John Langalibalele Dube

By: Ricky Salvatore

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Life & Accomplishments

John Langalibalele Dube was born in Natal in 1871 to a royal Zulu family. His father was the native minister of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Ministers, and later became the Congregational minister at Inanda Station in Natal. In 1887, John Dube accompanied his friend, William Wilcox, to the United States, where he worked and studied at Oberlin College. In 1892, Dube returned to South Africa due to illness. Over the next 13 years, he returned back to the United States two more times. In 1900, Dube founded the Natal Native Congress, which was used to promote the rights of Africans during the time which Natal remained a separate colony. In 1901, Dube founded the Ohlange ("Where all nations come together") Institute in South Africa. He also founded the Ilanga lase Natal ("Sun of Natal") newspaper in 1903, which is still in print today. In 1912, the South African Native National Congress (renamed the African National Congress in 1923) was formed in response to the Natives Land Act, and Dube accepted the presidency of the group. Dube was the delegate to multiple conferences, including the English House of Commons in London to petition against the Act of Union in 1909, the Smuts Native Conferences in attempts to establish 'racial harmony' between blacks and whites from 1920-1926, an international conference in Le Zoute, Belgium to raise funds for Ohlange, and many others. Dube was also a member of the All African Convention, and was the Natal representation to the Native Representative Council. In 1935, Dube founded the Natal Bantu Teachers' Association, which is still around today and has been renamed the Natal African Teachers' Union.

Significance to Anti-Apartheid Movement

John Langalibalele Dube was very important to the anti-apartheid movement. Dube founded the African National Congress, which was the most prominent group leading the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC organized the majority of the anti-apartheid demonstrations that took place during the movement, up until the Rivonia Trial, when many of the ANC leaders were placed in jail. Dube was also very important in representing his birthplace Natal, as well as representing Africans in their fight against apartheid. He was the delegate to many aforementioned conferences, in which he was key in fighting against apartheid. Dube also created the Ilanga lase Natal newspaper, which was a source for the black population to be able to voice their opinions and concerns. This was very significant to the anti-apartheid movement, because it created unity among the Africans, allowing them to come together to fight apartheid. This newspaper was used to expose injustices from the white front, and it made black people aware of the rights and privileges that they deserved. In addition to this, Dube founded the Ohlange Institute, which provided African children with an education. Prior to the Institute, many African children were given a very poor education, if any at all. Dube also founded the Natal Native Congress, which was the primary political group representing the blacks and advocating for their rights. It was also the first course of political action that Dube undertook, which set the stage for the impact that he would leave on the anti-apartheid movement.

Petition to the Prime Minister, from the Reverend John Dube, President, South African Native National Congress

14 February 1914


Humbly showeth:-


1. That your petitioner is the Principal of the Zulu Christian Industrial School as above, and president of the South African Native National Congress, which represents practically all the native tribes of South Africa, and it is on their behalf, and by their commission, that he now makes this petition.


2. You, Sir, are no doubt aware that money is now being raised to send a deputation to England to make an appeal to the King against the injustice of the Native Lands Act, which became law on 19th June of this year, a step which you deprecate, as appears from your speeches. You are reported to have said that a political question of this kind would be better settled here, with which we entirely agree. But it has been pointed out to you, Sir, that we have already done all that we found possible to do with the Government here, before the Bill was passed; but scarcely any notice was taken of our representations.


3. Now, however, lest it be said that we have not exhausted every possible means to get redress of our grievances from the local authorities before sending our deputation to England, we are making this appeal to you, Sir, and propose making a final one to Parliament if not successful.


4. Your petitioner avers that practically all the well-informed natives of South Africa feel that never under the British flag have they suffered an act of greater injustice and one which is more likely to embitter the hearts of the most loyal native subjects against the Union Government.


5. We make no protest against the principle of separation so far as it can be fairly and practically carried out. But we do not see how it is possible for this law to effect any greater separation between the races than obtains now. It is evident that the aim of this law is to compel service by taking away the means of independence and self-improvement. This compulsory service at reduced wages and high rents will not be separation, but an intermingling of the most injurious character of both races.


6. It has been stated that the law is of advantage to us; but there is no assurance in the law that it will protect us from rapacious land-agents. Any European holding land in a native area is not prohibited to sell, and, furthermore, we have not been protected from landlords, to whom we pay rent, who take advantage under the law to charge high rents, knowing we cannot move away with our stock or find admittance to any other farm as rent-paying tenants. We are more at their mercy than ever we were before, as competition is shut out.


7. But even supposing a little protection were there, the wrongs which might be suffered in that line are as one to a hundred in comparison with what we must now endure from the rapacious farmer who seizes the opportunity to raise our rent and reduce our wages.


8. It may be said that we misunderstood the law, and that when it has been properly explained, we shall find that it is not so grievous as we supposed. It is true there seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about it, even by those highest in authority. But we heard it explained both to natives and Europeans and we cannot help noticing a difference in the explanation which is given to Europeans from that which is given to natives. As it has sometimes been explained to natives it does not seem to be so objectionable, and some natives have expressed themselves in favour of it. But we have seen that explanation utterly refuted by statesmen when before European audiences. Whatever may be the explanation, we can now speak from what we have seen of the effects even in the beginning, and which must inevitably grow worse and worse. We have seen our people driven from the places dear to them as the inheritance of generations, to become wanderers on the face of the earth. We have seen rents raised to the point of desperation. We have seen many of our people who by their frugality have laid by a little money in the hope of buying a small piece of land where they might make a home for their families and leave something for their children now told that their hopes are in vain; that no European is now permitted to sell or lease land to a native. We do not need any plainer explanation than what we have already seen.


9. For the above reasons your petitioner humbly protests against the summary prohibition of the sale of land to natives, and prays that you, Sir, may exercise your power as Minister of Native Affairs to bring about an amendment to the effect that there may be no prohibition of the sale of land to natives till after the report of the Commission has been accepted by Parliament and the natives adequately provided with land.


10. We also ask that the law regarding the leasing and ploughing of land on share be left as it was before this Act came into operation. This prohibition is causing much hardship without benefiting anyone.


In conclusion, we pray that one native be appointed by the Governor-General to the Commission now sitting from among three to be nominated by the South African Native National Congress; or alternatively, one from two European gentlemen to be nominated by the same body.


As in duty bound, etc.