This past Sunday marked the 105th anniversary of the founding of the ANC. Originally called the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), the political organisation was formed on the 8th January 1912, in response, in part, to the Natives Land Act which once passed into law would create separate reserves for black people, and prohibit the sale of land in white areas to non-whites.
John Langalibalele Dube, after whom Dr Langalibalele Dube Street in Durban is now named, was the founding president of the SANNC. John Dube was born at the Inanda mission station on the 22nd February 1871 to James and Elizabeth Dube. His father was a Zulu chief in the AmaQadi tribe, but was also a pastor, and due to conflict between western missionary education and the traditional African way of life, Reverend James Dube relinquished his role as chief.
John followed in his father’s footsteps becoming an ordained priest at the age of 28, but his first love was always education, and by the time he had completed his studies at the Union Missionary Seminary in New York, Dube had already established his first school. It was his belief that self-reliance achieved through education was essential to the black man’s search for political and economic freedom, and unlike most missionary schools, John Dube’s first school located in the Umkhomazi Valley, encouraged learners to read in their own language.
Having returned to South Africa after his studies, Dube went on to set up the Zulu Christian Industrial Institute in August 1990, which was later renamed the Ohlange Institute. In the same year he also established links with like-minded leaders to form the Natal Native Congress (NNC). The NNC marked the beginning of Dube’s commitment to political action. The concerns of the NNC centred around:
- Unobstructed land ownership
- Parliamentary representation
- Free trade
- Freedom from enforced labour
In 1903 Dube established the first indigenous Zulu newspaper, Ilanga Lase Natal, using the newspaper to expose racial injustices executed by the South African government and to educate black people on their rights. Occasionally the newspaper would feature editorials and articles in English. Dube hoped in this way to keep the white government connected to popular black opinion at the time.
Over the next few years tensions arose between Dube and the white missionaries. Ilanga attacked the missionaries’ views on land allotment, and their general failure to defend African interests. In 1908 Dube resigned from the pastorate of Inanda, continuing to use the newspaper to petition the government against proposed legislation that would severely limit the rights of black Africans. Political agitation against the Natives Land Act continued, and on the 8th January 1912 several hundred members of South Africa’s educated African elite met at Bloemfontein to establish the South African Native National Congress (renamed the African National Congress in 1923), with John Dube being elected as president in the same year.
During his time as president of the SANNC Dube was instrumental in improving the status of black women, especially those involved in the domestic work sector, and acted as a mediator in women’s dealings with the Department of Native Affairs. Dube also advocated for an association with coloured people, while urging for unity amongst the black population through the removal of provincial bodies, which functioned as separate entities.
In 1914 Dube was one of the delegates who went to London to protest against the Natives Land Act, but this delegation caused some controversy within the SANNC. It was believed that Dube had made some compromises on the principle of segregation, and he was ousted from the presidency of the SANNC in 1917.
John Dube carried on his fight for the minimalised rights of Africans over the following decades, with a continued focus on the education of black boys and girls. He represented Natal on the Native Representative Council from 1936 until his death on the 11th February 1946.