Imvubu Newsletter

HHA Mdledle

© Mpondo, M. Imvubu 20: 2, 7. (Mr. Mdledle worked at the museum from 1975 to 1985.)

Mr. H.H.A. Mdledle was born in the Tyhume valley on 17 April 1910. He passed his standard six in 1925 and trained as a teacher at Lovedale College. From 1928, he taught at various schools as an assistant-principal and as principal. ‘H. H’, as he was affectionately known, privately studied for his Junior Certificate and went back to Lovedale and completed his matriculation in 1948. He then taught at Lovedale High School. While at Lovedale, he became a member of the local health and social service committee. He assisted T.B. patients through obtaining family histories and applying for disability grants. He was also a supervisor of the debating society and a tennis coach.

In 1969 he was appointed as a translator in the office of the Chief Bantu Affairs Commissioner, King Williams Town. His duties were to translate English to Xhosa and vice versa, draw up memoranda for the Executive Council, which later became the Ciskei cabinet, interpret at sessions of the Ciskei Legislative Assembly, attending to matters relative to chiefs and headmen and assisting ethnologists in claims of chieftainship. He retired at the beginning of 1975.

In June 1975 Mr. Mdledle joined the museum as a cleaner and later rose to the position of Museum Assistant. That was a rare honour bestowed upon an exceptional black person in the former Provincial service. Mdledle’s command of Xhosa was unsurpassed and over the years, he imparted the intricacies of the language to many whites in King. He had the capacity to communicate with people irrespective of age, colour or creed. He rubbed shoulders with prince and pauper, the haves and the have-nots without ever losing that essential human touch.

One interesting story about Mdledle was when he was addressing a rather intent throng of visiting white school children from Gauteng. He was relating the well-known story of our celebrity hippopotamus, Huberta. Coming to the part where Captain Shortridge discovered that the hippo, Hubert, was not a male, H.H. remarked: “The name Hubert was a misnomer and so it was changed to Huberta.” One pupil wanted to know the meaning of the word misnomer. Mr. Mdledle joyfully explained to the whole group. At the conclusion of the lesson, the teacher in charge said to the children: “Well, today, you’ve even learnt something about your own language.”

The Curator of Anthropology, Manton Hirst, often remarked that the museum was widely known among the people not so much as the Kaffrarian Museum, but rather as a place where Mr. Mdledle worked. Over the years, Manton’s work took him to diverse corners of the Eastern Cape. The question often asked him was; “Where do you come from and where do you work?” The usual reply, at the museum, always brought the inevitable response: “Oh, you mean where old Mdledle works.” That’s how popular Mr. Mdledle was. He had a great sense of humour and was closely identified with the museum. He did much to popularise the story of Huberta, both on radio and television. He was a great master of Xhosa, as he was of English. His wide knowledge of people and events connected with the history and culture of the Eastern Cape resulted in researchers of all kind beating a path to his door. After ten years of meritorious service, Mr. Mdledle retired on 30 May 1985. Even after retirement, Mr. Mdledle would drop in the museum to convey news, information or donate artefacts. During the period of ill health that plagued his last years, he always kept in telephonic contact with the museum. Indeed, his legacy is a beaming light.