Like many leaders of his time, T.D. Mweli-Skota partook in various areas of public life, including the Church, politics and journalism. He was referred to as a human encyclopaedia by many of his peers.
During his days on earth, the Kimberly born T D Mweli-Skota was referred to as a born human encyclopaedia of African intellectuals. A prodigy of note, he was so ahead of his time early in his life when he received education, he immediately developed a love affair with pen and paper, scribing remarkable biographies of prominent Africans living in the Transvaal from different backgrounds – politics, business, religion and journalism, including his colleagues at the Abantu-Batho newspaper and in the South African Natives National Congress (SANNC). Although writing became an automatic first love, he also chose a life in politics and activism and later on in life became secretary general of the ANC.
Literary giant and a visionary
In the preface of his book, African Who’s Who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal, published in 1930s he wrote:
“For years the world has been wanting to know more about Africa and her people. And Africa on account of her wonderful mineral wealth has emerged from the dim background to the forefront of international importance. But little or nothing is known of her people. They are deemed to be savages prone to witchcraft, cannibalism and other vices credited to barbarians. Even historians are to record the worst that is in some of the great Africans they mention in their books. The result is obvious, young children reading in their school books that their kings and ancestors were murderers, traitors, etc., are tempted to feel ashamed of their race”.
Before publishing his book, he moved to Johannesburg in 1910 to work the Crown Mines. The mining conditions in the diamond mines in Kimberley and working the mines in Johannesburg made him aware of the injustices the Crown colony was inflicting on Africans.
His experience in the mining industry exposed him to African people’s plight and sharpened his activism. In 1912, when the SANNC and Abantu-Batho newspaper was formed he aligned himself with the vision of the paper by agreeing to be its organiser and later sub-editor. At that time it was the only newspaper in the Transvaal.
A selfless leader and Newspaperman
When he decided to spread his wings in 1914, he headed back to the Cape where he worked as an interpreter of the Supreme Court in the Griqualand West.
Eight years later, in 1922, aged 32, he founded and edited African Shield which collapsed in 1924. When The African Leader was established a year after Abantu-Batho was closed, Skota and radical journalist Gilbert Cika edited the publication from January 1932 until May 1933.
At the age of 33, in 1923, he succeeded the brother-in-law of Sol Plaatje, Horatio L Bud M’belle, as the Secretary General of the ANC. He led numerous delegations to General Hertzog, Pieter Grobler, Tielman Roos, Minister of Justice, Dr Jansen, Minister of Native Affairs, Major Piet van der Byl, and Minister for Native Affairs in the government of Jan Smuts and countless senior government officials. He served in this position until 1927 handing over the reins to EJ Khaile.
When he was 32 he was entrusted with the presidency of the Bechuanaland and Griqualand West National Organisation. Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu invited him to the executive membership of the All African Convention (AAC). He also dedicated his time to Christianity and the church leadership that allowed him to serve as the additional member of the Church of the Province Synod. He became the only non-European member of the Diocese and Board of Education in his home town.
He co-founded the Order of the True Africans of St Ntsikana and became its secretary. He married Frances Mabel Maud Xiniwe at the age of 30 in 1920. When he was 40, in 1930, he authored and edited the African Yearly Register followed by the second edition two years later, in 1932. Together with Jeremiah Dunjwa and Levi Thomas Mvabaza, Skota was a resident of Pimville. Skota became the member of the Pimville Advisory Board. A year later, in 1933, his wife passed on. Following the death of first his wife, he remarried. In 1936, aged 46 he married Zilpah Shupinyaneng who was the daughter of the Reverend and Mrs Shupinyaneng.
He passed on an octogenarian, aged 86, he never lived to cover the events of Soweto Uprising and possibly write another book as that year coincided with the end of his time on earth. To his honour, Mothobi Motloatse established Skota Publishers.