OUR PEOPLE: Walter Benson Rubusana

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

A life-size memorial statue honouring Dr Walter Benson Rubusana, one of South Africa's leading intellectuals and humanitarians, enjoys pride of place at the East London City Hall.

The statue was unveiled in March 2019 to honour the life and legacy of one of our region's most accomplished educationists, who helped to create more than 10 schools in and around Buffalo City.


Walter Benson Rubusana was born on 21 February 1858 at Mnandi in the Somerset East district of the then Cape Colony. His father was a senior councillor (umphakathi) to the Paramount Chief, Sandile Nggika.

The decade during which Rubusana was born witnessed the military defeat and economic destruction of the Xhosa kingdom. It was inaugurated with one of the most bitterly fought frontier wars, which coincided with the so-called “Second Hottentot Rebellion.”

After acquiring primary school education, Rubusana was admitted to Lovedale, the Free Church of Scotland mission school on the banks of the Tyhume River. There, under the tutorship of Dr James Stewart, he studied for the Cape Teachers' Certificate, passing the final examination with distinction in 1878.

Instead of going out to teach, he remained at Lovedale to study Theology under the guidance of Dr Stewart and the Reverend Andrew Smith.

In 1880 Rubusana left Lovedale to take up a teaching post at the Peelton mission station, where he also worked as assistant Pastor.

It was at this post, in 1883, that he married Deena Nzanzana, his first wife; together they had five daughters and a son. He remained at Peelton until his ordination as a minister of the Congregational Church in 1884, at which time he transferred to East London, which was to be his home for the rest of his life.

Activist and Intellectual

Rubusana was very much involved in political activity in the early 1900s. Despite being radical, Rubusana and his associates could not see beyond British Imperialism. During the Anglo-Boer War they all threw their support behind Britain.