Nataka Books Review: Ellen Kuzwayo

Updated: Feb 22

Have always held a fascination for people whose careers began as teachers, their very first professional roles, and due to circumstances mostly directly related to the experience of the same students they teach, these teachers find themselves pulled to other areas without abandoning the role of 'teaching.'

Ellen Kuzwayo, born in June 1914 follows this path. The date of her birth instantly hints at what is to come for those who conscious about impending restrictions in their land at that time. Ellen joined the ranks of those who put everything on the line to make the change they wanted to see.

The other interest in Ellen comes from the fact that she documented everything, being the trained teacher seeking order, organisation and harmony. Any biography of DDT Jabavu, AS Xuma, Selby Msimanga, ZK Matthews, Minah Soga, Charlotte Maxeke or Govan Mbeki would be incomplete without reference to Mama Ellen Kuzwayo's own words.

Ellen Kuzwayo attended the first National Council of African Women (NCAW) conference in Bloemfontein on 17 December 1937 where she met Charlotte Maxeke for the first time. In 1938, Ellen was elected Secretary General of the local branch in Thaba Nchu. Various teaching posts and activist roles took their toll on Ellen but she never waivered in her dedication to her people and family. "I write this chapter in 1983, I am sitting in full view of the Atlantic Ocean," Ellen writes, thinking about her comrades in those dark years.

"I have been very proud of the faith placed in me by all these organisations. But once in my life I was called upon to do a task which shook my whole being..." Ellen recalls. What Ellen Kuzwayo's generation contributed to the defiance campaign resonates in the South Africa that was realised. Ellen's memoir offers more than her life, her duty and service and the history of South Africa. In books and records which often leave out details of the local populations, Ellen paints a picture of her family fight for survival, her work, ordinary discussions and the greater picture of various leaders at work trying to realise a dream they never doubted could be achieved.

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