Modern South African Politics

‘I See You’: The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, 1919-1930

2022-11-19T15:20:19+00:00July 4th, 2022|

The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (ICU) and its charismatic leader, Clements Kadalie, dominated the southern African political landscape of the 1920s. The movement demonstrated a wide spectrum of opposition to the established order. From humble beginnings in Cape Town in 1919, the ICU...

Sol T Plaatje – A life in letters

2022-07-19T09:16:11+00:00December 14th, 2020|

Sol Plaatje (1876–1932) was one of the best known political and literary figures of his generation – as journalist, writer and spokesman for his people. He spoke out against the oppressive policies of the South African government in the early decades of the twentieth century, and he is remembered for a number of important books – one of which is the diary he kept during the siege of Mafikeng, Native Life in South Africa (1916).

In a Time of Plague. Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 In South Africa

2021-11-15T20:20:16+00:00June 25th, 2018|

The so-called “Spanish” influenza epidemic of 1918 (tellingly dubbed “Black October” by contemporaries in South Africa) was the worst disease episode ever to hit the country. Part of the global pandemic which killed about 3% of the world’s inhabitants in little over a year, in hard-hit South Africa it claimed some 350,000 lives (or 5% of the population) in six weeks in September-October of 1918. During those dreadful weeks the country struggled to keep functioning in the face of this debilitating disease and consequent deaths. In flu-ravaged cities like Kimberley, Cape Town and Bloemfontein corpse-laden carts trundled through the streets to collect the dead and take them to hard-pressed cemeteries, scenes never seen before or since in the country; in the countryside silence reigned as deaths in kraals and on farms reduced helpless inhabitants to desperate straits. A whole generation of flu orphans appeared almost overnight. This volume graphically captures this short but unprecedented crisis in South Africa’s history through the memories of 127 survivors of the epidemic. Recorded on tape and in letters in the 1970s, these evoke the horror of “Black October”, providing unique, first-hand accounts of what these men and women saw and heard, how they coped medically, materially and psychologically and what mark this experience left on their lives. The memories of this very wide array of South Africans vividly evoke what it was like to live in and to live through a time of plague. As one survivor put it, “That’s worse than war.”

Selections from the letters of President M. T. Steyn, 1904-1910

2021-06-02T08:56:15+00:00June 24th, 2017|

President M.T. Steyn is one of the heroes Afrikaner history, leading the guerrilla war against the British from 1899-1902, and fiercely resisting submission. He was struck down by a neural disease in 1902 and was unable to participate in the negotiations that ended the war. In 1902 he went to Europe for treatment and, after a partial recovery, he returned to South Africa. Although he was unable to participate fully in post-war political events, he became an 'elder' statesman (still in his 40s) who was consulted by the leading South African politicians on such subjects as the creation of an Afrikaner nation, the self-government of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and the making of Union. He returned briefly to political life as vice-chair of the National Convention in Durban, to decide the terms of Union. His determination to preserve a strong Afrikaner identity, combined with his wise counsel and generosity, made a great impression on the other participants, including old enemies like Dr L.S. Jameson. Sadly, his health was too poor for him to contribute to the new Union. The letters in this volume are an extraordinary record of courage and intelligence. Under other circumstances he might have played a much greater role in South Africa, even, perhaps, altering the course of events. At the same time, in the tempestuous, multi-cultural South Africa of today, 101 years after Steyn's death, many of his ideas are unacceptable, for, like his white compatriots, J.C. Smuts and J.X. Merriman, he could not imagine a society in which black men (let alone women) had a right to political equality. Yet this volume has relevance as it contributes, inter alia, to our understanding of political racism; of equal value is what it tells us about how to make a new country.

From Cattle-herding to Editor’s Chair: The Unfinished Autobiography of Richard Victor Selope Thema

2020-09-04T06:32:30+00:00July 24th, 2016|

Richard Victor Selope Thema (1886 - 1955) was one of the most influential black figures in South Africa in the twentieth century - yet little has been published about him until now. 'RV' - as he was known to his friends - was a leading member of the ANC for almost forty years from 1912, serving for many years on its National Executive. He was also a founder member of the All-African Convention, a elected member of the Natives Representative Council, and was in constant demand to serve on deputations and committees as one of the leading spokespersons for Africans of his generation. Thema was also widely recognised as the leading black journalist and intellectual of his time. Many of his early writings appeared in the ANC newspaper, Abanthu Batho, but he cemented his national reputation as founding editor of the Bantu World, a position he held for twenty years. Under his leadership, Bantu World became the leading organ of the black middle class in South Africa, and a generation of black writers launched their careers in its pages under his tutelage. It is still published today as the Sowetan. In his writings Thema was a tireless advocate of African rights and an implacable enemy of segregation. An 'Africanist' before that term was popularised by the Congress Youth League in the 1940s and 1950s, he can be considered an intellectual fore-father of both the Youth League and of the Pan-Africanists of the 1950s.

The World’s Great Question. Olive Schreiner’s South African Letters 1889-1920

2021-07-26T19:36:54+00:00July 24th, 2014|

The World’s Great Question features over 300 of Olive Schreiner’s key letters on South African people, politics and its racial order. They are often prophetic and can still send shivers down the spine. Immensely readable and insightful, her South African letters bring home Schreiner’s importance as one of the world’s most famous women and a foundational figure in South African literature and its political life at key junctures in its history;

A B Xuma. Autobiography and Selected Works

2021-02-25T20:52:15+00:00July 24th, 2012|

Alfred Bitini Xuma (1893-1962) is best known as the president who revived the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1940s and was then defeated for office by the Congress Youth League. Less known is his important public career as a medical doctor and social reformer, or the continuity of his thought over three decades of writings and speeches, in which he articulated a consistent critique of white domination, inequality and state policies of segregation and apartheid. Xuma’s ongoing concerns with national liberation, health, and black identity lend his works a curious resonance with today’s burning issues. This volume brings together for the first time the works of this major African political and social leader of the mid-twentieth century, combining his previously unpublished autobiography with a careful selection of his prodigious output of letters, speeches, pamphlets, and submissions to government commissions.

Friendship and Union. The South African Letters of Patrick Duncan and Maud Selborne 1907–1943

2021-02-25T20:05:10+00:00July 24th, 2010|

This volume, published a century after Union in 1910, tells the story of the first decades of the new state. The narrative unfolds through letters exchanged weekly by two interested commentators: Scottish-born Patrick Duncan, who was initially a member of Milner’s famous ‘Kindergarten’ of young British civil servants, and who became a respected politician in the new Union. His career culminated as South Africa’s first local Governor-General. He corresponded for thirty-seven years with Maud, Lady Selborne, who was married to Milner’s successor. A feisty feminist and a fascinating character from a patrician background, she developed a lifelong friendship with Duncan, round their shared preoccupation with South Africa. The letters support the view that the first constitution was deeply flawed, although in 1910 the ‘new South Africa’ seemed almost miraculous. Bitter enemies agreed to start afresh and painfully negotiated a new constitution, using the finest international models; a political leadership emerged preaching reconciliation; change had to be accepted and worked at every level; new symbols of nationhood were painfully evolved. Almost at once the legitimacy of the state was challenged in the strikes of 1913 and 1922 and the rebellion of 1914. The letters help to show how, by 1943, South Africa had emerged as an independent nation within the Commonwealth alliance.

Alan Paton Selected Letters

2021-02-25T19:55:16+00:00July 24th, 2009|

Alan Paton was a dedicated letter-writer whose letters are almost like a series of vigorous conversations, displaying his capacity for friendship, his lively personality and his principled commitment to South African society. This collection of 350 previously unpublished letters are a major aspect of his writings. They range from those written as a brilliant student of 18 to his old age, illustrating many of the facets of his literary interests, his work as a teacher and reformatory principle and his political activism.

Isaac Williams Wauchope: Selected Writings 1874-1916

2021-02-25T19:35:34+00:00July 24th, 2008|

Isaac Williams Wauchope (1852-1917) was a prominent member of the Eastern Cape African elite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a Congregational minister, political activist, historian, poet and, ultimately, legendary hero in the Mendi disaster. A Lovedale student, he was instrumental in founding one of the first political organisations for Africans, an enthusiastic campaigner for the establishment of the University of Fort Hare. This volume assembles a selection of these writings, in English and in Xhosa, reflecting Isaac Wauchope's momentous and turbulent life.

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