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The Social and Political Thought of Z. K. Matthews (Cambridge 2009)

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The Social and Political Thought of Z. K. Matthews (Cambridge 2009)
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    The Social andPolitical Thought of Z.K. Matthews Verlan LewisJune 2010  V. Lewis ©2010 1 1.   Introduction Shortly after succeeding Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, in 2001 Thabo Mbekidelivered the inaugural Z. K. Matthews Lecture at the University of Fort Hare. In his address, Mbeki sought to claim Matthews’s political thought as congruent with twenty -first century African National Congress political ideology. To do so, Mbeki analogized Matthews’s thought with black American  political thought at the turn of the twentieth century, and tried to demonstrate that Matthews alignedwith the political thought of W.E.B. DuBois in opposition to Booker T. Washington. Mbeki claimedthat Matthews engaged in and supported the revolutionary actions that Washington denounced as ‘agitation.’ 1   Interestingly, two years prior to President Mbeki’s speech, Tim Juckes published a book  entitled Opposition in South Africa: The Leadership of Z.K. Matthews, Nelson Mandela, and Steve Biko in which he also analogizes Matthews with African-American thinkers. However, Juckes argued that the Booker T. Washington “approach to social change matched well with Matthews’s approach.” 2  The way that Matthews is used in opposing ways by different people shows how Matthewshas been abstracted from his context and used in radically different ways based on what those who usehim want to achieve. It also points to the particular dynamism and complexity of Matthews’s social and political thought. Given Matthews’s legacy at Fort Hare, it makes sense that Mbeki would want to paint Matthews as a fellow ANC revolutionary. Given Juckes’s project to present a particular  narrative of South African history, it makes sense the he would want to paint Matthews as a ‘paternalist’. 3 Matthews is especially susceptible to this procrustean use because over the course of his dynamic life, his speeches and writings are intended at many different audiences, in manydifferent fields, for many different purposes. In this essay, I will try to place Matthews back intocontext by drawing on writing and correspondence found in his personal papers, and by drawing onwriting and correspondence from his contemporaries concerning the debates of his day. I argue that the generic term ‘liberal’, as commonly applied to Mat thews, is insufficient in describing his political 1   T. Mbeki, ‘Address at the Inaugural Z.K Matthews Memorial Lecture’, 12 Oct 2001, University of Fort Hare.   2 T. Juckes, Opposition in South Africa: The Leadership of Z.K. Matthews, Nelson Mandela, and Stephen Biko  (London, 1995), p. 38. 3 T. Juckes, Opposition in South Africa: The Leadership of Z.K. Matthews, Nelson Mandela, and Stephen Biko , p.xiv.  V. Lewis ©2010 2 thought, and that we must be more specific to show how he aligned and departed with various formsof liberalism on different issues. 2.   Matthews’s Multifaceted Thought    Before examining Matthews and his use of different languages of liberalism over time, I willdiscuss how Matthews is especially susceptible to contradictory uses because of the many differentroles he played in South African history. I will also review the current literature on Matthews to showhow he is currently portrayed and the limitations to that portrayal.Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews was born near Kimberley in 1901, and played a number of different roles in South African history until his death as an ambassador for Botswana in Washington, D.C. in 1968. In education, he achieved many ‘firsts’ among Africans: the first to graduate with a university degree in South Africa in 1923, the first to become principal of a high school in SouthAfrica in 1925, and the first to earn the LL.B. degree in South Africa in 1930. 4 From 1933 to 1935 hestudied overseas at Yale and the University of London, and afterward returned to his alma mater atFort Hare as a member of the faculty. During his career there, between 1936 and 1959, many of South Afric a’s liberation struggle leaders passed through the university at Fort Hare including Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and Robert Sobukwe.In addition to his academic career, Matthews had a wide career in public service. In the1940s, Matthews was a leader in the ANC Cape Congress, served as president of the Federation of  African Teachers’ Associations, and served as a member of the Native Representative Council. In 1949, he was elected president of the Cape Congress of the ANC. During the 1952-53 school year, helectured as a visiting professor at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, and during his timeoverseas served as a kind of spokesman for the African liberation struggle in South Africa. In 1954,he became acting principal of the University College of Fort Hare. In 1956 he was arrested on 4 Senate House Library,  Zachariah K. Matthews Papers , A1.11, Z. K Matthews to Miss Cushing, 14 Oct 1933.  V. Lewis ©2010 3 charges of treason, and was a prominent defendant in the South African treason trial. 5 When theapartheid government took control of the University College of Fort Hare from the Lovedale Missionin 1959, he resigned as principal. In the early 1960s he worked extensively with the World Council of Churches and lived in Geneva. From 1966 until his death, he served as ambassador for Botswana.Matthews is able to be used so elastically because he wrote to and addressed so manydifferent audiences, in so many different contexts, in so many different fields: as an academic fromthe 1930s through the 1950s, as an ANC leader in the 1940s and 1950s, as a politician in the NativeRepresentative Council in the 1940s, as a university administrator in the 1940s and 1950s, as adefendant in the treason trial, as a churchman, as a spokesman for the South African liberationstruggle at various times, and as a diplomat in the 1960s. In addition to these many roles, hisdiplomatic skills allowed him to speak with double meanings to navigate his way through the various pressures pushing him in different directions. In her memoirs, his wife Frieda Bokwe Matthews,explained his special ability in that regard:  It ha  s been said of my husband that he was the most ‘westernised’ African of his  generation. What this meant to those who said this, I do not know. What I do know isthat he could play the game of diplomacy as well as any White man. Moreover, his facility in English made it possible for him to use the language as the English use it whenin a spot, with what one might call double meanings. Where our people would bedisappointed with a statement he had made, regretting that it was not forthright enough,the White press would have a different view, regarding it as dangerous. One prominent  Afrikaner politician tried to warn his people that the most dangerous speeches and  writings on the South African “Native” Problem were not those of the so -called extremists, but those of the so-called moderate ZK Matthews. 6    Matthews’s unique life involved many different roles, and his special skill in speaking to many different audiences, has helped allow him to be viewed in radically different ways both by historiansand by his contemporaries. I will first speak about his treatment by historians and how his characterization as a ‘paternalist’ and ‘ liberal ’ are insufficient. 5 Senate House Library,  Zachariah K. Matthews Papers , C2.42, ‘Curriculum Vitae’, undated.   6 F. Matthews, Remembrances (Bellville, 1995), p.24.  V. Lewis ©2010 4 3.   Literature Review Since the predominance of African nationalist historiography in the second half of thetwentieth century, more recent historians have revisited African historical figures that were previouslymarginalized as apologists for colonialism. 7 My treatment of Matthews as more than simply a liberalmember of the  petit bourgeoisie is a contribution to this move. In the general nationalist historieswritten on the South African liberation struggle, Matthews makes brief appearances as a liberal ANC leader of the ‘prewar old guard’ 8   or as a transition figure from the ‘old guard’ to the younger, mor  eradical ANC leaders of the 1950s. 9 While these characterizations of Matthews are correct up to a point, in the mode of North African historian James McDougall, in this paper I will seek to interrogate some of the ‘complexities and alternatives that were   effaced’ when Matthews was characterized in this way. 10  In the intellectual historiography, it is no surprise that there is no intellectual biography of  South Africa’s leading intellectual in the mid -twentieth century. Intellectual history is an under-developed and under-written subfield of South African historiography. For most of its time as adiscipline, intellectual history has focused on the history of Western political thought. 11 However, inrecent years, global intellectual history has begun to focus on the history of ideas in places outside of Europe. C.A. Bayly, for example, has pioneered work on intellectual history in India, 12 and other historians have begun to work on the history of African political thought. 13 It is this approach that Iattempt to use in my exploration of Z.K. Matthews and South African political thought.In addition to the dearth of intellectual biography on Matthews, the general biography of Matthews is limited, as well. The most important biographical work is his memoirs, incomplete 7   See, for example, Paul La Hausse’s Restless Identities (Pietermaritzburg, 2000). 8 G. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology  (Berkeley, 1978), p. 87. 9 G. Carter and T. Karis, From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa ,Volume 4 (Stanford, 1977), p. 79. 10 J. McDougall, History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria (Cambridge, 2006), p.5. 11 For a discussion of the differences between Western and ‘non - Western’ political thought see Bikhu Parek h ’s‘Non - Western Political Thought’, The   Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought  (Cambridge,2003), p.555. 12   See, for example, Bayly’s ‘Rammohan Roy and the Advent of Constitutional Liber alism in India, 1800- 30,’ Modern Intellectual History  4:1 (2007), pp.25-41. 13 See, for example, Recasting the Past: History Writing and Political Work in Modern Africa , edited by DerekPeterson and Giacomo Macola, (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2009).
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