1870 to 1947
Writer, Politician, Interpreter
Horatio Isaiah Budlwana Bud M’belle aka Bud M’belle became the first African to pass the Cape Civil Service Examination and would later become an interpreter at the supreme courts in Grahamstown and Griqualand West. He also made contributions as a writer and political activist.
Bud M’belle was born on 24 June 1870 in Burgersdorp in the Cape Colony and grew up in Herschel in the Eastern Cape.
Like many of his peers, he was a product of missionary education. For two years, between 1886 and 1888, he went to the Wesleyan Methodist Primary School. He later went to Healdtown Institution, a Methodist Church boarding school situated in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape.
When he finished school he taught for five years in Herschel and Colesberg. In 1892 he furthered his studies to become the first African to ace the Cape Civil Service Examination that saw him pass isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Setswana, English and Afrikaans.
Everything fell into place when he accepted a post as an interpreter at the Supreme Court in Grahamstown for two years. In 1894, he moved to Griqualand West, now Kimberley, to work as an interpreter of African languages for the next 20 years.
During his stay in the Malay camp in a multiracial township of Kimberley he became involved in philanthropic work. He helped found schools for Africans while serving on the committee of the Lyndhurst Road School for a number of years. He played a role in the formation of Fort Hare University and co-founded The South African Improvement Society and the Kimberley branch of Young Men’s Christian Association. M’belle could hit a musical note or two and for that reason he directed the Philharmonic Society of the North-Western Cape where he imparted his musical know-how to young Africans.
With his background M’belle moved to Johannesburg to become involved in politics. In 1917 he became Secretary General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). He used this position to address issues of discrimination Africans faced. When he was 49 he resigned from this post because of internal differences.
He went back to being an interpreter but this time at Department of Native Affairs in Pretoria until he retired in Marabastad. He continued to flourish in social, political and religious circles.
He participated in the All African Convention of 1935 and founded the Pretoria Advisory Council for African affairs as well as Joint Council of Europeans and Bantu.
M’belle wrote a Xhosa scholar’s companion and was a contributor to Abantu-Batho, an organ of the SANNC that was founded by Pixley ka Isaka Seme.
Solomon Plaatje married his sister while he married Anna Johanna Semouse when he was 27. His marriage with Anna bore them three daughters. At 77 on 16 July 1947 Horatio Bud M’belle passed on in Pretoria.
South African History Online. [s.a.]. Horatio Bud Isaiah M’belle. Available at: www.sahistory.org.za/people/horatio-bud-isaiah-mbelle.
Verwey, E.J. ed. 1995. New Dictionary of South African Biography Volume 1. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council.