Donald G. S. M'Timkulu

He sustained our belief in humanity's capacity for good

A Memorium by Michael Bird.

Some decades ago Jewish philosopher Martin Buber claimed there is one best measure of good teaching. The proof must be in the student, who has received from the mentoring process the capacity for blending two things - intellectual detachment and compassionate engagement. 

The ideal of such integrated wisdom could scarcely be better manifested than in the life and work of Dr. Donald G. S. M'Timkulu. His gentle presence at Renison College from 1960 into the 1980s and his simultaneous involvement in both the local and international communities is of incontestable importance to all of us who were so fortunate to know him. His intellectual achievements, his political-social progressivism and his personal kindness have served to transform individuals and institutions for the better, particularly in reminding them that the litmus test of an authentic humanity is to be found in the unflagging dedication to social responsibility. 

As a member of the Renison College academic community and that of the University of Waterloo, it is a most wonderful privilege to reflect upon the contributions of this thoughtful and inspiring colleague. His gifts are monumentally evident all around us. In early months of the 21st century, with the enormously successful growth of two outstanding academic programs - one in Social Development Studies/Social Work, the other in East Asian Studies - it is difficult to imagine how we all could have come to this great summit without the foundations set in place by Donald M'Timkulu three decades ago. What is astounding, in retro-aspect, is that this soft-spoken visionary, who came to Waterloo from Oxford, Ohio in the summer of 1969, would play such a vigorous role in establishing the beginnings of the vibrant community and international focus of the programs by which Renison College is best known today. Dr. M'Timkulu introduced his popular Sociology courses with themes highly relevant to students in either of Renison's fledgling programs in Applied Social Sciences and International Studies. In particular, his course of Race and Culture in the Third World drew students from many disciplines. In 1971, the sad death of Principal Wyn Rees required the services of Donald M'TimKulu as Acting Principal, and during the next three years he worked in his newly imposed administrative capacity in the further development of courses and programs. The tremendous growth of interest in these areas has led to the enrichment of offerings, the addition of a Bachelor's Degree of Social Work, the expansion of East Asian Studies through languages and cultures of several great civilizations, and the development of the annual East Asian festival, all of which would have surely made Donald M'Timkulu very proud. 

To appreciate even at a modest level of what it was that Donald M'Timkulu brought to the College, one need only reflect briefly upon his imposing range of academic and community involvements. These reflect briefly upon his imposing range of academic and community involvements. These reflect vividly his commitment to serving the world, using education as the tool of social justice. His long and involved life speaks eloquently to his selfless dedication. His 1937 MA thesis at Yale University compared selected social needs of rural schools in the American South with those in Natal, South Africa, while his 1955 PhD dissertation at the University of Natal examined economic and social change in the Natal countryside. Other projects included a study of race relations in Hawaii and strategies for raising living standards in Zambia and Kenya. Equally important for Donald M'Timkulu, as a spiritually committed member of his faith community, was his long-time involvement with the Mindolo Ecumencial Foundation and his contribution to a book on African religions (Beyond Independence, 1973). He was a popular Sociology teacher at Renison, notably for his course on sociology, religion and the individual. He held many positions in the community, indicative of his profoundly internationalist perspective. Among these were his member-ships in such academic societies such as the American African Students Association and Canadian Africa Studies Association. He was also a strong proponent of social reform policies through his involvement in the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and his local participation in multicultural foundations, the University of Waterloo CUSO committee, and the Global Community Centre in Kitchener-Waterloo. He was an early advocate of co-operative working together between Renison and Conestoga College, leading to an important present-day linkage between the social work and social service programs of these academic institutions.

Many of us remember Donald M'Timkulu for his many sterling virtues, the greatest of these being his unsurpassable kindness. If he possessed the capacity for anger, he kept it well hidden from view. As a scholar and generous human being who himself experienced the pain of racial prejudice and political injustice, he remained always idealistic about civilization's prospects. Dr. M'Timkulu was singularly committed to the premise that an imperfect humanity always fares best when reminded of his potential nobility. And remind us he will continue to do.