The Ohlange Native Industrial Institute, as it was known at the time, was founded by the Rev. John Dube in 1901. He was known as Mafukuzela, reflecting his energetic and industrious nature. He became the first President of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), later to be renamed the African National Congress (ANC). He was also the founding editor of the newspaper Ilanga lase Natal and the first principal of what is today known as Ohlange High School.
Dube’s guiding principle in life, despite his incredible energy, was to “hasten slowly”. This became the basis of the education policy he introduced at Ohlange, insisting that students be thoroughly equipped for their future careers. His concern was to produce self-reliant citizens, and he stressed the importance of providing students with industrial training as well as academic skills. This resulted in shoemaking, dressmaking, carpentry, motor mechanics, agriculture and journalism being taught together with academic subjects.
Dube also placed great emphasis on character formation. Politically he was a moderate and independent-minded person. He found himself in conflict with the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) as well as with the colonial government of the time. He worked with Mahatma Ghandi and condemned the resort to arms by the government to put down the Bambatha rebellion. Throughout his life he kept alive the political vision that gave birth to the ANC in the pages of Ilanga lase Natal.
Dube was inspired in his educational vision by a visit to the United States of America where he developed a friendship with Booker T Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama, and by the work undertaken by that Institute among African Americans.
Mafukuzela, as he was known amongst his people (loosely translated meaning someone looking for talented children), started a school at Ohlange after his return from America. His daughter Lulu remembers that “…he was encouraged when he saw Black Americans who were then called ‘Negros’ and who were also black like his people back home, but are studying. He said he must try it at home, like they do overseas. Even though they were also oppressed like us, they are better than us. In those days, black people only reached standard six which was regarded as a good standard. Overseas, people studied further.” He said to the people of Ohlange “I want to educate your children.”
He raised funds largely from his contacts with Washington and others to launch the school. He quarried stone and helped, together with the college’s first students, to erect the buildings that would house the school. Chief Mqhawe offered Dube 200 pounds to purchase 200 acres of land in Inanda for the school.
Following a foundation ceremony the school was erected on a hilltop with the name Ohlange, deriving from the word uhlanga. Dube chose the name Ohlange for the school because of its meaning of ‘where all the nations come together”. He wanted all the peoples of the land to come together their and build a new nation.
The school was opened on 26 July 1901 and Rev. Dube became Principal of Ohlange Institute. For many years he played a leadership role in the Inanda community. The school started from first year (Grade 1) up to matric. He was more interested in industrial subjects because he wanted people to learn to do everything by themselves and not expect charity from white people. He was also directly involved in the teaching of journalism and related subjects.
The academic side of the school was further expanded and in 1915 the first students from Ohlange registered to study further at the University College of the Cape of Good Hope.
The Bantu Education Act of 1953 impacted hugely on Ohlange School as it did on all black schools, resulting in the decline of a proud school that was once described as a “citadel of light” in an impoverished area adjacent to the city of Durban.
HIE Dlomo’s poem written in 1912 captures the geographic and educational vision of a school waiting to be reborn:
Above the Ohlange heights
There hover ever glorious lights
They glow, they gleam, they quiver
Ever, ever, ever,
As a flowing river
From the mighty hand of God.
When Nelson Mandela cast his vote in the first democratic elections in 1994, he chose to do so at the Dr JL Dube Interpretation Centre housed on the school premises. “The spirit of Dr Dube is in itself good reason to restore this school to its former status,” notes Jabu Linda, present principal of the school. “His vision, which is under serious threat, must not be lost in this place.”The school’s infrastructure needs to be refurbished, the grounds cleaned, educational resources replenished, the spirit of the school community restored and the heritage documented and celebrated. A new vision needs to be kindled that is appropriate for the school and community at the present time.
It is in the interest of national, provincial and local governments, the private sector and the community as a whole to restore this historic site, and assist the school so that it can impact constructively on the area in which it is situated. Both the alumni, who include the Deputy President and other prominent citizens, and the local community need to be drawn into the restoration of the school. For this to happen, however, the leadership, teaching and governance of the school require urgent assistance.
Ohlange High School as it is called now forms part of the the Inanda Heritage Trail together with the Gandhi Settlement and the Inanda Seminary.