Mary W. Waters

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Mary W. Waters (fl. 1820s-1840s) was a missionary in South Africa, as well as Mary Waters was a teacher, school principal mentor, poet and playwright.


Also known as M.W. Waters or simply as Mary Waters


Born in England and christened Mary Waterton Waters to a family of missionaries, and moved to Africa with her family. She was considered a rather eccentric and formidable woman, who had a passion for education and culture. This led her to become involved with various missions, as either a teacher or a principal. Among others she was the principal of a Native Training College School in what was then known as Pondoland[1] in the 1920s, successfully organised demonstration classes for a Coloured Training School in Cape Town and teaching in Windhoek, reviving a poorly equipped church school. On retiring she came to Grahamstown and in 1942 she was appointed as lecturer in the Education Department at Rhodes University College and was also asked to assist in the R.U.C. Coloured Practising School, where she soon established herself as the main teaching force in the institution. When it became a high school in 1963 it was named the Mary Waters High School in her honour.

According to an article published in the Grocott’s Mail of 15 December 2009, she was a brilliant teacher who made Shakespeare live, inter alia by acting out the scenes from plays like The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

She retired (apparently for the second time) around 1958 and passed away on St. Helena's Island where she had begun teraching while on her way back to Britain.

Besides teaching, she also penned stories, poetry and dramas (usually under the name Mary W. Waters or M.W. Waters), often books for school use, such as the series Stories from History for Bantu Children (used for Standards I & II; III & IV; V & VI, published by Juta in the 1940s), Cameos from the Kraal ("with Illustrations by a Raw Native")[2],

Contribution to South African theatre

She wrote a number of plays in Xhosa for school use, notably uNongqause (or Nonqause), which was to be the second play put on by the Bantu Dramatic Society in 1933/4(??) (Published by Lovedale Press in 1924) and The Light – Ukukanya (a drama of the history of the Bantus, 1600-1924, 1925).


Peter Kallaway. 2018. History in popular literature and textbooks for Xhosa schools, 1850-1950s. In: Yesterday and Today No 20[3]

Jennifer Wenzel. 2010. Bulletproof: Afterlives of Anticolonial Prophecy in South Africa and Beyond. University of Chicago Press[4]


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