Welcome to the personal page of Josiah Gumede
Responding to a question posed by the Africa Report editor Anthony J. Hughes on the ANC's traditional links with the South African Communist Party and the ANC's relations with the socialist countries, President O.R. Tambo replied: "The South African Communist Party supports and actively fights for the realisation of the demands contained in the (Freedom) Charter.
It accepts the leadership of the ANC and therefore cannot but be an ally of the ANC as would be any other organisation that adopts the same position. "Official contact between the ANC and the Soviet Union goes back as far as 1927, when a delegation of the ANC, led by its president, Josiah Gumede, visited the Soviet Union and came back convinced of the support that our struggle enjoys from the Soviet government and people. Practical experience has shown our people and the ANC that President Gumede was not wrong in his assessment of 55 years ago. We stood together with the Soviet Union and the allied forces in fighting nazism during the Second World War. True to those positions, the Soviet Union and other socialist countries stand with us to this day fighting the apartheid system, itself and its leaders pawns of nazi ideology and practice". (Africa Report, September - October, 1981) It is for this reason that we shall attempt to trace the life, activities and ideas of Josiah Tshangana Gumede. (For one reason or another Mary Benson and Edward Roux call him James T. Gumede).
It is 55 years since Gumede went to the Soviet Union. This was not only a brave deed those days, it was a pioneering act. His work was not in vain. Today there are millions fighting for his ideals. They have taken up the banner that slipped from his hands. There is another reason for assessing the life and times of Gumede namely to explain the whole policy of the ANC on unity in action - unity of African nationalists, Black nationalists, Hindus, Christians, Moslems, atheists and communists. A brief biography of Gumede will help to understand - to quote a phrase from Mandela's Rivonia speech - "why experienced African politicians so readily accept communists as their friends". Early Life Gumede's early life is little known. Born in Natal in the mid-19th century Gumede attended school in Grahamstown (Cape) and taught for some time at Somerset East in the Cape before going to Natal where he became advisor to Natal and Orange Free State chiefs.
It was in 1899 that Gumede and Saul Msane met Hariette Colenso to discuss the formation of an African political organisation and in 1900 together with Martin Lutuli and Saul Msane he became a cofounder of the Natal Native Congress and was for several years its general secretary. In 1906 Gumede was a member of a delegation to Britain over the land laws of the Orange Free State. He acted as the agent of the Sotho people who had bought land in the Orange Free State. For leaving Natal without a pass (for which he had applied but which had not been granted) he was arrested and fined 10 pounds or 3 months on his return.
This was regarded as a "piece of insubordination". With Z.M. Mazuku he co-signed the constitution of Iliso Lesizwe Esimnyama - The Eye of the Black Nation - an organisation of Wesleyan Methodist converts and chiefs formed in the Dundee and Newcastle area of Natal in 1907. Surely Gumede belongs to that generation of the founding fathers of the ANC. He was a member of the ANC delegation which went to petition the British Government in 1919. His name appears and reappears in the petitions of the time. African nationalism and socialism African nationalism - in the modem form and socialism emerged almost simultaneously.
They ran parallel to each other but were facing a common enemy and therefore there was a basis for cooperation. The socialist movement emphasis on internationalism in South Africa at this early period was of great significance not only for the anti war propaganda (antimilitarism) - something very topical today in South Africa - but for the orientation of the white labour movement towards the plight of the emergent, racially discriminated and nationally oppressed black workers. It should be remembered that one of the greatest fears of the regime of the time was a united action of militant white workers/socialists and Africans.
There were joint actions of the ANC and the socialists. The socialists organised African trade unions. When the Communist Party of South Africa was formed in 1921 a firm basis for the elaboration of the relations with the ANC was laid. But the problem was that within the Communist Party at this time events seemed to outstrip theory. The CP recruited Africans; black communists established ICU branches and therefore strengthened that organisation and they were elected to the National Executive of that body. There emerged the first generation of African communists such as Albert Nzula, Johannes Nkosi, Moses Kotane, J.B. Marks, Edwin Mofutsanyana, Gana Makabeni and many others. Such was the situation in the 1920's.
Things were not running as smoothly as we describe them today. There were problems. Many problems. All the same this background gives us a picture of what the situation was when history thrust Gumede into the forefront. He was not only a product of history but he influenced the course of events. Gumede travels Abroad In the late 20's important developments took place within the ANC. The ANC attended the inaugural Congress of the League against Imperialism which took place in Brussels from the 10th to the 15th of February 1927. At this congress at the Palais Egmont there were 174 anti-colonial fighters from all over the world.
For the first time in history, representatives of the progressive labour movement of the capitalist countries were united with delegates from the labour movements and national liberation movements of the peoples still under the yoke of colonialism and imperialism on all continents. The aim of the participants was to take up the struggle for the independence of those countries and against imperialism on a wide front. J.T. Gumede represented the ANC and the communist and ANC leader J.A. La Guma was there as well as D. Colraine of the South African Trade Union Congress.
This Brussels Congress was attended by communists, anti-colonial freedom fighters from Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, bourgeois humanists and social democrats. Despite the heterogeneous nature of its composition and the difference in ideological and political conviction the necessity and the will to unite was an overriding factor. by Gumede spoke twice in Brussels.
According to Otto Schnudel from Switzerland who was at this Brussels Congress and later became a friend of Gumede: "Its speeches made a deep impression on the assembly". (Basle, 19th December 1977). Gumede analysed the plight of our people, their living conditions and resistance and on an optimistic note, he stated: "I am happy to say that there are communists in South Africa. I myself am not one, but it is my experience that the Communist Party is the only Party that stands behind us and from which we can expect something. We know there are now two powers at work: imperialism and the workers' republic in Russia. We hear little about the latter, although we would like to know more about it. But we take an interest and will soon find out who we have to ally ourselves with".
Gumede was not making a "diplomatic" statement - he was sincere in what he was saying and this sincerity did not stem from some moral and value judgements but from what he himself experienced. Gumede repeated this theme - or message - in his Presidential report to the annual conference of the ANC in June 1927: "Of all political parties the Communist Party is the only one that honestly and sincerely fights for the oppressed people". It is interesting to remember that Gumede, this sincere nationalist and devout catholic had strongly opposed "Bolshevism" in 1917. Back to the Brussels Congress. It is important to note that in Brussels, Gumede, La Guma and Colraine drafted a joint resolution and signed it adding "South African delegates" before it was adopted by Congress. This unity of South African revolutionaries, though it took place outside the country, was significant.
The resolution demanded: the right to self-determination through complete overthrow of the capitalist and imperialist rule. Surely this was a step forward and Jack and Ray Simons are of the view that this resolution introduced an impetus and a new dimension in our view of the struggle; a concept which was later incorporated in the slogan of the "Black Republic". After the Congress Gumede and La Guma travelled to Germany where they addressed large crowds in rallies organised by the Communist Party of Germany. Otto Schnudel has some interesting things to say about Gumede in Berlin: "Following the Congress there was in Berlin an informal meeting of the delegates who had come to the German capital, among them our friend Gumede. Berlin was to be the seat of the League Against Imperialism formed in Brussels.
"I was present at that meeting, since for the next three years I was to work on the International Secretariat of the League Against Imperialism and for National Independence. Josiah Tshangana Gumede and I were standing side by side. He towered over most of those present with his tall, powerful figure. Most of the whites he had met until then had treated him with contempt, and that was why this Berlin meeting was so infinitely important. For the first time he stood as an equal among people of all races, all colours and various beliefs, united in brotherhood with the purpose of putting an end to the contemptible system of colonialism. Josiah Tshangana Gumede was so overwhelmed by this experience that his eyes were filled with tears.
"I am so happy!" he stammered. Then he drew himself up and added: "I am going to fight!". Gumede and La Guma proceeded to the Soviet Union. They returned to Moscow at the end of the year to attend the celebrations and commemoration of the October Revolution. They also participated at the Congress . of the Friends of the USSR. Gumede then made a trip through the Soviet Union. He chose to go to Georgia. A photograph of Gumede in Russian winter clothes with Georgian peasants shows how cheerful a man he was. Fifty years later his former interpreter, A.F. Plate, then a student now professor. of chemistry at the Moscow state University, told Sechaba:
"Gumede considered as one of the greatest achievements of our country that the Socialist Revolution managed to united people of different nationalities in their struggle for common ideals. He emphasised the significance of this experience for all nations struggling, for their independence and considered that success in this struggle would highly depend on the unity of action of all forces fighting against racism and colonialism". Back in South Africa Gumede never forgot this experience. Back in South Africa he told large crowds: "I have seen the world to come, where it has already begun. I have been to the new Jerusalem". Gumede called for a united front in the form of unity of action between communists and non-communists.
He crossed the borders of South Africa into Basutoland (now Lesotho) where he addressed meetings of Lekhotla la Bafo (Common Man's League) which. was led by Maputseng Lefela. He was preaching the new gospel. The masses responded to his message: he was elected President-General and E.J. Khaile (a known Communist) was elected Secretary-General of the ANC. Surely Gumede's trip to Brussels was a turning point in his life. He met anti-colonial revolutionaries from Asia (including Nehru), Latin America, Caribbean and Africa some of whom were "blacker than myself, speaking languages I could not understand". (He was surely referring to French).
In the Soviet Union Gumede learnt a lot and his former interpreter, Plate, remembers: "In Tbilisi Gumede was given a good reception and had various conversations with Georgian leaders and Georgian peasants. One of these meetings was held in the 'house of the Peasant' a - place Where peasants coming to town could have a place to shop. "Gumede asked the peasants about their lives in detail ... We visited a number of Georgian villages and returning to the hotel every time Gumede compared the way of life of the Georgian peasants with the mode of life and labour (conditions) in his motherland". I stand in astonishment The growing influence of the Soviet Union seems to have had an impact on many genuine black leaders of the time. Dr Du Bois himself confessed in 1926: "I stand in astonishment and wonder at the revelation of Russia that has come to me. I may be partially deceived and half informed.
But if what I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my ears in Russia is Bolshevism, I am a Bolshevik". And the 4th Congress of the Pan African movement in 1927 stated: "We thank the Soviet Government for its liberal attitude toward the coloured races and for the help which it has extended to them from time to time". These statements by leading black radicals demonstrate that Gumede's reactions were not an exception to the Me; the ANC was moving with the times and reflecting the dynamism characteristic of a revolutionary organisation.
The very existence of the Soviet Union; the fact that in the Soviet Union racism has been completely eradicated and that the Soviet leaders treat any manifestation of racial chauvinism with great severity and the fact that the Soviet people show great sympathy - and actually render assistance to - the oppressed colonial people: these are factors which impressed Gumede and many black radicals.
The Tsar was 'a great man' There were other forces at work within the ANC. The conservative wing could not - and did not - remain neutral to the remarks and development of Gumede. One chief warned: "The Tsar was a great man in his country, of royal blood like us chiefs and where is he now? ... If the ANC continues to fraternise with them (the communists) we chiefs cannot continue to belong to it". And another chief (not without regret and a sense of fear for a future social revolution) said: "It will be a sad day for me when I am ruled by the man who milks my cow and ploughs my field".
These forces succeeded in forcing Gumede to leave the position of presidency of the ANC in 1930. But Gumede remained president of the League of African Rights on whose committee sat Modiakgotla, Bunting, Baker, Thibedi, Kotane and Kotu - communists and non-communists. ANC - CP relations We have already stated that the resolution of the Brussels Congress introduced a new dimension in our concept of the struggle in South Africa. This was elaborated, enriched and developed in the discussions La Guma held with Bukharin and other Comintern leaders.
These leaders viewed our struggle from a somewhat different angle and perspective. Whereas up to then the Communist Party of South Africa regarded the struggle in our country as a working class struggle for socialism, the Comintern saw the importance of a national struggle uniting all oppressed people and classes against white domination and imperialism and for national liberation. The Comintern suggested the adoption of the slogan: An independent Native Republic as a stage towards a workers' and peasants' republic with full, equal rights for all races. For the CP which had up to then advocated working class unity as the only way to socialism and equality of black and white, this new call for the support of the liberation struggle led by the ANC which was then regarded as reformist was indeed a new departure.
The CP had reservations about the ANC; the communists were ready to unite with the ANC on specific campaigns and issues but the ANC was basically reformist -- they argued. The question of communists working to build and strengthen the ANC was never raised partly because the ANC was said to be serving the interests of the "African bourgeoisie" - and some of these people called "bourgeoisie" were very poor indeed! Speaking about this period and these attitudes, Lionel Forman remarks: "The Party believed it was necessary to rally the masses on national slogans but under its own banner. Experience had still to teach the vital lesson that it was not in spite of, but in alliance with Congress that the Party would lead the struggle against national oppression".
In other words, the Black Republic slogan was a theoretical and practical political framework which set in proper perspective the relationship between African nationalism and socialism by stating that the concept of class struggle In South Africa must of necessity incorporate the principle of national self-determination for the Africans and other nationally oppressed Blacks. Gumede contributed tremendously to this realisation. Gumede was instrumental in the leftward development of the ANC in the late 20's - though this was short-lived.
He played a leading role in the move by the ANC to affiliate to the League Against Imperialism and by this act the ANC identified itself with the world-wide anti imperialist forces. Conclusion We have dealt at length with this question of the historic roots and genesis of relationship between African nationalism and socialism in South Africa. It is necessary. There are reasons for this. We shall mention a few: 1. Our enemy - whatever form and colour it takes -- has always at different times deliberately distorted the relationship between the ANC and the CP. The ANC is portrayed either as a brainless organisation, without independent thought or initiative "controlled by communists who are white."
The aim of and reasoning behind this distortion is clear. They are trying to tell our people that whether you are in or outside the ANC it is the same: "white control" is everywhere. They are trying to demoralise our people, disarming them and instilling a sense of hopelessness and preventing them from joining the ranks of the freedom fighters; 2. The second reason why we deal with this topic at this length is that we want to make it abundantly clear that the ANC made its impact and contribution to the realisation of the urgent need for a solution of the national question. If perhaps the ANC was not articulate enough in bringing this point home, its very existence spoke louder than words.
This contribution of the ANC was made independently. But this does differences, as a Christian, with communism not mean that the ANC was immune or insulated from the liberatory ideas of other organisations. But there is a difference between influence and control. 3. Thirdly, and this is a fundamental, if not vital, issue - the question of relations between the ANC and CP was not only a theoretical question. This is a bread and butter issue. The two organisations emerged separately and independent of each other, fought separately and on different premises. At times they ran parallel to each other but were united by the struggle against the common enemy. As the struggle developed the two organisations came closer to each other and began to discover each other. As it happens in such cases the great teacher was our common experience and school was the practical political struggle.
At times the fees were high - our sacrifices were great but we are sure to graduate at this school as comrades, friends, equals and countrymen. President Lutuli expressed himself on the question of relationship between the ANC and the C.P. He expressed his differences as a Christian, with communism but went further to say: "Let me make it clear at once that I do not feel in the least defensive or apologetic about the position as it actually is it is often misrepresented. For myself I am not a communist ... In religion I am a Christian ... There are communists in the South African resistance and I cooperate with them ... The Congress stand is this: our primary concern is liberation, and we are not going to be side-tracked by ideological clashes and witch hunts.
Nobody in Congress may use the organisation to further any aims but those of Congress ... Even in the days when the Communist Party was in its infancy, Congress did not debar them... Resistance movements cannot afford the luxury of McCarthyism, nor can they allow themselves to be divided up into innumerable little homogeneous groups. We are not playing at politics, we are bent on liberation". President Lutuli was talking the language of President Gumede which is the language of President Tambo; the language of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Source: Sechaba, December 1982