Mandela’s Idealistic Forbears- Some Even White.

Harold Jowitt -’Enlightened Visionary’
In the aftermath of Mandela’s death many have sought to exploit any political advantage by either claiming that they too were enlightened liberals ( like Peter Hain (et al) who have made it a career rope-ladder) or that no white man ever saw the light until led by this extraordinary statesman. What for me began as a quiet tribute to those I knew (and, like Mandela, knew of) has now escalated into an unedifying scramble for Mandela stardust.
The Times carries letters of both kinds, from politicians like Dennis MacShane, never slow to exploit an opening to discredit Thatcher or conservative policy

Minnie Humphreys Barrett (van den Bosch) and Harold Jowitt fluent Swahili and Zulu linguist
Minnie Humphreys Barrett (mother-van den Bosch) and Harold Jowitt fluent Swahili and Zulu linguist

 or plaintive rebukes from those who had reasons to know otherwise, friends of Bram Fischer the defense attorney at the Treason Trial, committed to life imprisonment.

It seems I must join the fray. Not to climb the Mandela bandwagon, but to support a deeper truth, that South Africa incubated Mandela. Smuts, Sir Seretse Khama, Albert Luthuli, Trevor Huddleston in different ways all contributed the dignity of humanity free of race, or prejudice, which might have given Mandela his faith in what he sought to achieve. I grew up amongst many of them, Afrikaaners, English speaking Whites and Blacks of varied tribal origins. On the strength of the post I wrote immediately after news of his death I have been asked by several to recall my South Africa, in vignettes, stories, and recollections. It seems a suitable moment to offer these. Let me start with a history long before Mandela….

The Freedom of Lesotho
The Freedom of Lesotho

Before Mandela had been heard of, my grandfather Harold Jowitt, ‘Heli’ had been Director of African Education’ in Rhodesia, in Uganda,and when I knew him, Bechuanaland (Botswana) and then Basutoland (Lesotho). He spoke both Swahili and Zulu fluently. Rather than my views here is an extract from the ‘Journal of African Society. Vol 33 No 133 published in October of 1934.

Suggested Methods for the African School. By Harold Jowitt (Longmans) ( One of his books still available at a high price) The writer of this extract is not identified.

Some years ago an Inspector in Natal took the reviewer (this author) to visit a number of remote native schools. It was a very interesting experience. The Inspector was greeted with enthusiasm wherever he went. His aim was to help teachers to be better teachers and occasionally he would take charge of classes for an entire morning in order to show them how to do it. Arithmetic, writing, nature study, scripture- indeed anything on the timetable was taken just as it came, and all this was done in the native language without even a word of English. This was an Inspector after Matthew Arnold’s own heart

'Heli' The School Inspector Riding throughout Zululand in a jacket and tie!

‘Heli’ The School Inspector. Riding throughout Zululand in a jacket and tie as any respectful Inspector would!

In a much longer chapter of a book only published in 1998, the following direct quotations about Heli and from his correspondence appear.

He was an educator of imposing stature, a dynamic leader of immense popularity…an innovator willing to risk his reputation in order to try new ideas’

‘Jowitt became a fragile bridge over troubled waters…He tried to mediate the conflict between political philosophy and the reality of human existence..between African desire for a good academic education as a means of eliminating old colonial stereotypes and the colonial intent to have…cheap labour.’

‘He warned of the consequences of continuing the attitude that ‘the security of one race can be ensured by the repression of another….The Africans must not be trained by an inferior kind of education to function as better hewers of wood or drawers of water for their white masters.’

‘He needed the wisdom of Solomon to play colonial hide and seek.’

‘His ability to perceive what was possible in light of what was ideal gave him the balance he needed as he walked this delicate political tightrope’

‘He wrote a stinging attack- ‘ the policy of practical training for Africans was ‘in the long run an immoral institution…because education must be universal there was no reason to practice racial discrimination’

‘Jowitt had a vision of the Africa of the future. He could not fit the system of which he was a part…He refused to subscribe the materials that were needed to build the laager.’ 

An Extract from a Book ‘The Last Defenders of the Laager:Ian D. Smith and F.W. de Klerk by Dickson A.Mungazi published in 1998…

My grandfather Heli- So named by the Buganda in Uganda and never called anything else

My grandfather Heli- So named by the Baganda in Uganda and never called anything else

Me and Heli. Roma Lesotho

Heli and me. Roma Lesotho where he helped found the University of Botwana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

My Christmas present when I was nine. Saddled to the gate on Xmas morning

Noel, Heli’s Christmas present to me when I was nine. Saddled and tied to the gate on Xmas morning



Author: philipparees

A writer ( mostly narrative poetry) of fiction and non-fiction. Self publisher of fiction and Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God (Runner-up Book of the Year (2013), One time builder ( Arts centre) Mother of four daughters: Companion of old man and old dog: One time gardener, lecturer, wannabe cellist, mostly enquirer of 'what's it all about', blogger and things as yet undiscovered.

17 thoughts on “Mandela’s Idealistic Forbears- Some Even White.”

  1. Thank you, Philippa, for sharing the history of your grandfather. He obviously was a remarkable person. I feel richer just knowing about him. It is to people like this, who fight for the equality, and especially, for equality in education we owe thanks for everything we have.
    I’m looking forward to more of your posts!


    1. What a lovely comment Joanna! He was remarkable and he died when I was just beginning to really understand who he was and what he achieved at his desk every morning from 6.30 onwards. I lay on his study floor and as long as I was quiet I could read any book, and listen to any interview. I will be writing about the safaris we took together when he had to inspect schools in Botswana.It has been lovely being given the green light to write about him.


  2. You will know them by what they actually do, and by whether their words rings true.

    Things like this show those who climb on bandwagons they are not entitled to even pull.

    One of the reasons I believe in God is the parable of the wheat and the weeds being allowed to grow together – until the wheat is gathered, and the weeds are thrown on the fire. I am not fit to judge. Things make me angry – but I cannot possibly know all the people who tried and failed, and those who succeeded by luck or appearance.

    I know this just recently by an award conferred on a school – I know the teacher who was responsible, his unselfishness, and the number of people WHO TRIED TO STOP HIM who then claimed the primary positions in the photographs when the award was give. They could have helped so much before.

    Lovely to hear from you about Heli, you, and Mandela – and South Africa.



    1. Yes Alicia, those who do rather than those who talk. Awareness of those who are so busy doing they do not have time to be noticed is what made me dedicate ‘Involution’ to ‘those who brought gifts but mistook the mood of the party, arrived too early and left unsung’ – all those geniuses,, both large and small, whose foresight and idealism were always ahead of the collective.

      Thank you for your generous comment


    1. I see so much of what he sought to incubate in me! His quiet heroism (and his solitude) always were the standards by which to judge others, who made more noise. I adored him and although he was never a demonstrative man I knew by what he did that he loved me from some core of esteem. I watched Africans from every walk of life recognise this in him, and trust it.


  3. Howdy exceptional blog! Does running a blog like this require a
    large amount of work? I have very little expertise in coding
    however I had been hoping to start my own blog in
    the near future. Anyhow, should you have any ideas or techniques for
    new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic but I just wanted to ask.



    1. Thank you for the compliment! You do not need to know coding to create a WordPress blog. I have two and although this one received some paid help ( not much, just some tidying up) the other at has had none. If an old woman with NO IT knowledge can do it, anyone can. It just needs persistence and the use of the wordpress support and forums which are excellent. is free unless you buy upgrades. The blog writing does take time but if you are interested it can be fun.


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