The 1950s were a time of increasingly limited access for black students seeking education beyond that prescribed by the Bantu Education Act of 1953.
Pius Xll Catholic University College, established in 1945 in Roma, Lesotho (then Basutoland) following a decision of the Synod of Catholic Bishops, was a beacon of hope and a haven of opportunity. Founded as a university to enable the youth of Africa to play their part in the struggle for truth and social justice, it quickly developed a reputation for quality education, attracting a wide range of educators and scholars committed to making higher education available to all Africans. The indefatigable Rector Fr. Romeo Guilbeaut requested help to build additional boarding hostels and facilities, which would assist the College, already linked to the University of South Africa, to qualify for full academic status.
Its Staff News at the time records a student body comprising 54 people from the Union of South Africa, 28 from the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, 15 from Basutoland, 1 from Swaziland, and 1 – surprisingly – from the United States. Regularly attracting leading academics to teach, it goes on to report that: “Mr. Raymond Kunene, a young Zulu poet and dramatist, joined the Bantu Languages Department early this year. His volume of poems ‘Idlozi Elingethentethelo’ won a prize in a Bantu literature competition recently held by the Afrikaans press. His work has been the subject of much favourable comment in the Zulu press.” A subsequent address by the celebrated American Bishop Fulton Sheen, encouraging US leaders to support underprivileged countries, highlighted the importance of this independent African centre of learning: “…the future continent of the earth is Africa…”. OMT funding was secured, and the Trust extended its student bursary scheme for students to Pius Xll College, which is today the National University of Lesotho. Among some of its luminaries the young Lindiwe Sisulu (currently South Africa’s Minister of Housing) received a grant to help her study at Pius in 1974/5, and Professor Jeff Guy (a recipient of the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship in 2007) lectured there in the Department of History in the 70s and 80s.
“Mr. Raymond Kunene, a young Zulu poet and dramatist, joined the Bantu Languages Department early this year. His volume of poems ‘Idlozi Elingethentethelo’ won a prize in a Bantu literature competition recently held by the Afrikaans press. His work has been the subject of much favourable comment in the Zulu press.”
As an aside, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, former Vice- Chancellor and Principal, University of Cape Town describes his experience of the younger Guy in those days: “It is my recollection that Jeff Guy thrived in that environment. It was an island of academic freedom in a sea of repression across the borders of Lesotho. He was a stimulating lecturer who developed genuine non- patronising relationships with his students. We debated endlessly with him as equals. At least he made us feel so. Some of us may, in retrospect, have been rather hotheaded, but he had infinite patience with us. This kind of teacher is unforgettable. … Jeff Guy was able to attract to Lesotho some of the best contemporary historians on South African history. We had the likes of Charles van Onselen, Stan Trapido and Shula Marks debate in front of our eyes – one of the many other unforgettable moments brought about by Jeff Guy the scholar, the teacher, the researcher.”