Nompumelelo Jafta 2008


Nompumelelo Dorcas Jafta was born in the nineteen thirties in Qumbu in the Eastern Cape. She attended Healdtown Institution in Fort Beaufort for her secondary education, matriculating in 1954. From here, she proceeded to Fort Hare University College in 1955, where she obtained her BA degree (majoring in Psychology and isiXhosa) in 1957 and 1958, completed a University Education Diploma from Rhodes University. 

Dr Jafta’s career began in 1959 as a teacher of isiXhosa and Social Studies at St Matthews College in the small Eastern Cape village of Keiskammahoek. From 1960 to 1962 she taught at Jabavu Senior Secondary School in Alice whilst studying part-time and obtained a BEd through UNISA.  From 1963 to 1964 she joined the University of Fort Hare’s Department of African Languages as a temporary lecturer and completed her BA honours degree specialising in African languages with isiXhosa as the main language.

In 1965 her permanent appointment as a lecturer at Fort Hare generated much debate as a young black woman in a male dominated work sphere.  In 1975 she was promoted to senior lecturer, and then left Fort Hare the following year to start the new university branch in Mthatha which eventually became the University of Transkei, and subsequently Walter Sisulu University. During this time she was a recipient of a Fullbright Hayes Research Grant which enabled her to visit various universities in the USA, later leading to research at the University of Chicago and North West University.

In 1977 Prof Jafta became the founder member of the new department of isiXhosa at the fledgling institution of learning. Continuing her studies, the University of Zululand awarded her an MA degree (cum laude) in 1978. She successfully introduced learning in isiXhosa in all the facets of language study from undergraduate to postgraduate studies and in 1982 she was promoted to Associate Professor and three years later to full Professor. From 1990 to 1995 she served as dean of the Faculty of Arts.  Completing her university studies, she was awarded a DLitt degree by the University of Stellenbosch in 1995.

In 2000 she retired from the University of Transkei. During her illustrious and extremely influential career she has published or contributed to no less than eighteen books on topics concerning isiXhosa. Prof Jafta still serves as deputy chair of the isiXhosa National Language Body, as member of the isiXhosa National Lexicography Unit, as vice-chair of the Lotto Distribution Agency (Arts and Culture Environment and National Heritage) and as provincial member of the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa.

Over the years Prof Jafta has been engaged in community work through giving public addresses to encourage black communities in various educational endeavours.  She was involved for many years in broadcasting Xhosa language and literary programmes on Radio Xhosa (now Umhlobo Wenene FM).  

Amongst the honours Prof Jafta has received is the Mqhayi Prize in 1999 for her sterling contribution to the development of isiXhosa, a publication dedicated to her on her retirement, entitled Ahead of Times (2001), and in 2005 an award by the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture as Eastern Cape Achiever in the development of isiXhosa. In 1996 she was nominated as a member of the Restructuring Committee of the South African Council of Churches. In June 2007 she gave an inspiring lecture on the importance of isiXhosa as a language of learning and teaching at the International Book Fair in Cape Town on the invitation of Via Afrika Nassou Publishers

In recognition of her substantial contribution in the field of isiXhosa language and literature, and for her sterling service in establishing and nurturing isiXhosa language and literature in both the academic sphere and in the community, it is an honour for NMMU to confer the degree of Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) on NOMPUMELELO DORCAS JAFTA.