Thapelo Mokoatsi

Selby Msimang was one of the many foot soldiers of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). He wrote passionately about the terrible injustice that was the 1913 Native Land Act.

Selby Msimang was the man behind Pixley ka Seme and the formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). While Seme became one of the public figures of the movement, Msimang worked behind the scenes to make it happen.

Born on 13 December 1886 in Edendale, west of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, he was the son of the well-known preacher and founder of the Independent Methodist Church (IMC), Joel Msimang and Joanah Radebe.

He started his primary education in Swaziland, in Emakosini Primary School in Nhlangano. Between 1903 and 1907 he studied at Kilnerton Institute followed by Edendale Institution and later Healdtown Institution in Fort Beaufort. He became a fully-fledged teacher when he graduated from Healdtown Institution.

The beginning of his career

At 22, in 1908, Msimang served the Native Affairs Department as an interpreter and at a later stage he was deployed to the Justice Department to serve as a court interpreter. By 24, in 1910, he had left the position to become the first postmaster in the Indian-African Post Office in Krugersdorp. A year later, when Seme returned from England to work as an attorney in Johannesburg, Msimang left the postmaster position to join him as his clerk and typist around the end of 1911.

He navigated different career paths until he found his true passion – writing. He made his writing debut when he wrote a lengthy piece after he travelled with John Dube around the country to witness the turmoil the Native Land Act had caused. His piece focused on clearing the air between any disagreements that emerged between the delegation that went to London to rebut the Native Land Act, especially John Dube and Saul Msane. He had written the piece in his capacity as the Honorary Secretary of the Organising Committee of the SANNC.

A journalistic career

Msimang further wrote part of the letter to the Editor of Ilanga lase Natal on 29 October 1915, titled: “The Editor of Ilanga: Natives Land Act”, “It is a little over two years ago since the Union Government declared in writing its policy in connection with the furtherance of Colour Prejudice and Racial Hatred. Already that instrument is affording us ground for dissatisfaction, despite the Government’s constant assurances to respect our interests as aborigines, which by the way, have and can never reach the point of realisation. When the Natives raised their piteous and prayerful voices appealing to all humanitarians for the reversal of the Union policy, indicating the extent and the magnitude of the wickedness likely to accrue in the event of the instrument becoming legal and the nature of madness to which the Natives would find themselves driven desperately, the apostles of prejudice rebuked them and called them eccentric agitators. The truth remained however that beneath those assurances lay hidden a conspiracy to dispossess the Natives of their land in the hope to realise the ambition to make South Africa a ‘Whiteman’s Country’ whatever the fate of the aboriginal inhabitants may be”.

In the beginning of the 1920s when he was in his early 30s he edited Morumioa. He alongside Richard Victor Selope Thema became correspondents of Umteteli wa Bantu. He also wrote, in the 1970s, for the Natal Witness as well as for Ilanga in the early 1980s.

After a 57 years long career, between 1908 and 1965, Msimang had 15 professions and was an itinerant who lived in 10 towns and three cities. However at the end of it all, in 1947, he finally settled in his birthplace, Edendale, aged 61. By the time he passed on, 29 March 1982, he had a career span of 74 years.