Thapelo Mokoatsi

[intro]Josiah Tshangana Gumede was a relentless activist, a dedicated newspaperman and one of the foremost political leaders of his time.[/intro]

By the time Josiah Tshangana Gumede died in 1947 he had become an accomplished politician, a dedicated teacher and a politicised newspaperman. Born in Healdtown village in Fort Beaufort present day Eastern Cape, in 1870, he received his elementary education at Healdtown Wesleyan Mission School.

After completing his primary education he moved to Grahamstown in his teen years around 1882/83 to further his studies at the ‘Kaffir’ Institute also known as the Native College.

Although the institute was known for training natives in religious education and industrial training, he was determined to pursue a career in teaching. Upon completing his teaching qualification he moved to Somerset East in the Eastern Cape where he taught fellow African children, and later on accepted a teaching post in Natal. It is in Natal where he met and married his fellow teacher and Wesleyan Margaret Rachel Sithole from Bergville at age 27, on 30 June 1894. Natal also became a catalyst in his political consciousness which heightened to a point of becoming one of the founders of the Natal Native Congress (NNC) in 1900. He later led from the front to establish the South African Native National Congress (SANNC now known as ANC) in 1912, and would contribute to the drafting of its 1919 constitution.

Politician and Newspaperman

At about the time of the First World War Gumede was editor of Ilanga lase Natal. By the 1930s he became a manager, editor and owner of Abantu-Batho, a platform he used to rally personal political support as well as being used as mouthpiece of the ANC.

In 1927 Gumede, then 60, was elected ANC President, succeeding ZR Mahabane. His presidency would be short lived as he was described by his colleagues as steering the ANC towards liberal politics, and as someone lacking independent thought. This opened a window of opportunity for Pixley ka Seme who ousted him by 14 to 39 votes, to succeed him in 1930.

The ANC conservatives saw Seme as a safer option than Gumede. This ended Gumede’s role as prominent figure in South African politics. In recognition of his earlier services to the ANC he was, however, appointed as lifelong honorary president of the organisation.

An advocate of anti-Imperialism

Gumede was a relentless activist, became involved in the anti-imperialist committees through the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA – South African Communist Party (SACP) after 1953). He chaired the International Secretariat of the League against Imperialism an opportunity that would see him travel to Belgium in 1927, in the first year of his ANC presidency. He went to attend an anti-imperialism conference where he interacted with leaders such as the then first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. About 175 delegates attended, among which 107 came from 37 countries under colonial rule. The gathering aimed at creating a “mass anti-imperialist movement” on a world scale.

For Gumede, Nehru’s philosophy would have an impact. Nehru was interested in building a just and democratic society and in consolidating India into a nation. He even set out to build the structure of an independent and self-reliant economy, and made an all -out effort to break out of colonial under development and to ensure self-sustaining and self-generating growth, both in agriculture and industry. Nehru’s political philosophy had a major impact on Gumede’s outlook. Gumede also attended the League’s conference in Berlin, Germany. The May 1930 edition of Abantu-Batho published a statement of solidarity and went on to write and publish an anti-imperialist message of action in the newspaper to encourage its readers to take lessons from Indians, and Chinese that at that time were rebelling against imperialism.

Gumede was one of the leading office bearers of the ANC around the same time as he was an editor of Abantu-Batho which had become the ANC organ. Likewise his predecessors, Seme, Saul Msane and Selope Thema were also ANC officials and editors. Like some of his peers who used personal money to fund their political activities as well as investing in their publications, Gumede was forced to sell his store to pay debts he incurred from travelling as part of the delegation as well as spend some of the money towards legal cases that were pending.