Early advocate of African protest journalism
AK Soga was an influential African intellectual in the first decade of the 20th century, and through his editorship at Izwi Labantu and leadership in SANC he amplified the movement towards liberating Africans.
Allan Kirkland Soga, aka AK Soga, born on 20 November, 1861 in the Cape Colony, and the youngest son of the legendary Tiyo Soga and his wife Janet Burnside was an agitator of African protest journalism. Just like Reverend Dr Walter Rubusana, AK was many things in one person: a journalist first and foremost, politician, lawyer, philosopher-thought leader, and a beyond the 20th century African visionary.
Like his father, AK was educated in Scotland, and studied Law and Humanities at Glasgow University under the watchful eye of his then widowed mother. Upon his return to South Africa he emulated his father’s philanthropy. He chose a career in civil service in the Cape Colony at a time when there was no official colour bar against blacks in responsible government jobs. However he soon found out that there was an unofficial colour bar that favoured whites only (Frederickson, G.M. 1995). He then took a post of acting resident magistrate at St Marks in southern Transkei, and was poised to become the first black magistrate when he was abruptly replaced by a European in 1895 (Switzer, L. Ed. 1997).
Four years later Soga would become editor of Izwi Labantu, and would use this platform to air his ideological ideals. He was deeply sceptical about Western civilisation as a model for Africans. As a result Izwi penned favourable references to socialism as well as traditional African customs, in 1908.
Soga wrote: “All that the black man need to do is to borrow the best that Western civilisation offers. But we must get rid of the educated black serf who will blindly tie his race to the juggernaut of Western civilisation.” These thoughts posed him as one of the proponents of a hybrid between Western economic radicalism and African communalism that was later understood as “African socialism” (Frederickson, G.M. 1995).
Soga, Rubusana, and other prominent members of South Africa Native Convention (SANC) sought to give meaning to the economic and cultural expression to the independent Africa. Following his resignation from civil service, he scribed the SANC petition in 1903 which sought to boycott the treaty of Vereeniging. His life as political activist and chief organiser of the African protest began shortly thereafter. Collectively, they sought to establish an indigenous African university because they strongly believed that education was the key to liberation. However, Jabavu beat them to it by establishing and founding the South African Native College in 1916, now known as Fort Hare University, in the Eastern Cape, with the help of the missionaries (Switzer, L. Ed. 1997).
AK became the co-founder (with Walter Rubusana) and editor of Izwi Labantu from 1899 to 1909. Izwi and Imvo were read by migrating Xhosa and Zulus in urban centres far removed from their rural origins. After Izwi closed, Soga moved to the Transvaal to become editor of the Native Advocate. The latter was launched and published by Alfred Mangena – the second qualified lawyer to be allowed to practise law in South Africa. The paper was based in East London. The paper, which published weekly, did not survive for more than a year.
Soga’s journalist activism had been present as in 1903, members of the SANC in the Transvaal helped organise the Transvaal Native Congress, as well as Native Press Association (NPA) which was formed in King William’s Town in 1904 with him as the president.
The aim of the NPA was to run a news agency for the increasing number of black newspapers. All the newspaper editors were facing the same challenges by the beginning of the 1900s. They often addressed the same issues and quoted with praise or condemnation each other’s’ opinions. FSZ Peregrino and Sol Plaatjie started the idea and seconded by AK and other leaders of the SANC. Twelve black publication editors joined the organisation but Jabavu declined the invitation. NPA did not survive for more than a year because it was difficult to co-ordinate news activities across large areas with minimal resources.
In 1898, when Izwi was founded it was financed by Cecil John Rhodes and his deputy C.P. Crewe although AK would have had it otherwise considering his scepticism of British imperialism. In 1899 when the Anglo-Boer War erupted in October, Imvo and Izwi engaged in a war of words over the participation of Africans in the war.
Jabavu pleaded with the British to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards Afrikaners and stop the war. However Izwi would not accommodate his views. The publication threw its weight behind the British as Africans in the Eastern Cape believed that under British rule they stood better opportunities of being educated and playing a significant role politically.
In 1903 and 1904, Soga wrote a series of articles for the Coloured American Magazine generally titled: “Call the Black Man to Conference. In these early examples of Pan Africanism discourse he touched on black experiences in the US and South Africa with specific reference to suffrage issues, and searched for general principles that would be applicable to both peoples.
Soga had been reading the New York Age, a renowned African-American newspaper to understand American affairs. The first of his articles in the Coloured American Magazine reviewed for South African readers, the emerging controversy between Booker T. Washington and the group of protest-oriented northern blacks who would later be led by W.E.B. du Bois. Although taking into cognisance the criticism of Washington’s educational philosophy as narrow and philistine, Soga nevertheless found Washington to be a benefactor to the black race. He wrote: “Mr Washington has no claim to a monopoly of greatness among the many bright stars in the Afro-American firmament, who are renowned in their own spheres; but in the realm of industrial education he is peerless, and in the inculcation of duty and the dignity of labour, and the practised application of brains to manual work, he has no equals.” He also commended Washington for his “attempt to conciliate black and white, to appease angry passions, and to lead men’s thoughts away from the turmoil and strife fostered by continual political agitation.”
The political and journalistic rivalry between Walter Rubusana and John Tengo Jabavu rubbed off on AK Soga who continued to differ in ideology with Jabavu through Izwi and Imvo. AK Soga died in 1938.
1. Frederickson, G.M. 1995. Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.49-50.
2. Switzer, L. Ed. 1997, South Africa’s Alternative Press: Voices of Protest and Resistance, 1880-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.79.
3. Limb, P. 2000. “Representing the Labouring Classes”: African Workers in the African Nationalist Press. 1900-1960. In: Switzer, L and Adhikari, ed. 2000. South Africa’s Resistance Press: Alternative Voices in the Last Generation. Centre for International Studies: Ohio University, p.85