Thapelo Mokoatsi

[intro]Herbert Msane followed most of the life routes his father had travelled and so was drawn into music, journalism and politics.[/intro]

Herbert Nuttall Vuma Msane was the son of Saul Msane, one of the first generation founders of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). He received his education at Lovedale College between 1904 and 1907.

As a journalist

Like Saul, he was the kind of a politician-journalist who was in touch with continental affairs especially those affecting the workers in the mines. He had an article published in Abanto-Batho on 22 November 1917, titled: “Industrial Workers of Africa: The White Natives’.

The article caused a stir as it raised the plight of mine workers. In it he wrote:

“We suppose that the world outside does not know yet that here in Johannesburg we have a number of workers (Native) that [are] trying to unite themselves or organise and fight for their rights of being workers, because it has been found out that, the world, money, riches are existing through the workers. There is no money given to the Native workers, it is shameful to see sons of men go underground and produce gold or diamonds or coal, but doing all this work for £3 a month.

These men have found out that it is better for them to start this Society, which will be known as the ‘Industrial Workers of Africa’. This Society is then discussing about what they can do to the Capitalists when they want a raise of their wages and the arrangement of working hours, and all the rights good for a working man. It seems that this thing is very good and if our native people were clever enough, they should join the Society and make [it] to be a strong one. Last Thursday the 15th November there was the meeting of the same Society together with the coloured, discussing about the same matter, that we all should unite-Natives and Coloured and be one Society of Workers, so that the white men will see that we cry just all the same (Native and Coloured) Workers”.

Herbert would become sub-editor at Abantu-Batho between 1917 until the 1920s during Selepe Thema’s editorship at the paper and participate in the Bantu Debating Union a hangout spot for intellectual debates. He also participated at the African Club which was run by Daniel Simon Letanka, an alternative joint for the staff of Abantu-Batho where debates were part of the menu.

Hitting the high note

People were fascinated by the father and son musical talent. Herbert was a tenor who sang alongside his father, a bassist. Years earlier, the young Msane had toured England with the Zulu Choir. He started exploring his other talent and followed his father in political activism. When SANNC was formed in 1912, like his father he took to political activism using the might of the pen to fight the repression the natives faced under British imperialism.

Political Activism

Hebert was part of the 1912 passive resistance and wrote articles on Ethiopianism for The International. He further partnered with Daniel Simon Letanka and Cleopas Mabaso on a delegation regarding the fate of Africans in the colonies that were occupied by Germany.

His writing flair earned him badges at the Transvaal Native Congress (TNC) and he would become the General Secretary in 1915 and 1916. The year his father died, in 1919, Herbert participated in the anti-pass law protests and became a household name in matters affecting mine workers. This saw him showing his radical character in the International Socialist League (ISL) and the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA).