Jesse Lewis brought Jotello Soga’s story to public view in 2007, when he wrote an article about his life and career for Die Burger, a daily Afrikaans-language newspaper. Lewis’ work revealed that despite South Africa’s racial history, Dr Soga defied the odds as the country’s first vet – prior to this Soga’s successes had been hidden due to racial discrimination. Lewis is now in the process of making a documentary that will not only explore Dr Soga’s extraordinary life, but will also examine the accomplishments of other black South Africans from the 19th and 20th centuries, who due to racial inequality, have never been fully recognised for their contributions.
Dr Jotello Soga was born in 1865 on a mission station in the Eastern Cape. His father, Rev. Tiyo Soga, was South Africa’s first black ordained Presbyterian clergyman and an early advocate of black pride and racial equality. He was one of those who inspired the founding of the African National Congress in 1912. After Tiyo Soga’s death, his wife, Janet Burnside Soga, brought Jotello and his six siblings to Scotland. They all attended Dollar Academy. The family lived in Dollar while the children were attending the Academy.
After completing his studies at Dollar, Jotello Soga studied at the University of Edinburgh and graduated aged twenty-one in 1886, before returning to South Africa to begin his career in veterinary science.
Dr Soga is best-known for his part in eradiating rinderpest, a highly contagious and fatal cattle disease that almost decimated South Africa’s cattle stock in the late 19th century. The success of today’s South African cattle and dairy industries can be traced back to the team of vets of which Soga was a key member. Regardless of this, the British colonial government would not offer Soga a permanent position as a veterinarian because he was black. Soga persevered against this racial discrimination and became a recognised speaker at veterinary conferences in South Africa, as well as frequently contributing to professional journals relating his field, before his death in 1906.
After Jesse Lewis’ initial article in 2007, Soga’s public profile has increased and as a result, on its 100th anniversary, the University of Pretoria named their Faculty of Veterinary Science library in honour of him. Lewis was invited to give the principal address at the naming ceremony. He is now filming in Scotland throughout autumn for the documentary on Dr Soga, with an intention to complete and finish the film later this year. This will mark the 25th anniversary of the ‘new’ South Africa, which began with the election of President Nelson Mandela in 1994.
Click the below links for further information about Dr Soga and Jesse Lewis’ documentary: