Phyllis Ntantala has finally come home, at least in name. A new multimillion-rand, state-of-the-art tertiary education facility, the Phyllis Ntantala Collaborative Library, was officially opened in East London yesterday by Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor.
This unique joint venture involving three universities – Fort Hare, Unisa and Walter Sisulu, with financial support from the department of higher education – honours the independent socialist, feminist, academic and author who died in July 2016, aged 96, in continued self-imposed exile in the US.
Although she spent more than half a century in exile, Ntantala remained fiercely proud of her origins, often noting: “Ndivel’ eGqubeni, nindibona nje! (You see me, I come from Gqubeni!).”
This posthumous honour follows a series of similar honours bestowed on her husband, Archibald Campbell Mzolisa Jordan, a novelist, linguist, historian and pioneer of African studies who died in 1968. The University of Cape Town has an AC Jordan chair of African Studies and its arts block is named after him.
A committed anti-racist, Ntantala was a member of the Society of Young Africa (Soya) headed by Isaac Bangani Tabata, which was established in 1952 to counter what Ntantala saw as the racism inherent in the “Africa for the Africans” call of that time’s ANC Youth League.
In 1962, with doors of learning and culture increasingly shut on racist grounds, Ntantala, her husband and their four children left South Africa.
She and two of their sons briefly returned to South Africa after the transition from apartheid.
Pallo Jordan, the sole surviving member of the family, returned as a senior member of the ANC and went on to occupy ministerial posts in both the Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki presidencies.
Ntantala and Jordan both have their papers lodged with the University of Fort Hare.
Bell is an author and labour columnist