Creating space for African views
Levi Khomo received his education at missionary institutions but remained firmly committed to the African cause. Khomo, together with Simon Phamotse, Simon Molisapoli and Reverend William Mpamba, founded the first African owned and controlled newspaper in the Transvaal – Leihlo la ba Batsho (The Native Eye), in 1903.
Levi J.E. Mogale Khomo remained committed to changing African people’s lives even though he had received his foundational education from missionary institutions. While it is unclear when Khomo was born, his social and political activism is situated in the early 1900s in the then Transvaal where he was instrumental in initiating a number of movements that were Anti-British rule.
Khomo protested against the British imperial forces by founding the Zoutpansberg Native Vigilance Association (ZNVA) on December 3 1902, after the Anglo Boer War, as a platform to afford Africans with an alternative space to share their views. Another effort to rally Africans came through the formation of the Transvaal Native Association (TNVA) a political pressure group that aimed to educate people about their rights. He became secretary of the TNVA.
Khomo and his peers founded the first African owned and controlled newspaper in the Transvaal – Leihlo la ba Batsho – in 1903. The paper became an automatic mouthpiece of the Transvaal Native Vigilance Association (TNVA) and contained columns in Sesotho, Sepedi and English.
In 1904, the paper was temporarily closed down due to misappropriation of TNVA funds, allegedly by Khomo. According to Molisapoli, in Couzens’ History of Black Press in South Africa 1836-1960, Khomo “squandered all the funds of the association during the period of his ‘mens delirium’”. However, Khomo was defended by the newspaper’s patron Godfrey W. Lagdon, who at that time was a Commissioner for Native Affairs in Transvaal, and served in that position from 1901 until 1907.
Lagdon had also been a British Colonial Administrator in Southern Africa for two decades. He stood by Khomo, an action that would see the paper continue to function until late 1904, after which it disappeared for two months at the start of 1905. Molisapoli tried to resurrect it by requesting a meeting with the shareholders to clear the debt of the paper. The matter was never conclusively resolved and the paper remained closed.
Khomo held a meeting with the Secretary of Native Affairs, H.S. Marwick on April 8 1904, where he raised concerns such as Chinese cheap labour replacing Africans in the Witwatersrand and widows and boys being forced to pay taxes.
Khomo, still editor of Leihlo la ba Batsho and Secretary of the TNVA, then headed to Pietersburg (now known as Polokwane) to deliberate on the outcome of the interview cum meeting. He organised a meeting with chiefs from all over Transvaal and the TNVA members. He wrote and circulated a pamphlet to summon a meeting without the nod of the Department of Native Affairs but his efforts were thwarted as the meeting was immediately banned.
It still is not clear when and where Khomo was born, but is his last days he is reported to have taken ill and lost his mind. In the end it was never proven whether he really plundered the paper’s funds, and how and when he died.
Couzens,T. [s.a.]. History of Black Press in South Africa 1836-1960. Wits University Institute for Advancement of Social Research. Additional Seminar Paper, No: A15, pp.17-20
Odendaal, A. 1984. Vukani Bantu! The Beginning of Black Protest Politics in South Africa to 1912. Cape Town: David Philip, p.51
Odendaal, A. 2012. The Founders: The Origins of the ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana, pp.271-272
Rich, P. 1976. African Farming and the 1913 Natives’ Act: Towards a Reassessment. SALDRU Farm Labour Conference, September 1976, Paper No.21.