Healdtown – Under the Eagle’s Wings

October sees the nationwide release of Healdtown – Under the Eagle’s Wings, Trevor Webster’s account of Healdtown, the African mission school where many of the black elite who became leaders in the struggle for democracy were educated.

Among the illustrious past students of Healdtown are politicians, church leaders, academics, publishers, doctors, historians and members of the legal fraternity, including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba (first Premier of the Eastern Cape province), Robert Sobukwe (Founder President of the Pan Africanist Congress), John Nyathi Pokela (a leader of the PAC), Professor Loyiso Nongxa (first black person appointed as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand), Dr Mvuyo Tom (now Vice-Chancellor of Fort Hare University) and Judge Thembile Skweyiya (Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Chancellor of Fort Hare University).

Enoch Santonga, teacher and Methodist lay minister in the Eastern Cape, wrote Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika for his choir in 1897. The Healdtown students sang this hymn on Sundays. It was sung in 1912 at the first meeting of the South African Native National Congress, the forerunner of the ANC, and became the national anthem of many African countries and, along with Die Stem, South Africa’s present-day national anthem.

Reverend Dr Simon Gqubule, past prefect at Healdtown, member of the Board of Healdtown and first black person to obtain a PhD from Rhodes University, recalls that there were altogether 1 000 students in the High School and the Training College during his student days at Healdtown (1943-9), travelling from all over South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland.

“The coat of arms of Healdtown, an eagle in perpetual flight, was our daily inspiration to reach for the heights… The students and staff spoke all the languages of Southern Africa and English was acknowledged as the language for empowerment so that students could attain success on the global stage.”

Begun as a Methodist mission in 1855 during a time of frontier conflict, Healdtown became the largest high school in the country. The Rev AA Wellington, who was governor of the institution from 1928-44, called it “the greatest missionary institution of its kind south of the Zambezi River.”

The Bantu Education Act of 1953 saw the beginning of a gradual decline in the standards of Healdtown and, sadly, today the infrastructure is in a serious state of decay. The Historic Schools Restoration Project is attempting to restore respect to this once great institution; the importance of this endeavour was highlighted during a prestigious reunion event hosted at Healdtown on 28 September this year, attended by various prominent dignitaries.

Reflecting on the release of the book, Wendy Luhabe, Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, leading business personality and Healdtown alumnus 1974, commented, "This is both a tribute and a closer look at an important piece of history that miraculously shaped many lives since 1855, some of whom became inspirational legends and global icons.

It is a testimony that there is no substitute for quality education and that nothing better equips ordinary citizens to take their rightful place in society. It is an honour to be featured in this book among some of South Africa's greatest icons and prominent leaders."

Healdtown – Under the Eagle’s Wings was published by the Methodist Publishing House in association with the Historic Schools Restoration Project

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter

Article Source: http://www.polity.org.za