History of Somafco A weapon for humanity’s development

The Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco) did not emerge as a big bang and cannot be interpreted in isolation to South Africa’s journey to democracy. It is part of a continuum of history and the contributions of those directly and indirectly affected.

Somafco emerged more specifically as a result of South Africa’s peculiar history, arguably dating centuries ago.Part of our history is based on an imperialistic ideology (missionary education) which resulted in scores of important lives that contributed to South Africa’s democratic dispensation.

More contextually, Somafco belongs to the history of the struggle for democracy in South Africa and for equal rights not only for our country, but for humanity as a whole.

In hindsight, more significant and symbolic developments in South Africa and Africa’s history are connected to what resulted into Somafco. The latter was and is essentially the coming to life of the power of education and its form for Africa’s liberation.

The idea of equal education for humanity was embodied through many lives, some which are noteworthy towards a comprehensive understanding of what brought about Somafco and its legacy.

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Roots that birthed the tree that became Somafco

The gestation period which brought about Somafco in the context of South Africa dates back many decades ago, particularly the 1900’s. Below are but some of the few ‘roots’ that birthed the ‘tree’ that was to be Somafco:

Somafco emerged as part of the struggle driven by education through the likes of John Langalibalele Dube, whose formal education began at Inanda and Adams College missionary schools. He later went to America to study at Oberlins College in 1877 and upon his return he became the first known black South African to found a school – the Zulu Christian Industrial School in 1901. The school was effectively a vocational training centre. Amazingly, Dube’s vision was to produce skilled artisans – the very same problem that cripples South Africa today.

His legacy in the education sector continues to live on at Ohlange High School in KwaZulu Natal.

One of Dube’s other notable achievements was his establishment of the iLanga lase Natal newspaper, where he used the publication as a conduit to advocate for equal rights for all South Africans.

Where it not for the brave initiative taken by Pixley Isaka Ka Seme, the leadership and contributions of many others may have been delayed or found a different form. Pixley Isaka Ka Seme is credited with being the foremost founding member of the ANC.

Educated in an American missionary school, like John Langalibalele Dube (brother to his mother), Ka Seme emerged from a humble background and undertook the initiative by proposing an idea whose destiny he probably had never quiet fathomed.

An erudite of note, Ka Seme is credited with having convened other well educated individuals and proposed the formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), which later became the African […]

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Mission Schools

Mission schools provided a superior education to any other available to those who woke up as “pariahs in their own land”. They were centres from which the likes of John Langalibabele, Sol Plaaitjie, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, Anton Lembede, Nelson Mandela, O R Tambo (also a teacher at Saint Peters where he later taught the likes of Henry Makgothi) went for their foundation education.

Although fundamentally driving an imperialist agenda, these centres of education demonstrated an essential point – that with a relatively good foundation, education can liberate.

Like an invisible golden bracelet, this was an asset that affirmed the spirit of those who fought for freedom – a gift they were prepared to pass on and even die for.

When many of them completed their foundation education and had the opportunity to further their education at tertiary institutions in South Africa, some went abroad and upon their return became agents of change for freedom for all. Mission schools, thus played a critical role of driving the cause of the kind of education South Africa and Africa, is still searching for.

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Further Education

The University of Fort Hare (UFH) was founded in 1916. To date, this institution boasts an influential alumni comprising of the likes of O. R Tambo, Robert Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela; to mention but a few.

These heavyweights of the liberation struggle and humanity, were former members of the ANC Youth League and the University’s Student Representative body; thus ushering in a new epoch in the struggle for liberation.

Empowered by education and their unwavering values of humanity, leaders of the ANC, PAC, BCM, church leaders,Unions and other formations refused to surrender their fight for the liberation of South Africa and through this invaluable tool, these critical and lucid thinkers were able to influence campaigns and policies aimed at an equal society.

Education remained at the vanguard of liberation efforts. Just like a silent spirit, it selected its champions, chose its voice and found its subtle and sophisticated forms to influence the direction of history; thus shaping the future. All its disciples played a vital role in the sustenance of the struggle for equality within the country and in exile.

The UFH generation took over the baton from the generation of 1912 and began to radicalize the movement and steer it towards a more robust approach to the demands of the people and democracy. The Unions, under the leadership of JB Marks also played a visible and commanding role in stewarding the movement of the people.

This generation, led mostly by tertiary educated youths, took the struggle for equality to the next plateau.

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Education Explodes

“The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” – Steve Biko.

Education also became a central factor and the driving force in the 1960’s and 70’s. It is noteworthy that many repressive laws were passed, but none had the effect that Bantu Education had; thus provoking a cohesive response on June 16, 1976.

The youth of ’76, characterised by powerful campaigns championed by the likes of Steve Biko and Tsietsie Mashinini amongst others, knew very well that through Bantu Education their futures were being directly and decisively tempered with. School teachers, revolutionized by leaders of the liberation movement, also played a major part in the rejection of an oppressive education system.

This epoch was the period of the diversification of the struggle, influenced by various factors including the increased repression arising from the barrage of oppressive legislation, which also saw the banning of the liberation movements and the arrest of much of its leadership, including Nelson Mandela.

This led to the emergence of organizations such as the National Union of South Africa Students (NUSAS), South African Students Movement (SASM), the South Africa Student Organization (SASO), as well as the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), amongst others. Many of these organisations were driven by the ideology of Black Consciousness, which played a key politicizing role ahead of June 16, 1976.

It is this generation that carried the baton of exile, forcing its agenda on liberation movements; hence funnelling and concentrating their exposure to education and experiences into what would later become the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College.

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The Exodus into exile and the formation of Somafco

Post 1976 when the apartheid regime took even more repressive measures in the bid to contain the volatile situation, many youth who were in defiance of the imposition of Afrikaans on an already inferior education curriculum, began to move into exile to further their education and others to join the military wings of the exiled political organizations.

Youth who fled South Africa to neighbouring countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia and Tanzania ended up in Magadu; a military base not far from Mazimbu, Tanzania. This base was used to house youth who had been stationed in Dar Es-Salaam, but due the crowded facilities and the rather unwanted attention they drew in the capital city, plans were made to place these youths elsewhere.

In 1973, negotiations to find land to build another facility to house these young people began and two years later, a piece of land just outside the City of Morogoro was identified. Finally, in 1977, the government of Tanzania donated the piece of land and the foundation of what was going to be the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College was officially laid.

“iMigwenya” (a name accorded to those forced into exile in the 60’s and like the tree they were/are compared to, had weathered many storms and gained layers of wisdom, yet remained rooted to the founding principles of the ANC) and the “Qiniselas” (who had earned the name from a song encouraging spiritual strength and prophesizing a speedy return to South Africa), are counted amongst those who laid the foundation of this historical institution around 1977.

At this particular juncture, Somafco was at the beginning of its embryonic form. The steadily increasing stream of youth into exile necessitated for a better co-ordination for those who had […]

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What was Somafco?

Somafco was a culmination of ideas, events and experiences, but particularly the contributions of various thought-leaders, individually and collectively.

These were men and women, young and old, who saw the power of education, emanating from those who came before them (as listed above).

Somafco was indeed the definitive outcome of this knowledge and a powerful gift to future generations – a gift that South Africa today is still determined to give to future generations to come.

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An international story

Somafco came about through the support of many donor organizations, volunteers and countries. As such, Somafco was also a melting pot of cultural diversity, not only with locals from Tanzania, but nations of across the globe, mostly first world countries.

Somafco was a story of international solidarity and a people determined to make the world a humanized place.

Somafco was a place free of racism and sexism. It was a place of ideas, democracy and determination. It was a happy place for youth and a place of healing for those scarred by apartheid.

It was a place of initiative, collaboration and a vision. A vision of O.R Tambo, Julius Nyerere, Chris Hani, Olaf Palme, Albert Luthuli, Alfred Nzo and many others who didn’t live long enough to see South Africa achieve its democratic breakthrough.

This was the training ground for the democracy that South Africa needed. It was a place of trial and error that many regret and lessons that are yet to be put to full use.

Somafco or Mazimbu was a place where ‘Ama Charlotte’ – a residence where young women who fell pregnant were accommodated for a period of two years to nurture and raise their children. The residence was aptly named after Charlotte Maxeke.

There was also the Charlotte Maxeke crèche –a state of the art early childhood development centre, which boasted an excellent set of diligent care-givers.

Somafco is where the human ideals of many from across the world came to make a contribution to a human rights story and to protect the future.

Somafco was the vision of Africans for African development and it was through sound partnerships with international friends that brought it to reality. It is an institution of the past, present and most […]

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Academically, Somafco was an interesting, brave and bold experiment. It provided an education that defied the Bantu Education system in South Africa. The curriculum included development of societies (the communist outlook) and the history of struggle – which focused on the history of the liberation movements, labour movements, mining revolution, land dispossession, migrant labour system, Afrikaner nationalism and the Anglo-Boer wars (from a different perspective).

Reviewing the book ‘Foundations of a New South Africa’ derived from the text book, History of the Struggle (which includes updated historical events), Professor Colin Bundy wrote “Its achievement is impressive…A well researched history, it puts to shame the tepid texts approved by authorities inside the country.”

Under the chapter ‘history of the struggle’ cultural plays and performances in Mazimbu/ Somafco are featured prominently – where they illustrate how these plays were used as part of the learning experience.

In addition to English, there was a huge emphasis on core subjects such as Maths and Science – a direct contrast to the practice and myth in Apartheid South Africa that blacks were incapable of excellence in these subjects.

Great facilities existed to boost or reinforce the academic curriculum including a zoology section, a weather centre, as well as a science laboratory. These would have been rare in a primary and secondary school in Township South Africa during the 70’s and 80’s.

Nutrition, mostly food stock from the small scale farming activities in Mazimbu ensured that students were never hungry at school.

But Somafco went beyond being an education in opposition to Bantu Education; it experimented in what was called “Education with Production” or vocational training.

This demonstrated the desire to develop a “prototype” in infrastructure, but also in curriculum for a free and democratic South Africa.

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The Community

Somafco was the centre of the community. Often referring to the entire 1000 hectare infrastructure, people say ‘Somafco’. The community was basically designed to support Somafco ‘the school’. Other community uplifting activities existed, giving youth an option other than academic education.

A garment factory was established which produced shoes, belts and clothing for the students and the greater community.

Various agricultural activities were also in place and again, all produce was supplied to the students and other residents.

The Vuyisile Mini factory supplied the community with desks and chairs for the college and the community library, as well wooden products for residential homes such as tables and beds, etc.

These were amongst many other support structures which made education in Somafco as uninterrupted a process as possible. The likes of O R Tambo, who were mobilizing the world-over, knew that an ideology and clarity of thought could only be strengthened through the most powerful weapon without which any oppressive force could never victor. EDUCATION!

In Somafco/Mazimbu, the ANC supported by many individuals and organizations in solidarity with it, displayed its idea of an independent self-reliant integrated model community and in particular, youth development. It displayed and put to action its idea on education from early childhood development to secondary school.

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