Archibald Campbell (AC) Mzolisa Jordan is described as a professor, author, scholar, writer, linguist, literary critic, poet, musician, humanist, nationalist, freedom fighter, revolutionary and gentleman.
But it is as an academic pioneer and torchbearer for African literature and linguistics that he is remembered, and his legacy is being honoured at UCT by the renaming of the Arts Block to the AC Jordan Building.
Jordan is remembered in UCT history as the institution’s first black African lecturer, appointed in 1946.
In 1956 he became the first black African scholar at UCT to obtain a PhD.
But rewind to 1906, the year Jordan was born on Mbokothwana Mission Station in the Tsolo district of the Eastern Cape, where his father was an Anglican minister. Jordan won a scholarship to Fort Hare University College, where he obtained a BA degree in 1934.
In 1946 he came to UCT as a senior lecturer, a career that lasted until 1962. According to his wife, Phyllis, Jordan was criticised for leaving Fort Hare for UCT. His response was:
“I am going to UCT to open that [UCT] door and keep it ajar, so that our people too can come in. UCT on African soil belongs to us too. UCT can and never will be a true university until it admits us too, the children of the soil. I am going there to open that door and keep it ajar.”
But politics interfered with scholarship. In 1960 Jordan was awarded a Carnegie Travelling Scholarship, but was denied a passport. He went into exile in 1962.
He taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and the following year was appointed to a professorship at the University of Wisconsin, where he taught African languages (“the only teacher known to be teaching his native language outside South Africa”) until his untimely death in 1968.
In 1993 the AC Jordan Chair in African Studies was established to provide meaningful study of Africa by integrating African Studies into research, teaching and learning at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in UCT’s faculties.
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