this joint initiative centered on purposefully restoring the Press’s role as a bastion of indigenous language and cultural expression.