Dr Godfrey Mokgonane Pitje Public Lecture

Afrikan Intellectualism as an antidote to Colonial Grammar and the Apex of Servant Leadership”

THE University of Fort Hare (UFH) Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies will host the Dr Godfrey Mokgonane Pitje Public Lecture on Thursday, 15th August 2019 under the theme: “Afrikan Intellectualism as an antidote to Colonial Grammar and the Apex of Servant Leadership” .  

The Public Lecture is in remembrance of Pitje’s intellectual capital and political activism over decades until his death on 23rd April 1997. Dr Godfrey Mokgonane Pitje remains one of the less known and celebrated icons of his generation. He distinguished himself while at the South Africa Natives College, which in 1955, was renamed the University of Fort Hare, as a student and later lecturer in the Anthropology Department in the late 1940s.

Pitje pushed his students, including Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe who later became a colleague in the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) while at Fort Hare, to ‘go deeper into issues’ by encouraging critical thinking and Afrikanist intellectual tradition. Sobukwe and his peers at Fort Hare at the time, became what Ashby Solomzi Peter (AP) Mda in his correspondence with Pitje referred to as a ‘new generation’, the intellectuals-to-be and the liberation seekers that defined themselves away from the older generations at Fort Hare that wanted to be Englishmen. The ‘new generation’ indeed redefined the South African political landscape in an unparalleled manner.

Dr Godfrey Pitje, like those with whom he shared similar vision, belong to the Afrikan activists scholarship at the University of Fort Hare. They defied the concept of ‘recognition by assimilation’. This Afrikanist intellectual tradition has a long history with its own sociology and politics which is entangled within the history of the university.

The University of Fort Hare was built based on ideas, critical thinking and strong Afrikan scholarship tradition. Regrettably, the latter appears to have been systematically pushed to the periphery of history, both among the students and the public at large. 

Dr Godfrey Mokgonane Pitje was born on 20th July 1917 at Phokwane in the Nebo area of Kgosi Sekhukhune in the Northern Transvaal. In 1944, he obtained his BA degree from the University of Fort Hare. In 1945 he took up a teaching post at Orlando High School in Soweto (South Western Townships). In the same year, he also registered for a BA (Hons) in Anthropology at the University of the Witwaters and and completed it at the University of Fort Hare. He immediately continued with his Masters degree at the same university and thereafter started lecturing in the anthropology department at Fort Hare.

While teaching at Orlando High Godfrey Pitje found a highly public spirited politicised student group. It was his contact with this group which pushed his interest into politics. He soon met the Afrikanist intellectual, Anton Mziwakhe Lembede. It was also during Pitje’s short stay at Orlando High that he met Mda who was also a teacher at a local Catholic School. The political philosophy and ideology of the disciples of Anton Muziwakhe Lembede soon became a visible link between him, Sobukwe, Mda and other like-minded thinkers.

Upon his arrival at Fort Hare, Pitje, beside his academic studies and work, immersed himself in politics and a search for a political home. While a lecturer he formed the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) at Fort Hare. He also maintained contact through correspondence with Mda, who had replaced Anton Lembede as National President of the Youth League. 

Together with Mda, a friend and teacher, they established the Fort Hare branch of the Youth League. It was at this point that he met Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and others, and together they worked hard to establish one of the most vibrant and active Youth League branches at the time. Godfrey Pitje was the first chairman of this branch with Joe Mokoena as his deputy and Joe Mathews as the secretary.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was already influential in his own right and very critical of the African National Congress (ANC), All African Convention, African Peoples Organisation, and Non-European Movement (Unity Movement). Other members who were in the branch included Herbert Chitepo, Ntsu Mokgehle, Robert Mugabe and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Pitje and Sobukwe authored the popular 1949 Programme of Action. They presented it at the provincial congress in June that year which was held in Queenstown, where under the leadership of Rev. James Calata and Z.K. Matthews, was supported with no modifications and approved at the national congress in December 1949 in Bloemfontein. It was also at this Congress that Pitje was elected as the third National President of the Youth League, succeeding A. P. Mda, with Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe as his national secretary. Pitje, was also elected to the ANC National Executive Committee the same year.

From 1950, the 1949 Programme of Action was consistently undermined by the nature and scope of the politics of the congress alliance politics leading up to the adoption of the liberal and integrationist ‘Freedom Cheater’ in Kliptown in 1955. The content and authorship of the purportedly people’s charter/document was questioned by the Africanists within the ANC with Peter Ntutsoeu Raboroko drafting and presenting an anti-thesis document of the ‘Freedom Charter’. Their attempts were in vain. Instead, a different account of its authorship [‘Freedom Charter’] and the process that led to its adoption, contrary to the peddled dominant narrative, has emerged in Rusty Bernstein (2017) – “Memory Against Forgetting”.

Due to the introduction of the Bantu Education System, the teaching profession became unattractive to Pitje, and as such he turned to law. He served articles in the law firm of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, qualifying as an attorney in 1959. He’s also the the founding president of the Black Lawyers Association.

Pitje continued his political activism and entangling and was subject to the apartheid laws that emerged after the Sharpeville Massacre of 21st March 1960.

In delivering the Godfrey Pitje inaugural memorial lecture organised by the Black Lawyers Associations in 2015, the retired Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, shared fond memories about Pitje as he recalled: “In 1963, when I was 15 years of age and stood in the Synagogue for trial facing charges of a conspiracy to overthrow the state by violent means, Mokgonane Pitje was right there as our instructing attorney. He has been my father, as I fondly called him ‘Papa'”. 

The Public Lecture will be delivered by Ms. Lebohang Pheko. She is a Senior Research Fellow at Trade Collective Think Tank. She is a scholar and Policy and economic analyst.

Details for the forthcoming Godfrey Mokgonane Pitje Public Lecture are as fo11ows:

DATE: Thursday, 15 August 2019

VENUE: University of Fort Hare, ABC Lecture Ha11, Main Building, East London

TIME: 17h30 for 18h00

RSVP: Mrs. Khayakazi Mndi via email: or call 043 704 7352

Article by Dr Luvuyo Dondolo via email: or office number 043 704 7350.


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