MA Lembede: The Forgotten Hero

Published on 3rd October 2017

The ideas of one of the foremost thinkers and Africanist theoreticians, Muziwakhe Anton Lembede, the founding President of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1944, have been swept under the carpet. This is probably because they made some people, especially in the Communist Party-ANC alliance, uncomfortable.

Were he alive in 2014, Lembede would have been a hundred years old but the ANC government did not declare 2014 'The year of M.A. Lembede,' the same way they declared 2017 the year of Oliver Reginald Tambo. The ANC is suffering from selective amnesia and supported by their mouthpiece, the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Lembede is not celebrated and canonised in the ANC the same way other ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo are celebrated and canonised, yet he deserves more honour and recognition than Mandela and Tambo. I have never heard of a Memorial Lecture being organised or delivered in honour of this intellectual giant and revolutionary. The ANC has almost disowned him. Lembede is instead honoured and celebrated by Robert Sobukwe's Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. The ANC treats Lembede the same way they treat Sobukwe, Zeph Mothopeng, Jafta Masemola, Onkgopotse Tiro and the way they used to treat Steve Biko.

Let us examine some of Lembede's ideas. In August 1945, about two years before his sudden death, in The Bantu World which is now called The Sowetan, Lembede wrote:

"A great hullabaloo is being made by advocates of the Unity of all Non-Europeans in South Africa in their struggle against white supremacy or white oppression. This unity we are told, is to include Africans, Coloureds and Indians.

"Before irreparable harm is done to the development and progress of the African people, this fallacious and fantastic theory must be exposed. Unity among the above-mentioned classes of Non-Europeans is impossible or extremely difficult of attainment for the following reasons:

(a) Africans are Natives of Africa; they and Africa are one; their relation to Africa is superior to the relations of other sections of the population. This superiority of relation to Africa clearly places the Africans in a position of ascendancy and superiority over other sections of the South African population. Hence it is evidently wrong to place Africans on a footing of equality with other racial groups at present residing in Africa. Africans are fighting for Africa; but other sections are fighting only for their rights to trade and extract as much wealth as possible from Africa.

(b) Another point which renders unity a non-practical proposition is the historical, cultural and religious differences between the above-mentioned classes. The Indians have India as their motherland; they are only here in Africa chiefly as traders. Some of them profess the Mohamedan or Hindu faith. Even amongst themselves there is no unity on account of their religious differences; otherwise India would have achieved Dominion Status today. Most of the Africans however profess the Christian faith.

(c) There are three types of Coloureds: firstly there are those who have identified themselves with the Africans, who live with the Africans, and speak African languages and who have thrown in their lot completely with the Africans. There is a second class of Coloureds which regards itself as a distinct nation namely Eur-African Nation. The third class of Coloureds consists of those Coloureds who regard themselves as Europeans and look down upon and despise Africans and call them "kaffirs."

(d) It must be remembered also that the first and primary duty of African leaders is to their own people, the Africans. The African leaders are not called upon to lead and organise Coloureds and Indians as some of the bigoted advocates of the Unity movement would have us believe.

(e) The Coloureds and Indians are regarded by Europeans as superior to the African and thus deserving of certain rights and privileges which are denied to the Africans, for instance, the use of tram cars in Johannesburg, the right to reside and carry on business in certain areas of the town where Africans are prohibited.

No sane person can deny the fact that there are some common problems confronting Africans and Indians and Coloureds e.g, the the right of franchise. The solution of such problems needs the cooperation of all Non-Europeans. But cooperation is different from unity.

Africans must be organised as a separate self-conscious unit. So likewise must the Coloureds and Indians separately. Then if there is a common problem, the leaders of the three sections can come together and take a joint decision as to how the common problem is to be jointly and cooperatively tackled. Then they will return to their respective sections of the population and mobilise the masses for the joint and concerted attack. This is the only sound way which is based on common sense and grim realism. Merely to create a motley horde or a colourless amorphous conglomeration of Africans, Coloureds and Indians will only lead to chaos, wasted effort and ineffective action.

The call then is back to common sense! Back from jungles of fantasies and dreams! Back!!!"

These ideas need not be concealed and hidden away from today's youth. They must be exposed to them and make their own judgment.

Anton Lembede died in 1947 at the age of 33. When he died he had Bachelor of Law and Master of Philosophy degrees.

By Sam Ditshego

Sam Ditshego [sam412d@gmail

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