John Knox Bokwe was born in Ntselamanzi near Lovedale, southeastern Cape Province and was the youngest child of Cholwephi and Lena Bokwe. His father was one of the first students to be enrolled at the Lovedale Mission school, while his mother was daughter of Ngxe, one of the first converts of Ntsikana.
Bokwe first went to school at the age of eight or nine, and was taught by William Kobe Ntsikana, grandson of the prophet Ntsikana. In 1867, when he was twelve, he encountered the Stewart family with which he was to become closely associated. It was also in their house that he learnt to play the organ and the piano. In 1866 he was admitted to the preparatory classes at the Lovedale Institution. He continued on to the college in 1869 and finished his schooling four years later.
Bokwe met a young girl, Lettie Ncheni, who was also employed in the Stewart household. She worked there from 1868 to 1873 while attending night classes and from 1871 attended as a day scholar. The two got married in 1878 when Lettie returned from Scotland where she had accompanied Mrs. Stewart for three years.
John Knox Bokwe was married twice and children:
Selbourne Thandabantu Bokwe,
Waterstone Mathamsanqa Bokwe
Pearl Hope Maria Bokwe
Frieda Nobusi Deborah Bokwe
Rosebery Thandwefika Bokwe,
Pearl became the wife of Mark Radebe, the composer.
Frieda Nobusi Deborah Bokwe, married "ZK" (Zachariah Keodirelang) Matthews, the educationalist, church leader and African nationalist. Frieda was the first African woman to earn a degree at a South African institution and is the grandmother of Naledi Pandor, an ANC member of parliament
Rosebery Thandwefika Bokwe, (1900–1963) qualified as a doctor in 1933 and later became active in the African National Congress (ANC).
As a student, Bokwe was active in the literary society, of which he became chairman. In 1870 he helped in the printing and production of iNdaba, a Xhosa newspaper produced at Lovedale. In 1897, after 24 years of service, Bokwe left Lovedale Mission to collaborate with John Tengo Jabavu in producing the Xhosa newspaper Imvo Zabantsundu ("African Opinion")
THE MISSIONARY & EDUCATOR
In 1906 he was ordained as a minister of the United Free Church. He opened a school for children in the town of Ugie. He went out into the outlying areas, opening schools and churches. A founding member of Fort Hare College which opened in 1916. In the same year Bokwe was elected general secretary of the Native Teachers Association in the Transkei.
One of the most celebrated Xhosa hymn writers and musician. He is best known for his compositions Vuka Deborah, Plea for Africa, and Marriage Song. Msindisi Wa Boni the 1st of his 40 compositions was published by what became Africas largest mission institution Lovedale. Bokwe was the first to adapt John Curwen’s Tonic Sol-fa* system to Xhosa music. Bokwe’s transcriptions of Ntsikana’s songs, published in 1878, conveyed in notation aspects of the oral tradition using Sol-fa transcription
The legacy of John Knox Bokwe extends across South Africa and across the world to Scotland, England, Australia and his descendants every corner of the world... Fun Fact: John Knox Bokwe's name appears on an autograph quilt made as a local church fundraiser, in about 1894. The original quilt is on display at the National Museum of Australia. This rare autograph quilt is one of the earliest known signature quilts in Australia.
IN HIS NAME
John Knox Bokwe Memorial Church
John Knox Bokwe Music
John Knox Bokwe Mission in Scotland
John Knox Bokwe Presbyterian Church
The mission of the John Knox Bokwe Foundation
is to promote empowerment in the areas of:
"God bless Africa and her sons and daughters"
Plea For Africa, John Knox Bokwe