Thapelo Mokoatsi

[intro]An advocate of African nationalism with many talents. What sets him apart from other journalism pioneers is that he was a virtuoso in music. He believed that it is the language that even the then government could understand coming from black people who were repressed and who were labourers.[/intro]

Mark Radebe might have been described as the ‘prominent businessman with premises in Commercial Road in the City’ but he was also a scribe with activism and development of Zulu language orthography as his bread and butter. He was a talented musician and music teacher whose nom de plume was Musicus in the articles he wrote for Umteteli wa Bantu.

A stalwart of African music

Nimrod Makanya in the article “stalwarts of African music world” acknowledged Mark Radebe who in the 1930s and 1940s played a role in shaping the socio-political situation of South Africa through music. He was a talented pianist who founded African Music Eisteddfod (The World, January 11 1956).

He also believed that music is an alternative instrument to use to fight socio-political issues black South Africans were faced with at that time. “[D]eveloping our music and singing to the white man will do much better than some of the methods adopted in solving intricate Bantu problems in South Africa.”

Radebe thought if Jazz does what it did for African Americans so can it enrich the discourse for black African intellectuals. In December 7 edition of Bantu World (1935:1) he wrote, “It is through this national festival that African talent will find its expression and make itself felt in the national life of South Africa. The day is not far distant when this country will have its own Hollywood, and the African people with their natural love of song and rhythm will provide valuable material for film producers… [a]nd there can be no doubt that Europeans are becoming conscious of the fact that we are not only assets as labourers and consumers but as entertainers and producers.”

A thought-provoker and journalism pioneer

In 1903 the editor of Ipepa lo Hlanga Cleophas Kunene questioned the disjunctive method that missionaries used and the way English grammar and its rules influenced isiZulu orthography. For instance the way in which the missionaries translated and made rules about the language distorted basic rules of syntax (Ipepa lo Hlanga, 24 February 1904). In a sentence ‘I wished to go yesterday’ in isiZulu it is translated as, ‘ngafisa ukuhamba izolo’. Kunene summised that the translation is correct with regard to English rules but the idea expressed with regard to the tense is incorrect in Zulu. Therefore the correct Zulu translation would be: ‘ngifise ukuhamba izolo’ because ‘it will be seen, that we have two past tenses in our language one which may be said to correspond to’ (Draper, 2003: 239). This was for the preservation of Zulu language.

Ipepa lo Hlanga was established on 18 October 1898. In the first six months of its existence it had 550 subscribers and distributed 50 copies to readers in the Cape Colony, Zimbabwe, Delagoa Bay, Beira and Zululand (Khumalo, [s.a.]). It experienced white hostility from its inception primarily because it did not match government views. Natal Witness in 1901 reports: “the articles therein are of the most seditious character, and if published in any other paper would probably put the editor and proprietor in gaol at short notice. They all tend in one direction-that the white man is a usurper, that the kafir is the proper owner of the land, and that he should claim his rights.” Subsequently the Under-Secretary for Native Affairs gave them a friendly warning but kept an eye on the paper (Odendaal, 2012: 288).


After the Bambatha Rebellion that resulted in the arrest of the Zulu king Dinizulu, there was political tension. This was compounded by the 1908 introduction of three Native Administration Bills in parliament, based on a report of the Natal Native Affairs Commission. Mark Radebe and Cleophas Kunene, Abner Mthimkhulu and J.T. Gumede formed Iliso Lesizwe Esimnyama (Eye of the Black Nation) and opposed the Bills. Ilanga of John Langalibalele Dube, the Natal Native Congress also joined in. (Odendaal, 2012: 291). Radebe, on 1 June 1900, together with the representatives from a number of districts met in Pietermaritzburg to establish the Natal Native Congress. He became its Secretary. He also founded Inkanyiso in 1889 and taught at Dube’s school (Odendaal, 2012: 285, 292).

As one of the advocates of African nationalism he used his multi-talents to pave a way for generations that followed after him. What sets him apart from other journalism pioneers is that he was a virtuoso in music. He believed that it is the language that even the then government could understand coming from black people who were repressed and who were labourers.