Lost hero Umhalla to be remembered

Nathaniel Cyril Kondile Umhalla lived during the 19th century and his innovative spirit contributed to the development of institutions and notable public figures, yet he died in poverty without any of the acclaim he deserves.

The Border Historical Society in association with the Friends of the East London Museum intends to restore his legacy and among their efforts is a public talk to be held on September 20 at the Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer Hall at the East London museum.

The talk will be presented by historian Mike Kenyon and all are welcome to attend. Kenyon believes that through considering the lives of people such as Umhalla, much can be gleaned about the past that is helpful for resolving contemporary issues.

Umhalla was a multi-talented individual educated in England. He had natural sporting and academic prowess and enjoyed a career in cricket as a batsman and administrator for 30 years. He was also a talented artist, educator, catechist, customary law expert, law agent, journalist and historian.

Despite his innumerable skills and talents, the racist administration of the day curtailed his professional progress by reserving opportunities for white men despite Umhalla’s qualifications and education.

Kenyon believes Umhalla’s life presents one of many case studies illustrating the strength of the glass ceiling that stifled the development of Black people in SA, and in the Border region especially.

Kenyon said “it is a tragedy of enormous proportions as here was a person who should have been a lawyer or a leader in any of a number of professions.

“His intellect and experience should have qualified him to sit in parliament ahead of many who did sit there. Instead he contributed substantially to the advancement of institutions and professionals rather than his own advancement, spent his last years as a lowly headman and appears to have died in poverty.”

The Border historical society says that Umhalla’s life and that of his acquaintances reveals a great deal about the construction of inequality in the later 19th century.

All interested in attending the talk are encouraged to arrive no later than 7pm and no entrance levy will be charged. For more information please contact Gordan Campbell, secretary of the Border Historical Society, on 083-284-6173.

RECOVERING PAST ICONS: The Border Historical Society has hosted a number of interesting initiatives this year including a recent tour to mission sites of interest, pictured here. On September 20, Border Historical Society and the Friends of East London Museum will be hosting a live talk on historical figure Nathaniel Umhalla. Pictures: SUPPLIED


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