Category: Competitions


Lessons from Past Heroes: How the rejection of victimhood dogmas will save South Africa by Phumlani M. Majozi. Published by Tracey McDonald Publishers. Available in all good bookstores and online.


Lessons from the first Black Political Thinkers
‘Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.’ – Will and Ariel Durant

To this day the ANC remains the dominant political party in South Africa. It has won all the national elections since the dawn of the country’s democracy. The party still single-handedly shapes the fate of the economy and financial markets. Opposition parties remain small and very weak.
Through the ANC’s 30-year reign, public policies have come in different shapes under various presidents, namely Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe, Jacob Zuma and, at the time of writing, Cyril Ramaphosa. How South Africans have fared under these leaders over the years will be discussed later. The fundamental questions I want to answer are:
• What shaped the economic and political origins of the ANC?
• Who were the key figures in the founding of the ANC and what was their achievement in life?
• What motivated these figures to mobilise and build one of today’s oldest African political liberation movements?
• What were the socio-economic issues that mattered to them at the time?

How the ANC evolved over the 110 years of its existence makes for very interesting analysis. Today, some people maintain that the party has struggled to govern South Africa during the post-apartheid era; that the party was good at liberating the majority, but not at governing a democratic South Africa. That view is debatable and should be left to historians. To begin discussing the origins of the ANC, it is crucial to profile the personalities that were central to the founding of the ANC. What I will echo here is that the founders of the ANC were remarkable men who achieved a great deal on a personal level and their success stories should not be politicised. The stories can inspire anybody from any culture or religion, no matter the skin colour. How the ANC was founded is one of the most fascinating accounts of South Africa’s history and it makes sense to start with the consequential events of the years before the founding of the ANC as that laid the foundations for the origination of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. Historians have written that South Africa’s wars of resistance ended with the brutal defeat and crushing of the Bambatha Rebellion in the 19th century. Led by Chief Bambatha kaMancinza Zondi, the armed rebellion was against the imposition of a poll tax by the Natal colonial government in 1906. By the end of 1907 when the war ended, between 3 000 and 4 000 black people had perished. Only about 30 whites had died. After this humiliating, consequential defeat, black Africans had to come up with new ways to fight for their land and their freedom in the 20th century.

Four years after the Bambatha Rebellion, in 1911, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, a lawyer educated overseas, urged black Africans to renounce their differences of the past era and mobilise one national movement to counter the then colonialist oppression. Pixley’s efforts in mobilising black people would culminate in the gathering of black leaders and prominent black people in Bloemfontein, where the black political movement, the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), today called the African National Congress (ANC), was founded. The ANC may be South Africa’s oldest liberation movement, but the mobilisation of black people and the rise of black intellectual voices begin with the founders of the ANC; which began in the 1860s, as detailed in The Founders: The origins of the African National Congress and the struggle for democracy by Professor André Odendaal. In his brilliant book, Odendaal profiles Tiyo Soga from the Eastern Cape, who was the most famous black public intellectual in the 1860s. ‘After being sent to Scotland for two stints of study between 1847 and 1857, he graduated from Glasglow University and returned home as an ordained Presbyterian minister, with a Scottish wife on his arm. As the couple disembarked at Port Elizabeth they were stared at. But Soga now had a status which could not be ignored: he was a man of the cloth. Soga developed a high profile in public life’, wrote Odendaal. Toga was amongst the original writers of the first Xhosa newspaper Indaba, first published in 1652. The following decades would mark the rise of robust African intellectualism, and consequently the black educated, who vigorously opposed colonial rule.

The founders of the ANC were the products of that rise of intellectualism opposed to colonial governance. At its founding, the mission of the ANC was to bring all black Africans together to fight for their freedom – that had been taken away by the colonialist government. Before the founding of the ANC, black Africans had lost wars to the Afrikaners and the British. Since the settlement of Europeans in 1652, there had been occasional conflicts between whites and black Africans over cattle and land. Black people had suffered huge losses since 1652, although they had independence 200 years later, with no control by white people. But that independence would come to an end in the second half of the 19th century when more armies were brought in with sophisticated weaponry which overwhelmed and defeated the black kingdoms.

By 1900, the British had crushed the African kingdoms – from Xhosas to Pedis and Zulus. The people fell under the control of colonialists; their leaders were captured, imprisoned or murdered. In 1910, the Union of South Africa with segregationist government of the British and Afrikaner rulers only recognised the rights of white people. This exclusion of blacks on national governance enraged black people; black people had lost power, and the country was governed by a minority, hence the ANC organisation became a vehicle to counter white oppression. Black people were not free and to see their land being forcefully seized by the British was a painful experience. There had been many forces that shaped South Africa in the decades prior to 1910 – mineral resources, gold and diamonds had been discovered in the country and these resources transformed the labour market dynamics. The mine bosses wanted labour that could sustain the mines, and black people saw the mines as places of work where they could earn better wages.

The first major, consequential Act that was passed by the Union of South Africa was the Land Act of 1913. This Act dispossessed black people of land and blocked them from buying, selling and renting in certain areas. The Union of South Africa was a symbol of black people’s defeat. Its oppressive governance reinforced the belief amongst blacks that there had to be mobilisation against oppressive governance. The men who led the mobilisation of black people with the founding of the ANC were Pixley ka Isaka Seme, John Langalibalele Dube, Sol Plaatje and Josiah Tshangana Gumede. These are the men accredited for the founding of the ANC and they transformed South Africa forever. I sometimes ask myself what South Africa would have been like by the end of the 20th century if the ANC had not been formed. It certainly does make one reflect on South Africa’s history and appreciate the courage of these men. The first modern black political formation and struggle began with them. The likes of Tambo and Mandela, whose legacies are celebrated annually in South Africa, emerged decades later in the fight against segregationist rule.

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