A key political broker
Cleopas Solomon Mabaso was regarded as a ‘key political broker on the Rand’ for the role he played at Abantu-Batho Limited. Pixley ka Isaka Seme as editor and publisher of the newspaper may have been the driver but Mabaso made it possible for the publication to endure its 24 year span.
Mabaso, a Natal-born newspaperman and a Wesleyan from Edendale caused quite a stir in the Witwatersrand with his organisational smarts. After his education in Edendale he travelled to the Transvaal to ply his trade in the Gold Mines. But the place of gold was not yet ready for him, he moved to Christiana, now located in the North West.
However in 1912, when Seme learned about this man who knows how to balance books and keep good journals he brought him back to Johannesburg. This is when an interesting chapter of Mabaso’s life began. He became the Secretary and Book keeper as well as general agent of Abantu-Batho Limited.
Under the tutelage of Seme, he became a chairman of the board of directors, and managing editor at Abantu-Batho.
Mabaso remained the bedrock of the paper for years, even after Josiah Tshangana Gumede took it over.
Mabaso was amongst a number of correspondents who gave insight on regional politics especially in the Transvaal, and that boosted subscription. He was a correspondent of the paper back in 1923, when the ANC branch in Alexandra was active under the leadership of John Mophoso.
Mabaso and one of his colleagues Daniel Simon Letanka also worked together as organisers of the Abantu-Batho events. They both participated in the 1919-1920 protests while others went to farms and diamond mines in search of stories. Mabaso and Letanka were also part of a group of intellectuals that were concerned about Africans in the colonies that were occupied by Germany.
In 1918 Mabaso signed on behalf of Abantu-Batho for another year of translating and publishing in ‘Sesotho, Xhosa, and Zulu…all Proclamations and Government notices affecting the native population’, said Limb.
Together with Cleopas Kunene and Letanka they travelled to places that were most occupied by Swazi people in Bethal and Davel to raise the newspaper’s subscription while being supported financially by the Swazi royalty until the 1920s.
Kunene, Letanka and Mabaso hung out at the African Club, which was managed by Letanka, an after-work joint where the staff of Abantu-Batho socialised. Their patronage helped to solidify their friendship and camaraderie.
He served on Transvaal Native Congress (TNC) and ANC executives as a national vice president in 1926 and financial secretary in 1930 respectively. As a ‘key political broker on the Rand’ says La Hausse de Lalouvière, Mabaso used his Swazi blood ties and ambassadorial skills to lobby Queen Regent for continued support of the paper. He got along well with Letanka and Levi Thomas Mvabaza. Together they were active in protests and remained loyalists of Abantu-Batho until the bitter end.
In the Bloemfontein South African Native National Congress (SANNC) general election under the leadership of ZR Mahabane, Mabaso was elected Deputy Speaker, deputising Thomas Mapikela.
Abantu-Batho lasted for 24 years and Mabaso was there from start to finish. He served the paper until it ceased to exist in 1936, the same year he died, in Pimville.
Limb, P. ed. 2012. The People’s Paper: A Centenary History and Anthology of Abantu-Batho. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
Skota, Mweli, T.D. 1930. The African Who’s who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal, p.114