Anton Lembede left us a legacy of influence

2017-08-03 06:00
OPINIONThembile Ndabeni

OPINIONThembile Ndabeni

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Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, the first ANC Youth League president, passed away on July 30 1947, 70 years ago.

He was a radical and energetic persona, who’s background should also have been an inspiration for those who came after him.

He was also known to have pointed the Struggle for liberation towards a particular direction.

Lembede hailed from a family of poor sharecroppers near Durban. His parents placed him at a mission school and spared him the arduous labour of the fields.

Combined with his inherent courage, intelligence and ambition that made him overcome the challenges of poverty.

This also spurred him on to a daunting programme of self-education.

He enrolled as a teacher at Adams College at the age of 19 in 1933.

By 1937 he had matriculated with a distinction in Latin, while holding down a series of teaching posts in Natal and the Orange Free State.

Driven by his zest for learning, Lembede obtained a law degree from the University of South Africa. By 1943 he had moved to Johannesburg to do his articles in the law firm of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, a lawyer, journalist, author, founding member of the precursor to the ANC, the SANNC, who went on to launch the SANNC newspaper, Abantu Batho, and later became President-General of the ANC.

Lembede was an Africanist from the beginning of his political involvement.

He was convinced that Africans needed their own ideology that would restore to them an aggressive sense of self-worth, a new pride in their essential Blackness, a deep love of Africa and confidence in its future.

This is why he wrote in 1946: “Africa is a Black man’s country, Africans are the Natives of Africa and they inhabited Africa, their motherland, from time immemorial; Africa belongs to them. Africans are one… The basis of national unity is the nationalistic feeling of the Africans, the feeling of being Africans irrespective of tribal connection, social status, educational attainment, or economic class”.

Within that was the development of socialist dimension in leanings.

In 1945 he argued that African society is fundamentally socialist in structure. That would have to be developed by the infusion of modern socialist ideas. However, Lembede emphasised then that the immediate task of the Africanists was national liberation and not socialism.

His brand of nationalism put him at odds with the Communist Party of South Africa.

As it was, it meant a rejection of co-operation with the Whites. This attitude informed and became central to the early philosophy of the Congress Youth League.

Consequentially that drove the League initially to reject any links between its mother-body and the Communist Party.

The ANCYL’s radical approach influenced the mother-body to be more militant, arguing that more repressive methods necessitated more militancy.

They argued then that the time for the-hat-in-hand approach and begging the Whites was a thing of the past.

It worked like magic, for, suddenly, the ANC developed from passive resistance programmes to a militant form of Struggle. Its manifestation was the drafting of a new and militant Programme of Action in 1949. It was necessary on the backdrop of the National Party victory in 1948, which brought with it the Dawn of official Apartheid oppression.

Lembede sadly passed on long before liberation was attained, but in his lifetime he was regarded as “As the most daring thinker and dynamic personality …” He had left a legacy of influence.


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