Pixley Seme

By: Izzy Craig

The Life of Pixley Seme

Pixley ka Isaka Seme was born in Natal, South Africa, on October 1, 1881. As a teenager, Seme attended a missionary school until an American Congregationalist missionary took a special liking to the boy and sent him to Mount Hermon School in Gill, Massachusetts. Seme later continued his schooling at Columbia University in New York, where he not only received a Bachelor of Arts degree, but was awarded the George William Curtis medal (the university’s highest oratorical honour) in 1906 for his speech “The Regeneration of Africa.” After Columbia, Seme attended Oxford University, where he pursued a law degree and became the first black lawyer in South Africa. He returned to his home country in 1911, and sprung into political action once he heard about the formation of the Union of South Africa. With the help of a few English graduates, Seme create a national organization to unify various African groups, which he called the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). Following the end of World War I, Seme was called to serve on the legal counsel for the Swazi Regent in a dispute with the British government. Unfortunately, the case was a loss for Seme due to an appeal from the Privy Counsel, and he was sent back to South Africa. In a state of defeat, Seme spiraled into an excessive drinking habit, and disappeared from politics for a few years. During his absence, the SANNC became the African National Congress (ANC). Seme returned him his fall in the mid 1920s and sided with the nationalists against the socialists. His political popularity grew, and Seme was elected as President General in 1930, just in time for the Great Depression to bring the ANC to a standstill. In an attempt to bring the ANC back to its full force, Seme drafted a proposal for reorganization. The change would consist of the restructuring of the ANC at a regional level, doing away with provincial congresses and instead dividing the nation into eleven regional congresses instead of four. This idea was not a hit, and Seme was replaced by Mahabane in 1937, marking the end of Seme’s political career. Once again defeated, he returned to law and worked in downtown Johannesburg until his death in 1951.

The Significance of Pixley Seme

Although his contributions are often downplayed, the Anti-apartheid movement would have been completely different if not for Seme. His speech, “The Regeneration of Africa,” was later delivered in England, which caused people from all over to comprehend that once Africa was free from its colonial overlords, it had the potential to play a large role in international affairs. Seme was brilliantly gaining international support long before others had even considered it. His unification of the African provinces and the creation of the SANNC was not found to be extremely significant at the time due to World War I and a lack of funding, but it did spark the formation of the ANC later on. In response to the Land Act of 1913, Seme established a newspaper, Abantu-Bathoeme, which was extremely useful in bringing Africans together from all over to fight the oppressive government. His distant fathership to the ANC allowed the organization of mass resistance to the race based system, and later the freeing of all South Africans. Without Seme, this group may not have ever been created, and the possibility of freedom would have been a distant dream. Even after he was pushed away from the ANC by the younger, more energetic generation because he was deemed too conservative, he still was a mentor to Anton Lembede, who later would create the National Congress Youth League. Seme continued to work behind the scenes in order to help his country, proving his devotion to the cause and his lasting contribution to the freedom of the nation.

Excerpts From "The Regeneration of Africa"

"I would ask you not to compare Africa to Europe or to any other continent. I make this request not from any fear that such a comparison might bring humiliation upon Africa. The reason I have stated: a common standard is impossible."

"Mr. Calhoun, I believe, was the most philosophical of all the slave-holders. He said, once that if he could find a black man who could understand the Greek syntax, he would then consider their race human and his attitude toward enslaving them would therefore change... If any such were now among the living, I could show him among black men of pure African blood those who could repeat the Koran from memory, skilled Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldais—men of great wisdom and profound knowledge."

"The African already recognizes his anomalous position and desires a change. The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved; her desert plains red with harvest; her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities, her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce; her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business; and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of peace—greater and more abiding than the spoils of war. Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period!"


Jonas, Obonye. "The quest to achieve African renaissance: reflections on NEPAD." Journal of Pan African Studies 5.3 (2012): 83+. World History Collection. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Lodge, T. "Anton Muziwakhe Lembede." South African History Online. South African History Online, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Saunders, C. "Pixley Ka Isaka Seme." Anonymous. South African History Online, 09 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Seme, Pixley Ka Isaka. "The Regeneration of Africa." Columbia University. United States, New York. 5 Apr. 1906. African National Conference. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.