John Langalibalele Dube

John Langalibalele Dube Grave of John Dube at Ohlange


1 Introduction
2 Early education
3 Dube the young missionary
4 Extended studies
5 Ohlange Institute
6 Ilanga lase Natal

John Langalibalele Dube (1871 – 1946) was a South African essayist, philosopher, educator, politician, publisher, editor, novelist and poet. He was the founding president of the African National Congress between 1912 and 1917 (the ANC was, at this point, called the South African Native National Congress and remained so to 1923. Dube was born in Natal at the Inanda Mission Station of the American Zulu Mission (AZM), a branch of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. His father, the Rev. James Dube, was one of the first ordained African pastors of the AZM.

Early education
Dube began his formal education in Inanda and Adams College, Amanzimtoti. In 1887 he became one of the first black Durbanites to receive education overseas when he enrolled as a student at Oberlin College in the USA. 

John Dube was an exceptionally bright child and caught the eye of the missionaries, who wanted him to get further education. He was sent to Amanzimtoti College to complete his higher education and became a teacher. Seeing his potential, the American Board then sent him to Germany for further study. His parents allowed him to go because his father (James Dube) was a priest and was happy to see his son studying to follow in his footsteps. Once in Berlin John Dube realized there was no race discrimination and no restrictions on what he could study. Under the influence of his role model Dr John Nembula, the first African doctor in Natal, he chose to enroll for a degree in medicine at Oberlin College, Ohio, the first American College to open its doors to all races. However, when he went home after three years and told his father he is now studying medicine and not priesthood because there is no money in priesthood, his father was outraged, insisting that he drop the medical studies in exchange for religious studies and so he returned to Inanda as a pastor, although his studues were not completed due to a prolonged illness.

Dube the young missionary
In February 1893 he was given a post attached to Adams Mission. Around this time Adams Mission had also established an outstation in the centre of Durban, where they had opened a small chapel in Beatrice Street. Durban was expanding at a rapid pace as a trade centre and many young African men were flocking to town for the employment opportunities the port and other public works offered. John Dube was responsible for preaching at the chapel on Sundays, as well as for music rehearsals. In addition to his duties in town, he also spent time assisting at the Groutville and Maphumulo mission stations. at the begining of 1894 Dube started an independent mission at Incwadi near Pietermaritzburg, at the request of Qadi chief Mqhawe. He took with him his newly wedded wife Nokutela Mdima. The Dubes rapidly won converts and within the year had more than a hundred children attending the mission school.

Extended studies
In 1896 John Dube petitioned to the American Missionary Board for a home for African girls in Durban. According to Heather Hughes in her book First President: a life of John L. Dube, founding President of the ANC, it was during this time that Dube acquired his praise name, Mafukuzela. In the same year the Dubes departed for New York in order for John to further his religious studies at the Union Missionary Training Institute in Brooklyn. Here Dube’s training as a missionary would be followed by preparation for ordination, while his wife chose to study music education.

It was here that his idea of building an industrial school was shaped and formalised, much influenced by Booker T Washington, a prominent African American intellectual at the time. The Dubes also traveled widely to raise awarenes of the plight of his people at home and raise funds for the school he intended to build on his return. In 1898 Dube graduated from the college and on 10 March 1899 he was finally ordained as Reverend. In April 1899 the Dubes sailed for Southampton and Cape Town to return home to their people.

Ohlange Institute
Mafukuzela, as he was known amongst his people (loosely translated meaning someone looking for talented children), started a school at Ohlange after his return from America. Young Lulu Dube standing in front of her father JL Dube. Photograph courtesy of the Durban Local History Museum His daughter Lulu remembers that “…he was encouraged when he saw Black Americans who were then called ‘Negros’ and who were also black like his people back home, but are studying. He said he must try it at home, like they do overseas. Even though they were also oppressed like us, they are better than us. In those days, black people only reached standard six which was regarded as a good standard. Overseas, people studied further.”

He said to the people of Ohlange “I want to educate your children.” Chief Mqhawe offered Dube 200 pounds to purchase 200 acres of land in Inanda for the school. Following a foundation ceremony the school was erected on a hilltop with the name Ohlange, deriving from the word uhlanga. Dube chose the name Ohlange for the school because of its meaning of ‘where all the nations come together”. He wanted all the peoples of the land to come together their and build a new nation. The first Advisory Board of Inanda Seminary. Dube is in the front row, third from the right, with Albert Luthuli third from left in the back row. Photograph from the book Shine where you are by Agnes Wood The school was opened on 26 July 1901 and Rev. Dube became  Principal of Ohlange Institute. For many years he played a leadership role in the Inanda community. The school started from first year (Grade 1) up to matric. He was more interested in industrial subjects because he wanted people to learn to do everything by themselves and not expect charity from white people.

Dube was a good friend of Inanda Seminary and served on the African Advisory Board of the school since its inception in 1935 until his death in 1946. At he event of the Seminary’s seventy-fifth celebration one of the “Houses” into which the school was divided for sports contests were renamed Mafukuzela (Rose) in honour of Dr. Dube.

Ilanga lase Natal
Dube was  also the founder of the ‘Ilanga lase Natal’ (Sun of Natal) newspaper which appeared for the first time on 10 April 1903 and is still in print today. It was a four-page weekly under Dube’s editorship. The first few editions were printed at the International Printing Press in Grey Street, Durban. Dube soon imported his own printing press and added a printing shop to the industrial division of Ohlange Institute.   The newspaper reported on current events, social news, news from the mission stations, church events, debates from the local white press and government legislation. There were also advertisements for local business and much publicity for Ohlange.

He was also active in cultural activities, organising dance  competitions and writing song lyrics. He also the author of the first published Zulu novel. Dube’s house and grave are on the Inanda Heritage Trail which has become a popular tourist destination.  The school next to the house served as a polling station during South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, an it was there that Nelson Mandela cast his first-ever vote.

Shine where you are by Agnes Wood
First President by Heather Hughes
Interview with daughter Lulu Dube
Durban Local History Museum

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