'A good education sets up a divine discontent': the contribution of St Peter's School to black South African autobiography

Woeber, Catherine Anne
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This thesis explores in empirical fashion the contribution made by St Peter's Secondary School to South African literary history. It takes as its starting point the phenomenon of the first black autobiographies having been published within a ten-year period from 1954 to 1963, with all but one of the male writers receiving at least part of their post-primary schooling at St Peter's School in Johannesburg. Among the texts, repositioned here within their educational context, are Tell Freedom by Peter Abrahams, Down Second Avenue by Es'kia Mphahlele, Road to Ghana by Alfred Hutchinson, and Chocolates for My Wife by Todd Matshikiza. The thesis examines the educational milieu of the inter-war years in the Transvaal over and against education in the other provinces of the Union, the Anglo-Catholic ethos of the Community of the Resurrection who established and ran the school, the pedagogical environment of St Peter's School, and the autobiographical texts themselves, in order to plot the course which the autobiographers' subsequent lives took as they wrote back to the education which had both liberated and shackled them. It equipped them far in advance of the opportunities available to them under the colour bar, necessitating exile, even as it colonised their minds in a way perhaps spared those who never attended school, requiring a continual reassessment of their identity over time. The thesis argues that their Western education was crucial in the development of their hybrid identity, what Es'kia Mphahlele has termed `the dialogue of two selves', which was in each case worked out through an autobiography. The typical, if simplified, trajectory is an enthusiastic espousal of the culture of the West encountered in their schooling at St Peter's, and then a rejection out of a sense of betrayal in favour of Africa, eventually leading to a synthesis of the two. The thesis concludes that it was the emphasis on all-round education and character formation, in the British boarding school tradition, with its thrust of sacrifice and service, which helped to fashion the strong belief systems of Abrahams and Mphahlele's later years, namely Christian socialism and African humanism, which inform their mature writings.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of the Witwatersrand, Faculty of Arts, 2000
Urban Transvaal mission education, Community of the Resurrection, St Peter's Secondary School, Black South African autobiography, Subjectivity and identity formation