20 October 1901, The birth of ZK Matthews, Freedom Charter architect, at Winter’s Rush.
ZK Matthews born at Winter’s Rush
Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews (pictured) was born on 20 October 1901 at Winter’s Rush – in one of 50 reserves specially set up by the British for the Africans. His father, Peter Motsielwa Matthews, worked in the Kimberley mines, and he stayed initially with his grandparents at Winter’s Rush. His mother, Martha Mooketsi, a daughter of a LMS missionary, was a domestic servant.
ZK was one of 5 sons born to the union. His grandfather, Zachariah Keodirelang, after whom he was named, was born into the Bamangwato tribe from Botswana (under Kgosi Khama) and lived at Shoshong. His grandfather at the time of the diamond rushes used to make money by transporting water from the Vaal River to Kimberley and selling it by the bucket.
The family moved to Platberg from Soshong, then to Thaba ‘Nchu, and finally to Kimberley to No 2 Location.
In 1901 his father Peter had an accident in the mine, breaking his leg, and started work in a drapery shop owned by a man named Hughes. At that time he built the family home in Makenna Road. It was a square house built of Kimberley sun dried brick and in the white style of the period. After Hughes died, Peter worked for his widow, and then the new owner until 1931 when he opened a small shop selling sweets and cold drinks until 1944, which is when he died. He had also been the Treasurer of the local church St Matthews on Barkly Road and was active on several other committees. ZK’s mother died in 1959, a gentle woman. She used to read the bible in SeTswana.
One of ZK’s first memories of No 2 was a police raid into No 2 in 1909 led by Isaac Bird, the Superintendent of Native Locations in Kimberley.
ZK started school at age 8 in 1908/09 at the United Mission school (Methodist and Congregational establish) in No 2. All the teachers were Africans and had received the best education available to blacks in SA at the time (at Lovedale and Healdtown). He passed Std IV in 1914 and then went to Lyndhurst Rd school in the Malay Camp – where the Fire Station now is. It was 3 miles to school and 3 miles back again every day.
SM Molema was a teacher then at the school in Malay Camp, as was Mac Jabavu, a son of the famous Tengo Jabavu. He later became editor of his father’s newspaper Imvo Zabantsundu (African Views) and was a key figure in the first black trade union – the Industrial and Commercial Union – when it was formed in 1919. The Std V teacher was Joseph Kokozela, another teacher being Griffiths Motsieloa. Thomas Leah was a white teacher at the school.
In 1916 he went to the Lovedale Institution, both him and Sainty Plaatje, the son of Solomon Plaatje, having won scholarships. His brother John in the same year started teaching at St Matthews mission church in Barkly road, eventually retiring in 1958. ZK became an Anglican that same year and used to worship at St Matthews Church.
He went to Fort Hare in 1918, his BA course being completed in 1923, and graduated as a teacher in 1924. He became Headmaster of Adams High School, KZN in 1925.
In 1928 he married Freda Bokwe. In 1930 he received his LLB degree from UNISA and became the President of the Natal Bantu Teacher’s Association, and in 1934 was awarded an MA from Yale University. In 1934-35 he was a Fellow at the London School of Economics. He then became a Lecturer in Anthropology and Bantu Law and Administration at Fort Hare in 1936.
In 1940 ZK joined the ANC, and from 1941-42 was President of the Federation of African Teacher’s association. He was then elected member of the Native Representative Council in 1942, in 1943 elected to Nat Exec of the ANC, and was Treasurer of the Cape Congress of the ANC. By 1945 he was the Professor of African Studies and HOD Fort Hare.
In 1949 he was the President of Cape Congress, ANC and an Ex-Officio member of the ANC. He also played a prominent role in the 1952 Defiance campaign organized by ANC. At that stage there were 100 000 registered members of the ANC (1951) – some 60 000 in the Cape alone.
In 1952-53 he was a Visiting Professor at the Union Theological Seminary in New York and in 1954 was Acting principal at Fort Hare.
In 1955 the Congress of People at Kliptown adopted the Freedom Charter drafted by ZK, although he was not present. It was his idea for the Freedom Charter, which was promoted in Dec 1951 at the ANC Congress in Bloemfontein.
On 5 December 1956 he was arrested and charged with high treason. In 1959 he resigned as Professor at Fort Hare and the following year started practising as an attorney at Alice. The ANC was banned and ZK detained for 135 days following the Sharpeville shooting in 1960. In 1961 he received an Hon degree from Rhodes University.
In 1962 ZK left South Africa and became Secretary of Africa Division of the WCC (World Council of Churches).
In 1966 he was appointed Ambassador for Botswana and the Permanent representative of Botswana at the United Nations. In 1967 he was awarded a Dr of Humane letters from Baker University.
He died on 11 May 1968 in Washington, USA, and was buried in Gaberones. His family put a Death Notice in the DFA, but there was no Obituary.
His motto in life was simple:
“To do something for his people”
One of his favourite sayings was that Evil does not know colour. Man is evil whether he is black or white.
Another point brought up continually by ZK was the need for whites to do things with Africans, rather than for them. He was a man secure in himself, humble before God, equal with his fellow man, and feeling no need to assert himself. He felt great resentment and anger over apartheid after travelling as a member of a Royal Commission in Uganda just to become a 3rd Class citizen in the land of his birth.
He was with another Kimberley member of the ANC, Dr Arthur Letele, in prison, remembering the Dr sleeping night after night, something unheard of when he was in the township as he worked all night.
He was indeed, “one of the greatest men, not just of Africa, but I think of the world…” as the Reverend Burgess Carr (Liberia) said at his funeral in Gaberones, Botswana.
(Most of the above condensed from his autobiography.)
He is remembered by the ANC by the ANC ZK Matthews Achievement Award, President Thabo Mbeki awarding the inaugural award in 2000 to the Durban Metro Council in recognition of its work in the past. The ANC-led Durban council was the first recipient of the award that was introduced during the party’s national congress in Port Elizabeth in 1999. The award aims to recognise councillors who have distinguished themselves in their efforts to improve the lives of people in their areas.
There is also the Professor ZK Matthews Hospital in Barkly West, the ZK Matthews Great Hall at UNISA, as well as the ZK Matthews Educational Trust. There are also several roads in South African cities and towns named after ZK Matthews.
ZK’s son Joe Matthews and grand-daughter Naledi Pandor followed in his political footsteps.