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Ms Getrude Ntlabati (Posthumous)

The Order of the Baobab in

Ms Getrude Ntlabati (Posthumous) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the empowerment of women through education. Among others, she produced students who grew to become renowned leaders, such as former President Nelson Mandela.
Ms Gertrude Ntlabati was born in 1901 into a Christian landowning family in the Hewu district of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.

After early primary schooling in the Hackney village of Hewu, her parents sent her to the famous Presbyterian School, Emgwali in the Stutterheim district, which affiliated to the church and mission station started in 1857 by Tiyo Soga. At Emgwali, Ntlabati did her senior primary schooling and enrolled for Lower Primary Teacher’s Course (LPTC) training.

By 1918, at the age of 17, she was one of the first women to qualify for entry to matric at the South African Native College (SANC), which later became Fort Hare University. In 1921 Ntlabati’s home district of Hewu experienced the infamous Bulhoek incident involving the brutal killing of several people by security police.

In 1922 she upgraded her LPTC to a Teachers’ Diploma and thereafter taught at the Buchanan Mission School in Middledrift until 1925.
She then returned to the SANC to register for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. In 1928, she once again became a pioneering achiever as the very first African woman to graduate with a BA at this institution.

From 1929, Ntlabati taught at a number of famous schools that included the Inanda Seminary for Girls in Natal, then briefly at the Wilberforce Institute in Evaton and the Clarkebury Methodist School in Engcobo. It was in that latter school where she excelled in the teaching of the English language in the junior secondary classes.

Amongst the many famous pupils she taught was a young Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, during the early to mid-1930s. In fact Ntlabati is on record in Mandela’s autobiography as one of his best teachers at Clarkebury.

Ntlabati returned to Natal and taught at the eminent Indaleni School outside Richmond from 1938 to 1941. It was whilst working at that school that she married fellow teacher, Golden Sithole in 1941.

They were blessed with two children; Linda and Jabulani. It was from the year 1942, when she had moved to Alexandra Township and teaching under the Transvaal Education Department that Ntlabati became a prominent voice for the struggle of women’s access to further education.

Continuing contact with the Rector of the SANC, Alexander Kerr, she wrote one emotional letter to him in August 1943 and appealed: “Why Fort Hare gives scholarships only to men to pursue postgraduate studies overseas or elsewhere?

Why you Sir knowing my avidity for knowledge [and] learning have passed me by when golden opportunities are offered to Fort Hare graduates? I am not satisfied with the Bachelor of Arts Degree, I never was…”

Despite her discontent with women privileges she unrelentingly served the education community. Her last service during the late 1960s was beyond the normal retirement age as she continued to teach at the Menzi High School in Umlazi, south of Durban.