Z. K. Matthews

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ZK Matthews
Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews

(1901-10-20)20 October 1901
Died11 May 1968(1968-05-11) (aged 66)
EducationUniversity of South Africa
Yale University
London School of Economics
ChildrenJoe Matthews
Scientific career
FieldsSocial Anthropology and Custom Law
InstitutionsUniversity of Fort Hare
Doctoral advisorBronisław Malinowski
Notable students[1]

Zachariah Keodirelang "ZK" Matthews (20 October 1901 – 11 May 1968[2]) was a prominent black academic in South Africa, lecturing at South African Native College (renamed University of Fort Hare in 1955), where many future leaders of the African continent were among his students.


Early years[edit]

Z.K. Matthews was born in Winter's Rush near Kimberley in 1901, the son of a Bamangwato mineworker. Z.K. grew up in urban Kimberley, but maintained close connections with his mother’s rural Barolong relatives. He went to Mission high school in the eastern Cape where he attended Lovedale. After Lovedale he studied at South African Native College in Fort Hare, and in 1923 he wrote the external examination of the University of South Africa.

In 1924, he was appointed head of the high school at Adams College in Natal,[3] where Albert Luthuli was also a teacher. With Luthuli he attended meetings of the Durban Joint Council and held office in the Natal Teacher’s Association, of which he eventually became President.

It was while he was in Natal, in 1928, that he married Frieda Bokwe, daughter of John Knox Bokwe, whom he had met as a student at Fort Hare. Their son, Joe, was born in 1929 in Durban.[4]

In 1930, after private study, Matthews earned an LLB degree in South Africa, a degree he was awarded once again by the University of South Africa. He was admitted as an attorney and practiced for a short time in Alice. In 1933, he was invited to study at Yale University in the United States, and there in the following year he completed an MA. He then went on to spend a year at the London School of Economics where he studied anthropology under Bronisław Malinowski.

He returned to South Africa in 1935 and in 1936 was appointed Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Native Law and Administration at University of Fort Hare. After Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu’s retirement in 1944, Matthews was promoted to Professor and became head of Fort Hare’s Department of African Studies.

Political activism[edit]

Matthews did not confine himself to academic studies; he combined his study of anthropology and the law with an active political involvement. He found his true political home in the ANC. He had attended meetings as a boy in the company of Sol Plaatje, a senior relative, but it was only in 1940 that he became a member of the organisation. In 1943, he was elected to the National Executive Committee and at the same time he became a member of the Native Representative Council, a purely advisory body that has been condemned as a “toy telephone” and which Z.K. found generally frustrating, although he found dealing with the Native Education Act of 1945 a “valuable experience” not for the process but for the people he met. In June 1949, Matthews succeeded James Calata as ANC provincial president in the Cape.

In June 1952, on the eve of the Defiance Campaign, he left South Africa, and took up a position as visiting professor at New York’s Union Theological Seminary.

He returned home in May 1953, and although not present at the Congress of the People in 1955, he assisted Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein in drawing up the Freedom Charter that was adopted there. Denis Goldberg credits him with being one of the driving forces behind the proposal for gathering and documenting the wishes of the people for the Charter.[5]

Matthews was arrested in December 1956 and was one of the accused in the Treason Trial. On his release from the trial in late 1958, he returned to Fort Hare, but resigned his post in protest against the passing of legislation that reduced the university to an ethnic college for the Xhosa community only.

In 1961, he moved to Geneva to become secretary of the Africa division of the World Council of Churches.

In 1966, he accepted the post of newly formed Botswana ambassador to the United States and he died there in Washington on 11 May 1968.

Selected publications[edit]

  • A New Native Teachers' Course, Ilanga lase Natal, November 4, 11, 1927
  • Bantu Law and Western Civilisation in South Africa: A Study in the Clash of Cultures Yale University, 1934. Master of Arts thesis.
  • A Short History of the Tshidi Barolong, Fort Hare Papers, vol. 1 no. 1, June 1945
  • Foreword, in Responsible Government in a Revolutionary Age, [ed.] Z. K. Matthews, Association Press, New York, 1966.
  • Freedom For My People, Cape Town: Collings, 1981. (Published posthumously in 1981)
  • Africa holds her own. An appreciation of Bantu tribal and national culture in the Imperial Protectorates and in the Union of South Africa. By W. Bryant Mumford. in co-operation with Hugh Ashton . [and] Z.K. Matthews.
  • African awakening and the universities, Cape Town University of Cape Town, 1961.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ZK Matthews Gallery named after icon". University of Cape Town News. University of Cape Town. Retrieved 25 May 2006.
  2. ^ Programme for the Memorial Service at Church Center for the United Nations, May 20, 1968; also on Matthews' grave in Gaborone. Many secondary sources give the date as 12 May, but his death occurred on Saturday 11 May in Washington, USA
  3. ^ Rich, Paul B. (1993). Hope and despair : English-speaking intellectuals and South African politics : 1896-1976. London u.a.: British Acad. Press. p. 78. ISBN 1850434891.
  4. ^ Former deputy minister Joe Matthews dies Mail & Guardian, 19 August 2010
  5. ^ Goldberg, Denis (2016). A Life for Freedom. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 43–44.

External links[edit]