Struggle that united a nation: 1912-1950s

Visionary’s crucial call for unity

EARLY PROTEST: A delegation from the SA Native National Congress – later called the ANC – went to England in 1914 to object to the Land Act

HAD it not been for the visionary Pixley Ka Isaka Seme’s fight to regain the freedom taken away from black people by colonial regiments there would probably be no African National Congress today.

Born in the then colony of Natal on October 1, 1881, Ka Isaka Seme left home at 17 to study at Mount Hermon School in the United States and then Columbia University.

He returned home in 1911 to a country characterised by land grabs orchestrated by Boers and the British – particularly after the discovery of diamonds and gold in the 1800s.

This unrest would later lead to the Land Act of 1913 which was designed to prevent Africans from buying, renting or using land, resulting in forced removals and immeasurable poverty.

In response to the formation of the white-run Union of South Africa, Ka Isaka Seme told Africans to put aside their differences and unite under one national organisation.

This was realised in January 8 1912 when Ka Isaka Seme, together with other African leaders like Sol Plaatjie, Richard Msimang, George Montsioa and Alfred Mangena, founded the South African Native National Congress, later renamed the African National Congress.

Friends with a mission

THEIRS was a true friendship which started at KwaNokholeji, as the University of Fort Hare was affectionately known, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were students.

Mandela, from Qunu in the Transkei, was studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree, while Tambo, from Bizana, studied towards a Bachelor of Science degree.

Only a year into their studies, they were expelled for political activism in 1940.

But this was only the beginning of what would be lifelong political activism for the pair.

Having joined the ANC in 1943, they, and other leaders such as Walter Sisulu, soon moved to form the movement’s youth wing the following year.

They presided over a youth league credited for its radical aim of making the country ungovernable through boycotts, civil disobedience and strikes.

Their subsequent Johannesburg law firm, Mandela & Tambo, was somewhat of a haven for scores of black people who were ejected from their land by a white regime that criminalised land ownership by Africans.

As Tambo wrote before his death in 1993: “We had risen to professional status in our community, but every case in court, every visit to the prisons to interview clients, reminded us of the humiliation and suffering which was burning into our people.”

It was this conviction that fuelled decades of struggle to restore democracy in South Africa.

Luthuli led protest drive

WORLD RECOGNITION: Then ANC president Albert Luthuli receives the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize from Gunnar Jahn, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Prize committee Picture: BETTMANN/ CORBIS

CHIEF Albert Luthuli’s conviction about the injustice of South African laws led to the non- violent Defiance Campaign, a large-scale resistance of the apartheid government in the 1950s.

Luthuli was elected the tribal chief of Groutville in 1935, somewhat of a baptism into politics for the lay preacher as he became more aware of the racial injustices in South Africa at the time.

Believing the “we go to action” campaign would finally destroy the laws demanding that black people carry a dompas (pass book), Luthuli rallied all people in then-Natal irrespective of colour, race or creed to join in.

Intensifying the campaign in 1952, Luthuli led protests together with leaders from different racial groups.

However non-violence was essential to his fight. “Can the Africans in South Africa achieve their aims without violence?” Luthuli was quoted as saying in a Durban newspaper. “I hope so. I hope so.”

Irked by these efforts the government summoned Luthuli to the Union Buildings, giving him an ultimatum: renounce your ANC membership or be removed as tribal chief.

Luthuli stuck to his guns and was elected president-general of the ANC in December 1952. His role in the liberation struggle earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1960.

Seven years later he died in a train accident at his Stanger home in Natal, as it was known.


Leave a Reply

Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment moderation policy. Your email address is required but will not be published.