In 1912, ambitious 32 year old Pixely ka Isaka Seme founded what is today Africa’s most gigantic and oldest liberation movement. A movement that has produced great leaders from Chief Luthuli, OR Tambo to Nelson Mandela and the current President , Jacob Zuma. A movement that fought the primordial beast that is racism functioned through Apartheid.
Seme comes back from Oxford and Columbia where he did his schooling, to find that in South Africa there is no movement that is structured to fight against the atrocities that were being leveled against black people by white people.
He puts together a group of young men , including Reverend John Dube who would later become the President of the ANC. In bringing together different tribes across the country that was already divided by law, race and tribe, Seme won many hearts with his views against tribalism. “The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and the Tongas , 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 woes and of all our backwardness and ignorance today,” he said .
This comes after young Seme had won a medal for his speech on The Regeneration of Africa .
“The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I see to her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. …….Yes the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period. By this term regeneration I wish to be understood to mean the entrance into a new life, embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence. ………..The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilization is soon to be added to the world. (Page 29, paragraph 2)
Having won the Curtis medal for his the Regeneration of Africa speech, Seme found a voice and a stage impossible for a black person coming from the most oppressed and denied race in Africa . He used that to capitalize on networking and meeting more like minded people. Coming back home and starting the ANC was not a surprise considering the influence he had had and the readings that interested him.
Seme founded a movement that would grow beyond his wildest goals. But he was also a lawyer, one of the 3 first black lawyers in South Africa. So he used that to open a law firm in Johannesburg and assist black people with land disputes.
But that was not without controversy. To this day, there are people who still remember Seme as the person who frauded them off their land money. Seme loved to live a flamboyant life which was beyond his means. It seems that’s what got him into financial troubles .
Having started a liberation movement and a law firm, Seme became closer to the royal families in both Zululand and Swaziland. He became the advisor to both families, and therefore playing a huge role in Swaziland politics. He even impregneted a Swati Princess , however its not clear if they ever got married. He fought a lot for the Royal rights of the Zulu King at that time.
Even though Seme was on top of his game in politics, his finances were in shambles and the very same organization he had founded was not trusting of him and had turned its back on him. He did become President of the movement but by the time he died, the movement had distanced itself from him, with the National Executive at that time not even attending his funeral.
Seme was also accused amongst other things by the then youth of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo of being too nice towards dealing with white people. The youth wanted confrontational politics which was not something Seme was fond of.
Dr Bongani Ngqulunga tells a story of a flawed, perfect giant, whose goals and ideals changed and conquered the fight against apartheid . “Nevertheless, from Semi’s ashes rose broad based resistance, which would become a victorious force in the battles he had begun,” writes Dr Ngqulunga.
The book celebrates Seme in a very human way. It glorifies his successes in the same tone it highlights his failures . It celebrates both his intellect and impulsiveness . More than anything, it tells the story of the human, the heart, and the emotion of the birth of the ANC.
By : The Girl In A Doek
* The Man Who Founded The ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme by Dr Bongani Ngqulunga.