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Biography

"We ask for no special favours from the Government. This is the land of our fathers. " S.M. Makgatho, ANC Presidential Address, 6th May 1919 The purpose of this article is to give a brief outline of the manner in which S.M. Makgatho carried out this mission under the changed conditions of his times. Some Highlights of the Makgatho Era S.M. Makgatho was born in 1861 at GaMphahlele, Pietersburg district, Northern Transvaal, and died in Pretoria, full of years and experience and wisdom in 1951, aged 90 years old.

A cursory glance at the years - 1861-1951 shows that Makgatho was born the year King Sekwati died and Sekhukhune succeeded to the Marota throne in 1861; that in 1882, when Sekhukhune died, Makgatho was 21 years old and at school in Ealing, Middlesex, England, reading Education and Theology. As a keen student of South African affairs he followed Sekhukhune's odyssey closely, especially since they were blood relations and since these events were reported adequately in the British press at the time. He also witnessed at close range the politics surrounding the signing by Britain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the United States of America, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Norway and Turkey of the General Act of the Conference of Berlin respecting the freedom of trade in the Basin of the Congo, navigation of the Congo, navigation of the Niger and rules for future occupation of the coast of the African continent, 26th February 1885.

From the very beginning Makgatho opposed this rape of Africa. He understood the immediate threat that it constituted not only to the vast natural resources of Africa but also to the freedom, independence and self-determination of her peoples. And so it was that in after years when he and his compatriots founded the African National Congress (1912) they adopted a political slogan that was applicable not only to South Africa but also to the whole continent of Africa - "Mayibuye i Afrika" (Come back, Africa) they cried. They also adopted a national anthem that expressed the hopes not only of the people of South Africa but also those of the people of Africa as a whole - "Morena boloka sechaba sa hesu; Nkosi Sikalel' i Afrika" (God save my nation; god bless Africa). The same Africa-wide spirit informed their choice of colours of the flag of the African National Congress - black, gold, green.

It took decades of struggle and sacrifices by liberation movements across the continent to free Africa from the chains of political bondage forged for her at the Berlin Conference, 1884-1885. Makgatho played his part in that supreme effort. Again, as a student in England, Makgatho was inspired by Keir Hardie of the Miners' Union and others who were to establish the British Labour Party in 1906. Indeed, in 1906, back home in South Africa, he and a group of young African teachers joined hands to form the Transvaal African Teachers' Association (TATA) as a trades union for African teachers and an instrument for the transformation of 'Native education' into a non-racial system of universal education for all of South Africa's children. Creation of the Racist State In 1909 Makgatho witnessed the Imperial (British) Parliament enact the South Africa Act, which brought the Union of South Africa into being.

 

He was revolted by Clause 35 (1) of the Act, which provided that henceforth no Black man could become a member of Parliament, no Black man could vote for others to represent him in the all-White South African Parliament, and that the handful of Black voters who had acquired franchise rights in the 19th century in the Cape Province and Natal Province would remain on the common voters' roll until disfranchised by a two-thirds majority obtained at a joint session of the two houses of Parliament sitting together. That result was achieved by General Hertzog, leader of the first Afrikaner Nationalist government in South Africa, in 1936. He also lived to see the 1936 legislation repealed in 1951 and replaced by the Bantu Authorities Act, 1951, which laid the legislative foundations for today's Bantustans. Needless to say, he opposed these developments with might and main.

But of course the South Africa Act did more than that: the inclusion of Clause 35 in the Act, by a Liberal Government headed by Liberal Prime Minister Asquith, created the first explicitly race state of our times. After that no~ serious-minded Black man could be a Liberal. For Blacks, Liberalism was dead as a dodo. Henceforth Black men looked elsewhere for salvation. This was so especially because after 1910 successive South African governments put one race law after another on the statute book. A few examples to illustrate this contention must suffice:

  • The Mines and Wages Act, 1911, created a mining and wages regime based on race and skin colour, on the shape of a man's nose, the look of his hair, the thickness of his lips and colour of his eyes.
  • So did the Defence Act, 1911, which, despite many amendments made to it over the years, remains essentially racist in conception enactment, administration, enforcement.
  • The Land Act, 1913, as amended by Hertzog in 1936, divided our country into two parts according to race - at present 9.9 % of the land is possessed and occupied (not owned) under effete land tenure systems by nearly 23 million Africans, whilst 90.1 % of the best agricultural and mining land is owned, possessed, controlled, administered, used, enjoyed, by four million White people drawn from the four corners of the earth.
  • In 1920 the race principles of the South Africa Act were applied further in the Native Affairs Commission Act, which created periodic "Native Conferences" where Blacks could let off steam instead of taking their rightful places in parliament. This process was carried a step forward in 1936, when the few remnants of Cape and Natal African voters were stripped of their franchise rights and offered instead three token White members of Parliament and a toy consultative body styled the "Natives' Representative Council (NRC).

 The Government took no notice of recommendations made by this body against race laws. The NRC was finally abolished by the Bantu Authorities Act, 1951, which, as stated earlier, laid the legislative basis for Bantustans. The establishment in 1984 of the tricameral parliament marks the culmination point in this process of the emasculation of Africans of all political rights by an all-White parliament.

 

  • The Industrial Conciliation Act, 1942, defined 'worker' to exclude Black workers; consequently Black workers were denied traditional trade union rights and privileges that their White counterparts enjoyed.
  • In 1930 White women were enfranchised on an equal basis with White men, thanks to a political process that had started in Enland under the inspiration, of Mrs. Pankhurst and other suffragettes. Even such a measure had the effect of excluding Black women, half the Black population of South Africa, from the franchise.
  • In 1935 a high-powered Inter-Departmental Committee on African Education shamelessly defined the aims and objectives of European education as being to prepare a White child for a place of superiority and baasskap in the State and those of African education as being to prepare a Black child for a place of inferiority in society, doomed to be a hewer of wood and a drawer of water for 'Whiteman boss' - shades of Bantu Education of the 'fifties and beyond.

Time and space do not permit us to go into details of other race laws, covering all aspects of South African life, enacted by successive South African governments from 1910, when the South Africa Act was enacted, to 1951, when S.M. Makgatho died.

Suffice it to say all these laws, so-called, lacking the consent of the vast majority of the population, the African majority, and therefore illegitimate, derived their cue from the Act of Union of 1909 itself. Africans had no choice but to fight back. For Makgatho only one instrument was ready to hand - the African National Congress. The ANC Aimed to Unite Africans The African National Congress had established, with Makgatho's active participation, on the 8th January 1912, in response to the race clauses of the South Africa Act, 1909, and race laws enacted under that Act. The ANC aimed to unite Africans notjust in S Africa but also in Lesotho, Botswana Swaziland in particular; to fight the fore imperialism generated by the General A Berlin, 26th February 1885; to spearhead common struggle for freedom and determination; to destroy racism and to cr on its ruins a nonracial South Africa traditional democratic rights would available to all, irrespective of race, colour, religion, sex, possessions, formal education and so on.

 As stated earlier, S.M. Makgatho had helped establish the Transvaal African Teachers' Association in 1906 and its journal, the Good Shepherd, in 1923, to fight for equal education opportunities for Africans in South Africa. From 1906 to 1908 he served as President of African Political Union. He was President of the Transvaal Native Organisation from 1908-1912. Both organisations merged with the ANC in January 1912. From 1887-1930 he was an influential Methodist lay preacher. He participated in delegations and petitions to London (after World War 1, 1914-1918) on behalf of our people. When the ANC was established in 1912 he was elected President of its Transvaal section, the Transvaal Native Congress, from 1912-1930. He was President-General of the ANC itself from 1917-1924. From 1930-1933 he was a Senior National Treasurer of the ANC. It may be said, in a nutshell, that during these momentous years Makgatho led our people as an educationist, theologian, editor of the Good Shepherd, and, with Advocate Alfred Mangena, of the Native Advocate. He led anti-pass campaigns, calling the pass "infernal" and "a badge of slavery "

He vigorously opposed the extension of the 'dompas' to African women. He successfully took the government to court over the Transvaal Poll Tax of #2 (a lot of money in those days). He led Africans in Pretoria in a successful campaign for the right, then denied them, to walk on street pavements in the city instead of competing with vehicles and horses for space in the middle of the road. Under his leadership Africans-won the right to use first class and second class facilities on South African trains instead of being confined to goods trains. Lessons from Makgatho's Experiences One could go on to write about Makgatho and the wars in Sekhukhuneland and Zululand in 1879; about him and the Bambata Rebellion of 1906; about his attitude to the Boer War, 1882-1884, the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, and the two world wars, 1914-18 and 1939-45; about his attitude to the League of Nations and the United Nations; his reaction to the two socialist revolutions of our times, the October Revolution that erupted in Russia in 1917 and the Chinese revolution of 1949; his anger at Fascist Italy's rape of Abyssinia in 1935; his reaction to the electoral victory of apartheid's Afrikaners in May 1948; his relations with Liberals, Socialists, trade unions, and with chiefs and villagers and so on. But space and time forbid.

We cannot, therefore, elaborate on his leadership on all these issues. Suffice it to say that there are lessons to be learned from his experiences in all these fields of political thought and action. None of these achievements came anywhere near winning political, financial, economic, military, social, cultural power for the dispossessed and exploited African majority. None of this amounted to a root-and-branch transformation of South African society. But to apply such tests to Makgatho and his generation is to benefit from hindsight - and that is poor historiography. Let the last word be Makgatho's. It is taken from his Presidential Address to the Eighth Annual Conference of the ANC held on the 6th May 1919. He said this, inter alia: "Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, many changes have taken place since we last met at Bethlehem. The Native Lands Act still operates as mercilessly in different parts of the Union, and as a result many Native families are still working for White farmers only for their food. It will be remembered, after the representations of this Congress and the pleadings of our missionary and other friends, the government has consented to postpone for a year enacting the Native Affairs Administration Bill, which was nothing but the confirmation and perpetuation of the harsh provisions of the Native Lands Act and all its sorrows. Another Bill has likewise been postponed: that is, the Native Urban Areas Bill ...

It says: no White man, under pain of #100 fine or six months' imprisonment, shall rent or sell a house to a Native in any town or village in the Union, unless that Native be a registered voter. This means that only a few Natives will retain the right to acquire town property in the Cape Province; and none at all in the other three provinces. How such a provision can be acceptable to us, only the government knows. It adds that men and women should not get work unless they carry passes, and pay a shilling a month for them. Passes Can Never Be Acceptable "And it is a proposition our people can NEVER accept. When the Bill came out, 1 was assured in the Transvaal that our people there would forestall it by organising a movement against the present male pass laws before their extension to our women. The passive resistance against male passes is now history in the Transvaal. There have been serious strikes and labour troubles among Europeans in South Africa. In every instance, where well paid White men, getting as much as # 1 a day or more, struck for higher pay, they got it; but our first strike for sixpence a day over two shillings and two-and-sixpence was met on the part of the government by violence, arrests, heavy fines and imprisonment. The White man, on the other hand, can strike at any time because he has no pass, but a Native worker going on strike commits a breach of contract - his service pass. "Thereupon, at Bloemfontein, last July, the Johannesburg branch of the Transvaal Native Congress brought to the Executive Committee a resolution demanding the abolition of the pass law, so that Natives must work unshackled by contract passes. The resolution was duly sent to the government and the matter was discussed at various interviews between the Transvaal Congress leaders and the government officers, and also with the Prime Minister and other ministers at different times; the reply in each instance being that the matter will be attended to. Eventually, in March of this year, the Johannesburg Branch, followed by the Benoni and other Witwatersrand branches, decided to throw away their passes and secure the government's attention to our grievances by courting arrest.

Thousands of men and women have been arrested and sentenced to fines and various terms of imprisonment with hard labour, and, refusing to pay fines, they nearly all elected to go to gaol. They were driven like cattle, trampled by mounted policemen under their horses' hoofs, shot at by White volunteers, and some men and women are in their graves as a result of their refusal to buy any more passes. Compulsory Protection "The principle involved has wide ramifications from both points of view. The authorities insist that they cannot abolish the passes, which are a 'great help to the Natives' ...

"What is so difficult for us Natives to understand is that a form of help should be forced upon us against our wish, that we should be fined, imprisoned and ridden to death by mounted policemen, with our women also under the horses' hoofs, and shot at, simply because we say we are not in need of the help that is offered. What kind of protection is so compulsory? While our people were shot at and clubbed by civilian Whites, and our womenfolk ridden down by the mounted police of Johannesburg, there was, at the same time, a strike of well-paid White men in the same city, agitating for more pay and less work.

"Not content with doing that, they forcibly seized the local government property, and practically ejected the constituted authority. Nobody shot at them. Their wives were not rid-, den down or beaten with sticks. The real reason for this insistent enforcement of the pass law is kept in the background. No mention is made of the amount of revenue raised from our people by means of this badge of slavery. The government retains a share of the spoils. The Transvaal Provincial Council alone gets #340 000 annually, from the scant earnings of our poorly-paid people, to build and maintain schools for White children, while our educational needs remain unattended. Thousands of Natives are suffering imprisonment at the present time, and, in spite of the law, many thousands since last month are courting arrest by working without any passes. And it is for you to call on the government to abolish the Transvaal and Free State passes ...

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am told that there is a difference of opinion as to the wisdom of sending a deputation to England. 1 cannot understand how anyone could call it a crime to send a delegation to the headquarters of the Empire. What sort of a king have we that we should never go to see him? Have we got the Republic already that we should not go to the seat of the Empire? At the December Special Congress he (that is, Sol Plaatje, Vice-President) was elected with myself and seven others to carry our grievances to the British public. Two of the delegates have already left, and as funds are forthcoming others will follow shortly ... "Today we are informed that we are represented at the Peace Conference by Generals Smuts and Botha. Did any of the two generals ever inform any Native that they were going to represent him? I read that General Botha, on leaving Cape Town in a Japanese ship, told some Europeans that he was going to represent the two great races. So, where do we come in? And what do our two generals know about the abomination of the pass laws or the atrocities or the Native Lands Act, enacted by them? What do they know about our starving widows and dependants whose breadwinners fell during the Great War in German West and East Africa, on the ocean, in France and other battlefronts? "Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, if we send no representatives to the seat of the Empire now, our families will only have ourselves to thank; so let us do our best at this moment, so that when the hard time comes and the threatened class laws are enacted, posterity may not charge us with inattention.

"Our people in the Free State have also had their chapter of misfortunes. Like us in the Transvaal, their troubles are twofold - the need for a living wage and the infernal 'pass.' All this on top of the mischief of the Natives Land Act, which, in the Free State, allows the buying of land from Natives by Europeans, while it strictly prohibits any purchase or lease of land by a Native. Even sales between Native and Native are strictly forbidden. Shooting Outrages "Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, when we met at Bethlehem last year the Free State Natives were very restless because of the easy manner in which Natives were shot by farmers, without any protection from the courts, as the juries could always be relied upon to discharge every White man who shot one Native or a Native couple. 1 "When the Bethlehem Congress rose, four fresh shooting outrages were again reported in rapid succession. At a time like this, when we are face to face with some of the worst upheavals that ever overtook our people, it is imperative that we should stand together.

 We ask for no special favours from the government. This is the land of our fathers, and, in it, we wish to be treated at least as well as foreigners and with the same consideration extended to foreigners, including foreigners of enemy origin. 1t is my pleasant duty to express the thanks of our people to the small band of Englishmen in and out of parliament, together with our friends and sympathisers of the Missionary Associations, who have stood by us throughout the dark days under the pitiless yoke of the Native Land Act, and also during the present 1 no-pass' agitation. It is for us to see that their confidence in us is not misplaced.(2)

 * * * * * These are not the words of a dead man addressing dead issues. They are words addressing live issues concerning the day-to-day life of the Black man in South Africa today. And so we pay homage to Sefako Mapogo Makgatho (1861 till 1951), national figure from 1906 till 1951, founder member of the ANC, and its national President from 1917 till 1924 and President of the Transvaal ANC from 1912 till 1930, Senior National Treasurer from 1930 till 1933. We pledge ourselves to continue his lifelong struggle for a South Africa that is legitimate, non-racial, non.-exploitative, free, independent, democratic, and playing its proper role amongst the nations of the world. References (1) This Clause was based on Article 9 of the Grondwet van die Suid Afrikaanse Republiek, 1858, which denied equality between Black and White people. It in turn was followed by the Draft Constitution issued by the fascist Broederbond in 1942 and by the Republican Constitutions of 1961 and 1983. (2) Karis and Carter, From Protest to Challenge, 1882-1964, Vol. I, pp. 107-110 (Hoover, 1972). Sechaba June 1985