In what could only be described as a miscarriage of facts and a gross injustice to history, the founding president of the continent’s largest liberation movement, the ANC (African National Congress), Reverend John Langalibalele Dube is still incorrectly credited as the founding father of this once distinguished organisation that recently celebrated 105 years in existence; a glaring error often repeated even by the most learned and notable amongst us. Such inconsistencies – however insignificant in some eyes – in history are what often lead to a narrow-minded citizenry and an intellectually inferior posterity.
Upon his return to his homeland of South Africa in 1910, armed with American and British education, the great African Pixley ka Isaka Seme – a nephew of Reverend Dube – was deeply moved by the rallying movement of his people against colonial arrogance; yet as Seme discovered, there was a problem. This niggling problem, Seme – a qualified lawyer from Oxford University – would dedicate his life.
What was the problem? What is it that bothered Seme despite having been generally impressed by the sweeping and relentless spirit of his people against European thuggery? As much as the indigenous people of South Africa were awakening to the unpleasant reality that they were treated as sub-humans in the land of their forebears, waging war against racism, inequality and naked European barbarism; the masses were not united in their struggle. This, as Seme realised, set off alarm bells. The disunity of the African people of what would be the last country to be liberated from the claws of Apartheid – the last systematic governance of European rule – would not deter nor discourage the enemy but only serve to embolden them, Seme argued.
Along with fellow British educated lawyers – George Montshiwa, Alfred Mangena and Richard Msimang – and of course other leading South African activists, Seme would travel the length and breadth of the country canvassing support to form one united liberation movement that will speak in one concerted voice to face off against the newly established, dare I say tjatjarag Union of South Africa – a pact between the British and the Dutch to further exploit Africans in every inhumane way possible.
Thus, ladies and gentlemen, on January 8, 1912, in the spectacularly beautiful and equally warm, accommodating city of Bloemfontein, just less than 500km south-west of the bubbly and lively Johannesburg, the People’s Movement SANNC (South African Native National Congress) was born – later changed to ANC in 1923; this at the behest of one Pixley ka Isaka Seme, a man who himself, like his uncle, would lead this newly formed union of Africans years later. His stint as the ANC president is not exactly flattering, but to frame his legacy within this period would not only be an enormous disservice to this inimitable African; it would also rob us of an opportunity to learn of and from the talents of one of who was a fascinating thinker, a moving orator, an enchanting scribe whose skills with a pen should put many a mediocre columnists to shame; a remarkable intellectual whose acute arguments stood the test of time, and perhaps more importantly for the sake of my argument here, the founding father of Africa’s once eminent liberation movement, the ANC.
In a time prior to his return to South Africa, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, just 24-years of age in 1906, stood proudly in the hall of Columbia University in the United States of America, far away from his pastoral hometown of Daggakraal in the modern-day province of Mpumalanga, and delivered one of the best speeches to ever roll-off the tongue of any man or woman. Armed with mastery of language, the arousing knowledge of both the arts and sciences, and possessed with the spirit that can only be associated with supremely gifted poets, Seme evoked emotions and imagery that would permanently etch Africa – if not Seme himself – in the minds of both those who were present and absent, simultaneously winning him the university’s highest oratorical recognition, the George William Curtis medal. It should be noted that he would go on to win another coveted medal for his oratorical prowess while studying in England.
Amongst the poetic and memorable words Pixley ka Isaka Seme delivered to his spellbound audience, he spoke of the imminent awakening of a giant. He cautioned thus: ‘The giant is awakening! From the four corners of the earth Africa’s sons, who have been proved through fire and sword, are marching to the future’s golden door bearing the records of deeds of valor done.’
Despite the challenges that the continent faces on a daily basis, or African countries in their individual footing, the sons and daughters of Africa, for now in their small numbers, are marching forth ‘to the future’s golden door’, toiling hard under difficult and encumbered circumstances, with a deeply-rooted knowledge that, ‘Man knows his home now in a sense never known before.’ They understand as Pixley ka Isaka Seme understood that, ‘The African is not a proletarian in the world of science and art. He has precious creations of his own, of ivory, of copper and of gold; fine, plated willow-ware and weapons of superior workmanship.’
In my previous piece on this platform, I urged black business people to plough back into their communities because I know very well that the amount of talent that is found in these communities is enormous. After seeing earlier this year the slips showing the money spent at a restaurant in Soweto on those special beverages that undermine the senses if consumed recklessly – at least the money is spent on black establishments – I am more than convinced that the money is there; it just needs to be directed into incubators that can quickly and productively invest it in emerging black entrepreneurs – both male and female – with no strings attached except seeing them succeed.
This vast pool of black talent that I write about, the children of a towering African giant Pixley ka Isaka Seme, stands ready for opportunities to display their mettle and worth, even if it is ‘against a hostile public opinion’, to dismantle the myth that fortune favours a certain race or class over another, holding selfishly to the truth that the founding father of the ANC spoke of when he stood on the podium at Columbia University, stating unequivocally that: ‘…genius is like a spark, which, concealed in the bosom of a flint, bursts forth at the summoning stroke. It may arise anywhere and in any race.’
Moses Kebalepile, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Pretoria, scooped a top prize for innovation in Switzerland following his invention of an Asthma Attack detector. On this selfless invention and momentous achievement by Moses Kebalepile, had he been with us the living, Seme would dazzle us with these words: ‘Many great and holy men have evinced a passion for the day you are now witnessing, their prophetic vision shot through many unborn centuries to this very hour.’ He would further emphasise that, ‘Science has searched out the deep things of nature, surprised the secrets of the most distant stars, disentombed the memorials of everlasting hills, taught the lightning to speak, the vapors to toil and the winds to worship-spanned the sweeping rivers, tunneled the longest mountain range-made the world a vast whispering gallery, and has brought foreign nations into one civilized family.’
In conclusion, this profound thinker and leader of our people, would say of those like Kebalepile, who against all odds still persevered, and even those like Hamilton Naki, whom because of the colour of their skin, history denied them their rightful place amongst an elite pantheon of inventors, pioneers and groundbreakers: ‘This all-powerful contact says even to the most backward race, you cannot remain where you are, you cannot fall back, you must advance! A great century has come upon us.’
In drips and drabs, these energetic, intelligent and majestic sons and daughters of the land – the progeny of one Pixley ka Isaka Seme – exuding confidence in their individual, unique talents and power – albeit at times unproductively competitive – march forth each day to the future’s golden door, one goal in their minds: to establish a unified, new order in the world. Pula!