Deborah Lavin, who retired after teaching history for many years at UK universities including Queen’s, Belfast and Durham, has generously donated about 500 old academic books, largely on the history of South Africa and Africa more broadly, to the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. The donation was made in response to Brand South Africa’s Country Head UK, Pumela Salela’s #Books2Give campaign – a project appeal that goes out weekly to expats via the Global South African newsletter. A courier collected no less than 22 boxes destined for Fort Hare – eagerly anticipated by librarians Andile Magocoba and Suzette Oosthuizen. Anne Louise Page, the Honorary Consul for South Africa in the UK and a Patron of Fort Hare University Charitable Foundation thanked Deborah for her most generous contribution. The donation shows how generosity, like history is sometimes repeated as Deborah’s father George Lavin, had donated his history books to Fort Hare in 1920 when he left Oxford. Deborah’s donation is to celebrate both the Fort Hare centenary and her father's memory.
Claire Roadley, on behalf of Brand South Africa, chatted to Deborah and find out more about her family history behind this wonderful gift…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family history?
I was born in Port Elizabeth. Our family came to the Kowie, in the Eastern Cape, in the 1800’s. My Grandfather Edward Haweis Lavin, was orphaned at just 16 years old and went off to the diamond fields and then later did transport riding, buying up pieces of land when he could to rest his livestock. From Tarkastad he moved to Alice where the farm “Penryn” was named after a town in Cornwall where the family originated.
My father George Lavin preferred reading to farming and studied History, first at Rhodes University in Grahamstown and then later at Balliol College, Oxford. He also trained as a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps in WW1.
"I followed in my Father's footsteps, briefly studying History at Rhodes and later at Oxford. I lectured at Wits University but left South Africa to move to Ireland in the 1960’s as I did not want to live under the apartheid Government".
How long have you been in the UK and do you still have ties back in South Africa?
I have been in the UK since 1965 but I have a lot of family still living in South Africa and I visit regularly. The family is dotted across the country now: my Uncle Ben Lavin when he died willed his farm near Louis Trichardt in Limpopo to WESSA. It became the Ben Lavin Nature Reserveand is of great interest as it forms a meeting point between three ecosystems and contains a series of ruins that date back to 1250 AD.
What is your academic background?
Why did you have 22 boxes of books, mostly about Africa?
All my working life I collected books wherever I could; but now I think it is time to downsize and hand over my working research books to people who will use, respect and enjoy them as I have done over the years.
We believe you are repeating history with this generous donation/shipment.
Yes - in 1920 when my father left Oxford he donated his academic books to the University of Fort Hare – the closest University in South Africa to our family farm at Alice. So I was delighted to hear from Professor William Beinart at Oxford about Pumela Salela’s call for books: the timing was perfect to celebrate both the Fort Hare centenary and my father’s memory.
I believe you visited the South Africa: Art of a Nation exhibition at the British Museum recently. What did you think as a history buff?
It is a superb exhibition accompanied by a fine catalogue with well loved artefacts such as the golden rhino - plus many more modern items I hadn’t seen before such as snuff spoon combs from Zululand. It shows brilliantly the quality, scope and liveliness of South Africa's historic art maintained over the ages.
Thank you so much Deborah for your time, your passion for South Africa’s history and for your most generous contribution to preserving our heritage and history through your research and your generous donation of your book collection.