JOSIAH TSHANGANA GUMEDE

BORN: 1870
DIED: 1947
PRESIDENCY: 1927 – 1930

Josiah Tshangana Gumede was born on 9 October 1867 in Healdtown Village, Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. His father, John Gumede, and his mother were Christians and, according to their grandson Archie Gumede, were only the third Ngwane couple to be married into the Christian (Wesleyan) faith. On completion of his schooling, Gumede went on to attend what was called the ‘Kaffir Institute’ in Grahamstown, in either 1882 or 1883.

The institution attracted intellectually-inclined Black youth, many of whom later became prominent ANC members, among them Thomas Mapikela and Samuel Masabalala. Gumede began teaching at Somerset East in the Eastern Cape, where African interest in formal education was growing. He soon took up a new teaching post in Natal while his parents remained at Queenstown, and his interests turned to politics in Zululand.

Gumede with other Usuthu leaders protested the Boers’ demarcation of their so-called ‘New Republic’ when. They appealed to the British for support but this fell on deaf ears. Dinizulu tried desperately not to lose his head kraal of Ondini (today Ulundi) to the Boers and appointed Gumede to take charge of the tough negotiations with the Boers.

Eventually the British intervened and annexed the territory when they realised that the Boers would have access to St Lucia and a harbour. This resulted in Gumede’s services as Dinizulu’s induna coming to a close. However, Dinizulu and Gumede’s friendship would last until the former’s death in 1913.

Towards the end of the 1880s Gumede accepted a temporary teaching post at the Amanzimtoti Institute (Adams College). At the time of Gumede’s appointment, the college had built up a good reputation with three teachers of high calibre: John Dube, Albert Luthuli and Mavuma Nembula.

On 30 June 1894, Gumede married Margareth Rachel Sithole, a teacher by profession and a devoted Wesleyan who also came from the Bergville district.In 1900 Gumede joined the British military to fight in the war against the Boers. Gumede was one of the first Blacks to be recruited and trained by the Natal Intelligence Department even before the war started in October 1899.

Gumede, Martin Luthuli and other Black leaders in Natal then realised that there was an urgent need for a more effective organisation. With the assistance of Harriette Colenso, the Natal Native Congress (NNC) was officially inaugurated on 8 June 1900. With John Dube and others, Gumede was a founder member of the NNC, and for some time he served as its secretary and vice-president.

In 1912 Gumede became a founder member of the SANNC (renamed the ANC in 1923) and contributed to the drafting of its 1919 constitution. He was also a member of the 1919 SANNC deputation to the Versailles Peace Conference – which was held after World War I (1914-1918) – and the British government. The deputation, however, failed to ensure a better dispensation for South African blacks.

In 1927 Gumede was elected as president-general of the ANC during its annual congress in July, succeeding Zaccheus Richard Mahabane.

At the annual ANC conference in April 1930, Gumede lost his position as president general and was succeeded by Pixley ka Seme. Gumede lost his Presidency largely because his alliance with communists had generated so much opposition within the Congress.

The highlight of Gumede’s career came in December 1943 when he was honoured as Life President of the ANC at the annual meeting of the ANC in Bloemfontein. At this very same meeting, the historic resolution was passed for the formation of the ANC Youth League.