Desmond Makhanya was born near Adam’s Mission on 14 September 1935. At age seven he began school in the infants section of Adams College, the fourth generation in his family to do so. He remained at the college until he matriculated in 1954 and had an ongoing affiliation with the famous institution of learning ever since, serving on the governing body from 1999 – 2006. As the self-appointed college historian due to his knowledge of its history, he was widely recognized as “the living memory of Adams College.”
After completing school, he worked at McCord’s Hospital for three years and then attended Fort Cox Agricultural College in the Eastern Cape from 1958–1960. He worked at the SAPPI SAICCOR Mill in Umkomaas in various positions from 1961 – 1989.
Desmond Makhanya began writing his history of Adams College in 1998, using reference materials from the Killie Campbell Africana Library to substantiate his own experiences and oral histories he had collected over the years. The manuscript, as yet unpublished, sketches a chronological history of Adams Mission and the later Adams College, from the arrival of missionaries in 1835, to about 2003. It is peppered with Desmond Makhanya’s personal anecdotes, memories and details of past events.
In as much as Desmond Makhanya has documented the historical developments brought by missionary ideas and the efforts of his ancestors, he was also concerned with development. Makhanya described his work as “community development”. He worked with the MEC for Health and local amakhosi on projects aimed at alleviating poverty through food production. These projects included a food growing programme and a “pigs and poultry” programme whereby people rear the animals and can keep the offspring.