Call to restore Noni Jabavu legacy
The family of esteemed writer, activist appeals for assistance in honouring South Africa’s grand lady of journalism, writes
THE family of the late literary giant and activist Helen Nontando Jabavu, who was affectionately known as Noni, is appealing to all South Africans to assist them in reinstating her legacy as part of the country’s heritage restoration.
Schooled in England from the age of 13, Noni Jabavu was one of the first African female writers and journalists.
In 1961 she became the first woman and African to be an editor of the British-published literary magazine, The New Strand, which was being revived after its 1950 closure, then called The Strand.
She also worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a presenter and finally as a producer.
She later set up a film office in Uganda under the British colonial government.
Although her editorship with The New Strand was short-lived, her pioneering presence lived on.
In 1977 Noni became a weekly columnist for the Daily Dispatch, under the editorship of Donald Woods – a position he had held since 1965.
She published her first book, The Ochre People, in 1963 about her journey back to South Africa when she visited her family in 1955.
Her other book, Drawn in Colour (1960), was also hailed by critics as “brilliant” and “fascinating”.
In her books she wrote about issues of identity, tracing her origins in both England and South Africa.
She was awarded a lifetime achievement award by former Arts and Culture Minister Dr Pallo Jordan, as well as a best literature award in the Eastern Cape by the then sports, art and culture MEC Nosimo Balindlela.
Jabavu’s grandson and the family representative, Siyabonga Jabavu, said the family was in the process of making a mini-documentary about her life when funds provided by the Eastern Cape Arts Culture Council ran out.
Siyabonga said the project, which was started by Duma kaNdlovu of Muvhango TV series on SABC, could not be completed due to this problem and they were now asking for third parties to come on board and assist.
“We approached Duma kaNdlovu as a family to assist us in creating a documentary about the life and times of Noni Jabavu. He was very supportive of the project and agreed to help but we ran out of funds before it was completed,” said Siyabonga.
He said the project was very important to the family because they wanted to honour and restore her legacy as one of the most prolific and pioneering writers of her generation, whose contribution to the South African literature landscape was unmatched.
“We appeal to the departments of arts and culture, the heritage council and anybody or institutions that can assist us to complete this project to come forward,” he said.
Siyabonga said they were also trying to trace and collect all of Noni’s writings and artworks from all over the world for archive purposes.
The National Heritage Council (NHC) said its funding programme, which runs annually, is specifically aimed at assisting communities.
It could fund projects up to the value of R500 000 and in some exceptionally critical cases the funding could reach R1-million.
The NHC’s marketing and communications manager, Danny Goulkan, said they were looking for heritage stories that inspired the nation about the people’s cultures and traditions.
“The one way to achieve our vision – ‘building a nation proud of its African heritage’ – is to produce information and make it public. We acknowledge that we cannot do it without the involvement of the people themselves,” said Goulkan.
“We recognise that our communities have not had exposure to formal funding but have very important heritage stories to share with the world. Our main requirement is for the community project to qualify as heritage,” he said.
Goulkan said the NHC advertises nationally every year to ask the public to submit proposals that are evaluated by an independent committee.
Born on August 20 1919 in Alice into a literary family, Noni died in June 2008 at the age of 88.
The daughter of the late Professor Davidson Don Tengo (D D T) Jabavu, who was first black professor at the University of Fort Hare, Noni became exposed to education and literature at an early age.
Her mother, Thandiswa Florence Makiwane, was the founder of Zenzele Woman’s Self-Improvement Association, which was aimed at teaching women how to be selfsupportive. Noni’s aunt, Cecilia Makiwane, was the first registered professional black nurse in South Africa and an early activist in the struggle for women’s rights.
She was a protester in the first antiwomen’s pass campaign in 1912.
Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane is named after her.
While at Fort Hare, D D T played a huge role in shaping the young minds of then future political leaders such as Z K Mathews, Robert Mugabe, Nelson Mandela and many others.
Noni’s grandfather, John Tengo Jabavu, a politician turned journalist, founded and also became the editor of the first blackowned newspaper in 1884, Imvo Zabantsundu (black opinion).
He was also a founding member of the South African Native College, which was later renamed the University of Fort Hare.
“I would say she was one of the greatest intellectuals of the time especially in female activism in the advancement of literature in our society,” said Siyabonga.
To contact the family, call Siyabonga Jabavu on 082-327-9708. —
INFLUENTIAL FAMILY: Noni Jabavu and her grandson receiving the Order of Luthuli in Gold award on behalf of John Tengo Jabavu from former president Thabo Mbeki PROLIFIC WRITER: The late Noni Jabavu was one of the first successful female African writers...
WELL-CONNECTED: Noni Jabavu and Victoria Makiwane attended the unveiling ceremony for their aunt, Cecilia Makiwane
OLD FRIENDS: Author Noni Jabavu, left, is reunited with Zimbabwean author Virgina Phiri in East London. Phiri helped Jabavu when the Eastern Cape writer was in exile in Zimbabwe