Claude Qavane Residence (formerly Xanadu)

Apartheid activist, politician, intellectual  
Birthplace: Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Qavane was deeply respected by liberation movements and political organisations of the day.

An “organic intellectual” dedicated to inclusive, non-racial and quality education, Claude Qavane achieved staggering political success before his untimely death in 2005.

Born to a working class family in Kwazakhele, he thrived academically and, fiercely determined to study further, became a petrol attendant to help fund his tertiary education.

A committed student activist and member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO), he was expelled from the then Port Elizabeth Technikon (now part of Nelson Mandela University) for his campaigns against financial exclusions and other discriminatory practices in higher learning institutions.

Undeterred, he enrolled at Vista University (now part of Mandela University) to read for an LLB degree.

Agent for change

While studying law, Qavane realised that mobilising young people in education had a direct impact on the type of society they would later create.

With this in mind, he joined the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and was part of its collective leadership in Port Elizabeth.

Qavane also played a major role in shaping Vista University’s educational system following his election to co-lead the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) local branch.

His firm grasp of challenges facing education led to his joining the ANC’s education desk, where he participated in debates leading to the formulation of the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997.

A love for learning

Qavane was deeply respected by liberation movements and political organisations of the day.

In 1999, owing to his wealth of knowledge – and ability to articulate the pressing political and educational issues of the day – he was invited to join the ANC Political Education and Training Unit; a position he kept until his death.

Between 1999-2002, Qavane served on SASCO’s National Executive Committee and was elected president.

It was during this period that he helped shape the mergers, transformation and rationalisation of institutions within the Higher Education sector.

Sadly, ill-health plagued him, and Qavane died aged just 35.

Leaving a legacy

In Port Elizabeth, ten years after his death, Qavane was described at a memorial lecture in his honour as a Nelson Mandela-like intellectual with a “zest for education”.

ANC regional executive committee member Mabhuti Dano, who had worked with Qavane, told the audience that his colleague refused to be drawn into controversies and was “theoretically grounded politically”.

In this way, he said, Qavane was similar to both Mandela and former ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu.

All three men understood that the ANC was founded on unity and so, for Qavane, unity was “sacrosanct”. His approach was always discursive, rather than aggressive.

Xanadu students firmly resolved to have their residence named for this young student icon – one who fought against oppression and tirelessly challenged the wrongdoings of society.