Wednesday 22 February 1871, John Langalibalele Dube was born in the Inanda district of Natal. Son of Rev. James Dube, a minor Zulu chief of the Ngcoto clan. His father was one of the first ordained ministers of the American Zulu Mission (Marks 1975, 163). His grandmother was one of the first converts of the pioneer American Board missionary Daniel Lindley (David 1975, 503). John Dube was educated at Inanda and then at the American Board Mission Theological School in Amanzimtoti which later became Adams College.
He was an educationalist, an African nationalist and politician as well as as an ordained minister of the Congregational (American Board) Church. He’s the founder of Ohlange School in Natal and the newspaper Ilanga lase Natal.
The tone of his writing in the paper often appeared radical and during the Bambata Rebellion of 1906 he was arrested as an ‘Ethiopian’ and agitator but was subsequently released. Dube then began to take part in a number of political meetings. He attended the gathering in Bloemfontein at which African leaders discussed the South Africa Bill of 1909. Three years later he founded the Natal Native Congress.
His writing for the paper established his political reputation and in 1912 he was invited to become the first president of the South African Native National Congress. He wrote to the chiefs and members of the SANNC and said: ‘I recognize the hour is come when we, the Native races of South Africa, must be up and doing ~ for God helps those who help themselves’ (Davis 1975, 497).
He was a bitter opponent of the 1913 Land Act. He spoke and wrote on this subject. In an article in 1914 he wrote:
“It is only a man with a heart of stone who could hear and see what I hear and see and remain callous and unmoved. It would break your hearts did you but know, as I know, the cruel and undeserved afflictions wrought by the hateful enactment on numberless aged, poor and tender children of my race in this their native land. From the ashes of their burnt out kraals, kicked away like dogs by Christian people from their humble hearths, from the dear old scenes where their fathers were born and grew up in simple peace, bearing malice to none, and envying neither European nor Indian the wealth and plenty they amass themselves from this their land, these unfortunate outcasts pass homeless, unwanted, silently suffering, along the highways and byways of the land, seeking in vain the most unprofitable waste whereon to build their hovel and rest and live, victims of an unknown civilisation that has all too suddenly overwhelmed and overtaken them…”
Dube wrote and spoke strongly and emotively on the government’s land policy. The 19i3 Land Act was so hydra-headed that it affected every stratum of African rural society. In 1914 Dube was one of the ANC delegates to London to protest against the Act. This delegation caused some controversy within the ANC. It was fed Dube had made some compromises on the principle of segregation. The bone of contention within the ANC was the Land Act. Dube was ousted from the presidency of the ANC. From this time onwards Dube concentrated his activities in Natal but in the 1940’s Xuma influenced him to participate in the movement nationally with some success.
In the 1920s, like some of his generation (and the stratum of mission-educated Africans? he became involved in a series of. “liberal’ attempts to establish “racial harmony” between black and white, such as the Smuts’ Native Conferences established under the 1920 Act (which Dube left in 1926 on the grounds of their powerlessness) the Joint Councils and many missionary conferences. In 1926 he was one of the South African delegates to the international conference at Le Zoute in Belgium, a visit he combined with fresh fund-raising for Ohlange. He was involved in replacing the left-wing Gumede with Seme as president of the ANC in 1930 and in 1935 became a member of the All African Convention. He represented Natal on the Native Representative Council from 1936 until his death, in 1946, when he was replaced by Chief Albert Lutuli on the Council.
Two years later he led a deputation of the SANNC, which included men such as Sol Plaatjie and Walter Rubusana, to protest the Native Land Act in London. Dube fiercely resisted the Bill and wrote: ‘Why must we, alone of all the peoples of the earth, condemn ourselves to serfdom in order to be permitted to live in our mother-country, while every nondescript from over the sea, be he black or white, is allowed to thrive on the fat of our land, and to erect a home wheresoever he will?’ (Davis 1975, 520).
Dube was an author of note and his works include: The Zulu’s appeal for light, and England’s duty (1909), Isitha somuntu nguye uQobo lwake, U-Jege insila KaShaka (1931) (translated by Boxwell as ‘Jege the body-servant of Shaka’), Ushembe (1936) and Ukaziphatha khale.
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