Leader’s con­ver­sion into a Pan-African­ist

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - BONGANI NGQU­LUNGA

IN 1895, at the age of 14, Seme moved to Adams Train­ing School for Boys to fur­ther his stud­ies. Adams Col­lege, as the school was later re­named, had been estab­lished in 1853 by an Amer­i­can mis­sion­ary, Rev­erend David Rood, at Amanzimtoti, out­side Dur­ban, in hon­our of Rev­erend Dr New­ton Adams, who had founded the mis­sion in the 1830s when he ar­rived in Natal.

Seme did not stay long at Adams. He spurned the op­por­tu­nity to study teach­ing and opted in­stead to fur­ther his stud­ies abroad. His de­ci­sion was not sur­pris­ing. A group of black peo­ple, some of whom were his neigh­bours, had gone over­seas, to the US in par­tic­u­lar, for study pur­poses.

One of these was John Lan­gal­ibalele Dube, whom Seme knew well, al­though Dube was 10 years his se­nior.

What is per­haps sur­pris­ing is that Seme left at a rel­a­tively young age, not yet out of his teens.

Seme sailed the 10 000 miles to the US and ar­rived in Brook­lyn, New York, where he stayed with Dube, who was at the time a stu­dent at a the­o­log­i­cal sem­i­nary. Four months af­ter his grad­u­a­tion from Columbia Univer­sity with a BA de­gree, Seme left for Ox­ford Univer­sity.

In­ter­est­ingly, a few months af­ter ar­riv­ing at Ox­ford, on Fe­bru­ary 12 1907, Seme was ad­mit­ted to the Mid­dle Tem­ple to train as a lawyer.

He was called to the Bar some three years later, on June 8 1910. In Oc­to­ber 1910, Seme sailed back to South Africa.

He had left as a teenaged “Zulu boy” hop­ing to be ed­u­cated as a teacher and mis­sion­ary to the Zulu peo­ple.

But he re­turned as a Pan-African­ist whose deep and broad con­cerns ex­tended beyond his small com­mu­nity of Inanda and his tribe.

He had be­come a leader in his own right who was in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected for his in­tel­lect and vi­sion for the African con­ti­nent.

He was at the fore­front of a global po­lit­i­cal move­ment that sought the re­gen­er­a­tion of the con­ti­nent and the af­fir­ma­tion of the hu­man­ity of the black race.

His name was men­tioned in the same breath as the likes of Henry Sylvester Wil­liams, WEB Du Bois, Theophilus Sc­holes, Booker T Wash­ing­ton, Al­fred Mangena and other Pan-African­ists and black lead­ers across the globe.

Seme soon be­came in­volved in the hurly-burly of pol­i­tics. To­wards the end of Oc­to­ber 1911 he is­sued a broad call to black lead­ers through­out the coun­try and the neigh­bour­ing pro­tec­torates to unite and form what he called the South African Na­tive Congress – the Na­tive Union.

Seme pleaded: “It is con­clu­sively ur­gent that this Congress should meet this year, be­cause a mat­ter which is so vi­tally im­por­tant to our progress and wel­fare should not be un­nec­es­sar­ily post­poned by rea­son of per­sonal dif­fer­ences and self­ish­ness of our lead­ers”.

In terms that were clearly aimed at stir­ring the pas­sion and con­science of black peo­ple across the land, Seme is­sued his now iconic plea for black unity: “The de­mon of racial­ism, the aber­ra­tions of the Xosa-Fingo feud, the an­i­mos­ity that ex­ists be­tween the Zu­lus and the Ton­gaas (sic), be­tween the Ba­su­tos and ev­ery other na­tive must be buried and for­got­ten; it has shed among us suf­fi­cient blood! We are one peo­ple. Those di­vi­sions, those jeal­ousies are the cause of all our woes and of all our back­ward­ness and ig­no­rance today”. Seme’s call for black unity and for the for­ma­tion of the South African Na­tive Congress was the cul­mi­na­tion of sev­eral ini­tia­tives since his re­turn.

For in­stance, on June 17, 1911, he con­vened the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the South African Na­tive Con­ven­tion (SANC) – an or­gan­i­sa­tion formed in 1909 to cam­paign against the ex­clu­sion of black peo­ple from ne­go­ti­a­tions for the es­tab­lish­ment of the Union of South Africa. The pres­i­dent of the SANC was Dr Wal­ter Rubu­sana, with Rev­erend John Dube serv­ing as vice-pres­i­dent.

Seme con­vened the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in Joburg to dis­cuss, among other mat­ters, res­o­lu­tions of the last SANC con­fer­ence and govern­ment re­sponses to those res­o­lu­tions, as well as the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion.

The June 1911 meet­ing was to be the be­gin­ning of Seme’s vig­or­ous in­volve­ment in lo­cal po­lit­i­cal af­fairs, es­pe­cially in ag­i­tat­ing for the for­ma­tion of Congress. On Au­gust 7, 1911, he con­vened an­other meet­ing at Nance­field Lo­ca­tion on the out­skirts of Joburg. The meet­ing was well at­tended. The next cau­cus meet­ing on Novem­ber 13, 1911, passed four more res­o­lu­tions: it re­solved to hold the in­au­gu­ral con­fer­ence of the pro­posed Congress on Jan­uary 8, 1912, in Bloem­fontein.

The day of the con­fer­ence was a Mon­day. With for­mal­i­ties out of the way, Seme stepped up to give the keynote ad­dress. He opened with the fol­low­ing dec­la­ra­tion: “Chiefs of royal blood and gentle­men of our race, we have gath­ered here to con­sider and dis­cuss a scheme which my col­leagues and I have de­cided to place be­fore you. We have dis­cov­ered that in the land of their birth, Africans are treated as hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of water. The white peo­ple of this coun­try have formed what is known as the Union of South Africa – a union in which we have no voice in the mak­ing of laws and no part in their ad­min­is­tra­tion. We have called you, there­fore, to this con­fer­ence, so that we can to­gether de­vise ways and means of form­ing our na­tional union for the pur­pose of cre­at­ing na­tional unity and de­fend­ing our rights and priv­i­leges”.

This is the edited ex­tract from var­i­ous chap­ters of the book, The Man Who Founded The ANC: A Bi­og­ra­phy of Pix­ley ka Isaka Seme. Pub­lish­ers: Pin­guin Ran­dom House South Africa. Dr Bongani Ngqu­lunga serves as both the chief of staff and spokesper­son to the Pres­i­dent of

South Africa.

He left as a Zulu boy hop­ing to train as a teacher, mis­sion­ary

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