Rhodes University hall residences renamed after Solomon Mahlangu and Hugh Masekela

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Rhodes University leadership, members of the Student Representative Council and the Mahlangu family during the renaming ceremony on Friday. 
Photo cred: Vusumzi Fraser Tshekema.
Rhodes University leadership, members of the Student Representative Council and the Mahlangu family during the renaming ceremony on Friday. Photo cred: Vusumzi Fraser Tshekema.

As part of its continuing transformation agenda, Rhodes University has renamed two of its residences after two of South Africa’s struggle icons - Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu and Dr Hugh Masekela.

The two struggle icons were honoured by Rhodes University for their contribution to democracy when two halls were renamed after them. The University’s Jan Smuts Hall was renamed Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu Hall, and Hilltop Hall was renamed Hugh Masekela Hall.

Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was a South African freedom fighter, struggle activist and operative of the African National Congress militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was born on 10 July 1956 and was hanged in 1979 by the then government. Before going to the gallows, he reportedly said: “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the fight. My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom, A luta continua.”

 Dr Hugh Ramapolo Masekela was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, singer, and composer who was described as “the father of South African jazz”. Masekela was known for his jazz compositions and for writing well-known anti-apartheid songs such as “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home”. He was honoured by Rhodes University and awarded an Honorary Doctorate in April 2015.

“Rhodes University’s policy on naming and renaming buildings, facilities, academic units and sculptures aims to correct past imbalances caused by apartheid. In the University residences and halls, we are trying to find neutral names that do not invoke any discomfort among the diverse groups of students we now have. We want to make sure that our students see that our history and experiences are reflected in the life of our University,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, Professor 'Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela.

The day was colourful, with students singing struggle songs, cultural dances, praise singing and poetry, a true reflection of who Mahlangu and Bra Hugh were. The Mahlangu family spokesperson and Mahlangu’s nephew, Gideon Mahlangu, said: “We thank Rhodes University and its students for seeing it fit to honour the brave warrior in this manner. We believe students will be able to learn the history of Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu as we strongly believe that history is important in building the future of South Africa.”

The Mahlangu family spokesperson asked whether the government has documented the correct and authentic history of the struggle heroes. “Are we using the correct history as a learning path to build our country’s future? It is very difficult to answer this question as Solomon was born in Doornkop in Mpumalanga and not in Pretoria, as documented. We are calling on all the Universities that have named their buildings after Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu to partner with us in all initiatives that seek to document the correct history of Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu,” he added.

He also called on the government to declare 6 April as a public holiday in honour of Mahlangu and more than 200 lives of political activists killed at Pretoria Maximum Prison by the apartheid government. He also warned political parties not to turn this into a political platform for cheap political scoring because of the nature of its sensitivity. “We also call on the families of those that were executed with Solomon to come and partner with us in this quest,” he added.

Hugh Masekela’s daughter, Motlalepula Twala, said: “We are beaming with pride about what Rhodes University has done. We appreciate this as a family as we feel that it is in sync with my father’s motto of love, learn and teach. As the Hugh Masekela Foundation, we have an exhibition that moves around, and we would like it to come to this Hugh Masekela Hall. The importance of this exhibition is that Bra Hugh was accessible to people. This has a lot of his memorabilia, such as some of his caps, writings, horns, and passport copies that see where he has been. We should allow the entire University to be able to experience this.”

Twala said it was important for institutions of higher learning in South Africa to celebrate Bra Hugh before he is celebrated in other countries. “We are proud, grateful and hope there will be more of these events. We are happy to work with the University and teach students about my father’s life,” she concluded.  

Rhodes University Chancellor Judge Lex Mpati said that renaming University halls and residences after human rights activists will instil new values in students. “Having been associated with Rhodes University from 1979 as a student and serving in Council, I have watched with pride and interest the move taken by the University to democratise the spaces. We have had residences and halls called Jan Smuts, Botha and others. Now we have Hugh Masekela, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu and others. To have these names now is a huge move, and there is a massive difference between then and now. Rhodes University is indeed a transformative University and is for everybody now, and we are all proud of it,” said Judge Mpati.

Professor Monnapula-Mapesela thanked both families, who were in attendance at the renaming ceremony, for affording the University permission and blessings to use the names and the identities of their loved ones to name the University halls.

Over the past few years, 20 name changes within Rhodes University have taken place. Buildings, facilities, academic units and structures named after liberation icons include Ellen Nnoseng Kuzwayo, Walter Sisulu, Rosa Parks, Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge, Adelaide Tambo, Helen Joseph, Robert Mmangaliso Sobukwe, Chris Thembisile Hani, Miriam Zenzile Makeba, Lillian Masediba Ngoyi, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Desmond Mpilo Tutu and Steve Bantubonke Biko.