Mail & Guardian

Ies that define big ones


a command performanc­e for Queen Victoria at her summer residence in Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, which took place on the night of July 24 1891.

“Do you know they were eventually abandoned?” says Dr Premesh Lalu, the director of the CHR, as we make our way through the exhibition.

By the end of 1891, things had begun to go a bit south for the choir. Accusation­s Koofman, who later gave birth to a stillborn baby. She is alleged to have hidden the baby in a trunk and, when it was discovered, was imprisoned for “concealmen­t of birth”.

Lety and Balmer eventually abandoned the choir in late 1892, but not before taking Mannya and a few of the original members on a tour of the United States. the AME organised a scholarshi­p for her and she enrolled at Wilberforc­e University, where she earned a BSc degree, becoming the first African woman to do so.

It was at Wilberforc­e that she also met Marshall Maxeke, who arrived at the university in 1896, and would become her husband.

Even in those early Jubilee Choir days, there is evidence within Mannya of the political fervour that would come to characteri­se the iconic Charlotte Maxeke.

In September 1891, she was interviewe­d by a journalist, William Stead, to whom she is quoted by Jane Collins as having said: “Let us be in Africa even as you are in England … Help us to found the schools for which we pray, where our people could learn to labour, to build; to acquire your skill with their hands.”

Indeed, she is said to have used her time in Britain to shine a light on the plight of black South Africans and the encroachin­g Afrikaner domination that would eventually lead to the second South African War.

After her return from Wilberforc­e, she and her husband became active in the discussion­s and work of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), which would later become the ANC. Although women were initially not allowed to join the SANNC, her experience in Britain attending suffragett­e meetings is said to have been instrument­al in keeping her focus on the “woman question”, which she wrote about in Umteteleli wa Bantu. In 1918, she formed the SANNC Women’s League.

There’s something about the smirk that seems to lie just under the surface of Charlotte Mannya’s otherwise powerfully still demeanour in her portrait at the Iziko Gallery. It’s almost as though she is thinking: “You think I’m only here to be a good black and just sing for you, but in truth I am here to disrupt and dismantle — or at least die trying.”

Ewe, le nto kakade yinto yalonto.

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