What Bantu Golf, Shakespeare and a Xhosa priest in Europe have in common

2018-03-21 12:02
Drum 'magazine' in 1956. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Drum 'magazine' in 1956. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town – What do The Bantu Golf, Shakespeare and a Xhosa Minister in Europe have in common?

They are all books on display at South Africa's oldest library, the National Library of South Africa, which turned 200 this week.

To celebrate, the free "Treasure House of Knowledge" exhibition was unveiled to the public on Tuesday and will run for a year. It offers a fascinating tour of the country's past, along with unusual artwork, books about witchcraft and rare Muslim, Christian and Jewish manuscripts dating back a thousand years.

READ MORE: SA wine tax for books, and 5 other things about SA's grand old lady

Here are some of the quirky items on display:

Drum, Zonk! and Bona magazines

Familiar to older readers, the first illustrated, colour-print periodicals aimed at a black African audience do not resemble the sleek glossies of today. Dating from the late 1940s to 1950s onwards, the magazines were first edited by white staffers but gave a voice to black writers. The content was classed as entertainment in the beginning, with articles about "Beauty queens from the Golden Reef" and adverts for fashion and complexion creams. But Drum later took the lead in subtly representing the political tension and disparities at the time.

Coelum Australe Stelliferum, Abbe de Lacaille's star chart of the southern hemisphere skies

De Lacaille, a French priest turned astronomer, stayed in Cape Town for two years in the 1700s and set up a small observatory in the courtyard of his accommodation on Strand Street. He is considered the earliest scientific astronomer of the southern hemisphere skies. He used scientific instruments as the inspiration for constellation names, such as Euclid's Square, the Chemical Furnace and the Sculptor's Chisel. One was even named Table Mountain. (Mons Mensae)

Shakespeare's first folio

Considered one of the most important books in the library's collection, the first folio contains 36 plays, of which half have never been printed. This 1623 book of "comedies, histories and tragedies" is one of only 14 copies thought to be in perfect condition.

Tiyo Soga, a page of South African Mission Work, by Rev John Chalmers

Soga, who was the son of the great councillor of Xhosa chief Ngqika, was the first black minister ordained into a church in Europe. This biography by Chalmers details how Soga came under the influence of Scottish missionaries and married a Scotswoman. He translated classic books into Xhosa and composed Xhosa hymns that are still well known today, such as Lizalis' idinga lakho (fulfil your promise), which was sung at former president Nelson Mandela's funeral.

Segregated sports with The Bantu Golf and boxing magazine The African Ring

Sport was not excluded from the evils of racial segregation in South Africa. In a glass display box, visitors can see the front page of a 1947 edition of The Bantu Golf by Simon Malaza, which shows an image of a black man in old school clothing. Nearby are copies of boxing and wrestling magazines which had separate black and white sections. One edition of the The African Ring features a long article and an imposing black and white photo of famous boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, better known as "King Kong" in the ring. 

(All pictures by Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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