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Walter Rubusana (1858 - 1936)

The Order of Luthuli in

Walter Rubusana (1858 - 1936) Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the arts, the enrichment of the isiXhosa language and African literature.

Profile of Walter Rubusana

Dr Walter Rubusana was born on 21 February 1858 at Mnandi in the Somerset East district of the then Cape Colony. His father, Rubusana kaMbonjana, was a senior counsellor to the Paramount Chief, Sandile kaNgqika. Rubusana received his early education from the late Rev. Richard Birt at the Peelton Mission Station after which he went to Lovedale from 1876 to 1882.

In 1883, Dr Rubusana married Deena Nzanzana. They had five daughters and a son. He remained in Peelton until being ordained as a minister. He was then transferred to East London, which was to be his residence for the rest of his life.

He passed his teaching studies with honours and taught at Peelton until 1884. He entered the ministry and was ordained as a minister of the Congregational Church at the East Bank Location in East London.

While serving as a pastor, Dr Rubusana edited an isiXhosa language newspaper and acted as spokesperson for black pressure groups. He served on several native delegations to England to expose the cause of downtrodden South Africans. He was held in high esteem by both white and black people in South Africa.

In 1909, he joined the protest against the terms of the proposed Union Constitution. In 1910, Dr Rubusana became a candidate in the Provincial Council election, which was viewed as a bold step for a “native”. He was the first African to be elected to serve as a member of the Provincial Council when he won the contest for the Thembuland constituency.

He made an important contribution to African literature through his book Zemk’ inkomo Magwalandini, which is a rich collection of isiXhosa poetry, clan praises essays and proverbs. The book also gives excellent descriptions of certain rituals that were and are, to some extent, still practised by certain Nguni people. Such material was compiled by many outstanding fighters for the freedom of African people from cultural domination.

The title of his book means "there goes your heritage, you cowards”. It is a clarion call to Africans for African renewal as far back as 1906. The use of language gives one a clear picture of life in the 19th century and what the people of that time thought about their lives. He was also a member of the Bible’s translation committee. Dr Rubusana also wrote the History of South Africa from a Native Standpoint in recognition of which he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the McKinley University in the United States of America.

Dr Rubusana was a public servant of his people. He hardly missed a conference, whether it was political or social. He took a very active part in the political arena on behalf of his people, and eventually became a member of the Cape Provincial Council for Tembuland.

Dr Rubusana was a co-founder of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), which later became the African National Congress. In 1914, he went to Britain with the SANNC delegation to protest against the Native Lands Act and was co-ordinator of the Movement’s constitution.

Dr Walter Rubusana was not only a gifted intellectual with many talents; he was also a political activist who put his intellectual aptitudes to the service of his people. In the face of racialist dogma and state-sanctioned discrimination, he never tired of helping his people overcome the barriers of racial oppression and lack of education.

Dr Rubusana passed away on 19 April 1936 at Frere Hospital in East London after a protracted illness.