News24

Struggle hero honoured

2004-01-12 10:32

Volksrust - One of South Africa's most impoverished and isolated communities, Daggakraal in southern Mpumalanga, is preparing to erect a proud beacon celebrating its place in the liberation struggle.

Daggakraal will erect the country's first major public monument to African National Congress (ANC) founding father, Pixley ka Seme, as well as honour his now derelict home and other artefacts.

Seme was instrumental in establishing the South African Native National Congress in 1912, which later evolved into the ANC, and served as the infant liberation movement's first treasurer before becoming its president.

Seme has already given his name to the regional municipality, which ironically administers the staunchly conservative Boer war towns of Volksrust, Amersfoort, Wakkerstroom and Perdekop as well as the struggle hero's adopted home in dusty Daggakraal.

Mayor Matsimele Moloi said the council has already begun collecting historical background and research from as far as Oxford University in Britain, as well as South Africa's department of arts and culture, the ANC's Luthuli House archives, and the Zulu Royal family.

Seme married into the royal house when he took King Dinizulu's eldest daughter as wife.

Research

"The [research] process is progressing nicely. There are lots of people to contact though, so we only expect to finish late this year," said Moloi.

Seme, who studied in Britain and the United States of America, returned to South Africa in 1910 and established himself as a lawyer in Johannesburg.

In 1912 Seme and three lawyer friends convened a national conference of tribal chiefs and other royalty to propose the creation of a united Africanist organisation - and so the ANC was born.

Seme was elected ANC treasurer under the organisation's first president John Langalibalele Dube (1912-1917), before himself serving as president between 1930 and 1937.

Seme's Mpumalanga legacy, however, is Daggakraal itself. He established the African Farmers' Association in 1911 to encourage black commercial farmers to win personal independence by buying their own land in the area.

The white government was so rattled by the initiative, that it hurriedly enacted the notorious Natives Land Act of 1913 barring blacks from owning land anywhere.

Seme's legacy remains controversial. His proposed monument has sparked a heated public debate amongst the municipality's councillors.

Moloi wants the monument to be in Volksrust but 15 out of the municipality's 20 councillors say it should be in Daggakraal where Seme owned two farms.

Moloi has tried to pacify critics by proposing that the main public monument in Volksrust would have a smaller mirror statue in Daggakraal.

Detour

"The point is that most travellers drive through Volksrust, and not Daggakraal. I doubt they will detour just for a statue, so think we should have the main monument in Volksrust itself," explains Moloi.

Daggakraal ward 4 councillor Simon Ngwenya, who helped conceive the idea of a statue, and Seme's KwaZulu-Natal-based daughter Helen Seme-Damba, 73, both insist however that Daggakraal is the only place for it.

"Seme's history and spirit is associated with Daggakraal and not Volksrust. How can the statue be anywhere but at his home? And anyway, if it were in Daggakraal, it might even generate tourism and so create some jobs in a severely under-developed community," insists Ngwenya.

"It would also help us fight for things like a tarred road into Daggakraal, and for birding tourists to drive through here on the way to Wakkerstroom."

The still sprightly Seme-Damba, who remembers her illustrious father clearly, stresses that the people of Daggakraal needed positive role-models.

"Daggakraal is like home to us. My father had two farms there, and one of my brothers is also buried there. In addition, the ruins of one of the ANC's first ever offices is also in Daggakraal - so it makes sense that this is where his legacy should be remembered," she says. The cause of the fire was not yet known.