Reverend Desmond Tutu present at the launch of a collection of writings by South African priests, pastors, teachers and other writers.
- Renowned Guyanese historian, Walter Rodney, visited the Centre for the first time to lead a successful weekend Conference on ‘Models of Development’
Professor Ali Mazrui flew over from the University of Michigan to engage in the topic of ‘Africa in World Affairs: The next 25 years’.
- Future Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, delivered a lecture on ‘The Social and Humanist Aspects of traditional Africa found in African Literature’.
Late 60s and 70s:
As the struggles for independence increased in scale in the Portuguese colonies, South Africa, and present day Zimbabwe and Namibia, the Africa Centre became an instrument for the multiple voices of these liberation movements.
The political situation in South Africa at the time also attracted much attention and the Africa Centre welcomed numerous public figures and writers, including Poets Dennis Brutus and Cosmo Pieterse and playwrights Athol Fugard, Jon Kani and Winston Ntshona.
From its very beginnings, the Africa Centre took a stance on gender issues, vowing for the empowerment of African women. Sally Mugabe, later to become first lady of Zimbabwe, performed the duties of PA to the director Margaret Feeny and led courses in African dressmaking.
Tenants in the building in the early days included an African restaurant, Calabash, under the management of Chef Paulo Diop; the Africa Development Trust; and a Book Centre selling Heinemann Books and other publications.
Dr Alistair Niven appointed Director-General of the Africa Centre. Niven was a highly intellectual man and literature specialist. During Dr Niven’s directorship (1978-1984), the Africa Centre became home to the likes of Ben Okri, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Dambudzo Merechera and other eminent African writers, who would spend a good deal of their spare time socialising there.
The Association for the Teaching of African and Caribbean Literature (ATCAL) had its inaugural meeting at the Africa Centre entitled “How to Teach Caribbean and African Literature in Schools”. ATCAL was, amongst other things, a pressure group in the eighties. The organisation was a key player in the gradual process of expanding syllabuses in British schools, to include subjects such as contemporary black writing into the National Curriculum.