Historian Jeff Guy dies

2014-12-17 00:00

RENOWNED local historian and ­contributing writer for The Witness, Professor Jeff Guy died in London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday night.

The 74-year-old, hours earlier, had delivered a memorial lecture at St John’s College.

Guy was remembered among his ­colleagues as an intellectual historian within KwaZulu-Natal, who inspired a whole generation of historians.

Former Witness editor John Conyngham recalled Guy having contributed a series of articles in The Witness, in conjunction with the Department of Education, which culminated in a supplement commemorating the centenary of the Bambatha Uprising.

“He’ll be sorely missed as an intellectual figure in KwaZulu-Natal,” he said.

Anglo-Zulu War expert Ian Knight paid glowing tribute to Guy after the publication of his book Theophilus Shepstone and the Forging of Natal: “Professor Jeff Guy is a towering figure in the field of Zulu historical studies, and his previous works — including The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom — largely redefined the historiography of the period.”

Guy was well-known for a series of works including The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom; a biography of Bishop John Colenso — the first bishop of Natal and struggle icon —The Heretic; another featuring the indomitable Harriette Colenso, The View Across the River; and two books dealing with the 1906 Bambatha rebellion: The Maphumulo Uprising and Remembering the Rebellion.

Guy, who had an in-depth knowledge of Bishop Colenso, had been asked to give a lecture at the St John’s College in Cambridge. Before his return flight to South Africa, he collapsed and attempts to revive him failed.

Former Witness feature writer Stephen Coan, who worked closely with Guy and recently wrote a feature on his book Theophilus Shepstone, echoed those who called Guy being one of KZN’s leading historians.

“He spoke Zulu, and was on speaking terms with King Goodwill Zwelithini. He was widely regarded as a top grade academic,” Coan said.

Researcher at the local history museum in Durban, Steve Kotze, who was taught by Guy and later became a friend, said that he had left an invaluable contribution behind in his work.

“He was a great teacher and I was very fortunate to have been taught by him. What made him different is that he found a way to bring out the voices never before heard in KwaZulu-Natal history. He was able to draw out politics, power and race which impacted on Zulu history. He made the voices of African leaders heard,” he said.

Kotze said he was a teaching assistant at the time Guy was a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s history department.

“I was just one of many people that was able to gain knowledge and be inspired by him,” Kotze said.

Guy’s ex-wife and good friend, Naimi Guy, remembered him as being a great person who always had a story to tell.

“His work was his life. He was continuously working 24 hours a day. He was a very fun person and he always had good stories to tell. He was a great talker and lecturer. Even though we separated some time ago, we still remained good friends and in contact,” she said.

Naimi was the person contacted shortly after Guy’s death and was still waiting to hear the cause of death from UK authorities.

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