The Dr John Langalibalele Dube Institute;
The Leadership of the University of KwaZulu Natal;
The Leadership of the African National Congress;
We thank the Dr John Langalibalele Dube Institute as well as the University of KwaZulu Natal for memorializing the contributions and leadership qualities of our leader and icon the first President General of our movement.
As a pivotal force in the transformation of African intellectualism and modernity, how do we interpret Dr John Langalibalele Dube in the eyes of the world and people of 2021?
With COVID-19 affecting every facet of human life, the world finds itself at a crossroads in our human development.
Living in a brave new world, we face an existential crisis as we look for answers for what it now means to be a human being. Face masks, physical distancing, social isolation, the search for antidotes, and a brawl for vaccinations, means that the way we view humanity is rapidly changing, however, our need to connect as humans has not. Embracing a neighbour, open-armed, and offering an unmasked smile to a stranger are now considered dangerous, hidden behind PPE and veiled in the threat of spreading pathogens – the fear of death. The pandemic has literally wiped the smile off our faces.
But if we were to see Dr Dube now, and to see his cheeks fill with a gentle smile as he glances back at us from his place in the beyond, what would we read from his facial expression, and what would he find when he looks into the eyes of humanity, the mirrors to our soul?
Would he see desperate faces whose eyes vanish into our heads as we navel-gaze our way through troubled years of poverty, corruption, divisions along historical lines of race and class, and suffering that continues to haunt us in the present?
Would he ask us to take a moment and consider what the threat is to our recovery? Would he question our silence and ask us to be still in thought and reconsider what the threat is to our future? What guidance would we receive as we mourn the deaths of so many comrades, compatriots, and citizens, in the wake of this pandemic.
The moments of silence we take for those we have lost – the moments of solitude we now face in the absence of those who have passed – the multitude of suffering that is left behind. These minutes of stillness that we receive on our own in reflection and remembrance of the departed, become a monument of memory.
And, with the memories of violence, the memories of destruction, and the memories of loss that live inside the body, that push us toward the pain that lives inside of us, we start to feel disconnected from the body.
How do we unlearn, undo, and unblock these memories to allow the lungs of the mind to breathe again? We are all gasping for air.
Let us not just take these moments to tribute our heroes, but let us share them and give them to others in abundance. Let us use these important virtual gatherings to gain the strength and purpose of community, then build new monuments for those we revere and miss so much. Monuments of hope, monuments of goodwill, monuments of compassion, and monuments of knowledge. A kind of exponential knowledge that expands, that propels, and that takes everyone forward together.
This is the kind of knowledge that Dr John Langalibalele Dube searched his entire life for, the kind of consciousness that blazed the progressive trail in our country, and the kind of philosophy that was based on principles of the power of intellect that the people of South Africa need in the 21st century. This is the wisdom that holds the answers to solving the crises of disease, of poverty, of social cohesion, and of climate change.
It is in this, that we should educate ourselves, and it is with the spirit and fervour of Dr Dube that we can fully realise the power of education, the power of the mind, and the power of memory.
When answering Dr Dube’s eternal questions from beyond the grave, perhaps we can consider ignorance and lack of education as the threat to everything important to us. We owe it to Dr Dube’s cause of freedom, some effort on our part to learn, to teach, to share, to reflect and to prepare for the long road ahead.
Today’s global crises of disease, poverty and climate change, vigorously increases the already disproportionate level of suffering for the poor who are affected the most by the pandemic. And, if we are to be concerned for humanity then we should arm ourselves with intellectual ammunition in a search for knowledge and science that serves the most vulnerable.
Teacher, author, preacher, historian, and the first President General of the South African Native National Congress, later to become the ANC, Dr Dube’s devotion to education and knowledge was a driving force in the evolution of African liberation. His understanding of life-long learning, critical thinking, and introspection, opened up gateways for innovative approaches, creativity, problem solving, and a mindset change during a time of persistent and aggressive indoctrination.
Today we rely on that discipline of learning, those sparks of genius, that courage, that ability to invent and to educate more than ever as we face a multitude of crises and many more looming ahead. We seek Dr Dube’s great ability to strategize and use the gifts of the mind as his weapon of choice. We delve into history to track down his footsteps and trace the conviction of his heart that led us, 150 years on, to a democratic nation, albeit still in search for Dr Dube and the keys to his successes.
Born of royal AmaQadi lineage and into a family of religious ministry, Dr John Langalibalele Dube entered this world at a time when the western world’s lust for subterranean rocks and minerals prompted their greed and their claim to the so-called ‘discovery’ of diamonds in Kimberley in 1866, and gold in Johannesburg in 1872. With this avarice came the escalation of brutal dehumanisation of black labour. The scene was already set and well established as an environment for crime against humanity.
Understanding this great leader’s trajectory is to appreciate this context. Such is the context of systematic oppression and domination by white people over any other racial group.
Like his comrades, colleagues, and compatriots, and like all of us, Dr Dube is at once a product and creator of history. A child of his environment that shaped his impulse, responses and reactions.
As we celebrate the ANC’s 109th year as a movement that propels the people of South Africa and Africa forward, and as we pay tribute to President Dube’s 150 years since his birth, we take the time to pause and meditate on the events that have led us thus far.
To review the literature, to listen to the lessons, and to lament over the long haul of struggle of the ANC’s first leaders, is a sharp wake-up call and a harsh criticism to us as citizens, activists, scholars, and leaders of today. The intellectual capacity, the literary calibre, and the strength of foresight of our early luminaries, John Langalibalele Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Mpilo Walter Benson Rubusana, Sefako Mapogo Makgatho, Thomas Mtobi Mapikela, and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, laid the foundations for the successes that the movement would later achieve and that the people of South Africa would benefit from. These original thinkers and powerbrokers, influenced all that was to come for the ANC. In these leaders’ reflections and in their writings, lay not only lessons, but warnings for us in the future.
Dr Dube’s prescience made him one of the first South African intellectual pioneers to foresee the need to organise as a people, to anticipate the collapse of independence of black people, the persistent combat for land, the clash of colonial forms of knowledge and education, and the contest of the youth for industrial skills.
We see such warnings in:
– Dr Dube’s conflicted approach to the cultural indoctrination of western missionary education versus the traditional indigenous knowledge systems of his own people. These sentiments were reflected in his books titled, “A Familiar Talk Upon My Native Land and Some Things Found There”, and again in “U-Jeqe, Insila ka Tshaka” where we discover Dube’s internal tensions between the traditional and the Christian.
We see such warnings:
– with the founding of the Zulu Christian Industrial Institute, later to become the Ohlange Institute. Dr Dube aimed at advancing the rights of black youth by equipping them with the knowledge and skills of industry to develop self-reliant students with vocational skills such as journalism, mechanics, carpentry, and agriculture. It is any wonder what the youth of today would achieve had they received adequate attention and consideration in their educational preparation for a world of industrialisation and the 4IR.
Red flags and caveats fly like pointed missiles in Dr Dube’s Ilanga Lase Natal, the first isiZulu newspaper, as well as the discussions between his colleagues and the commitments of the formation of the Natal Native Congress that piercingly articulated the battle for rights of black people. These publications and think-tanks brought to attention the issues of: government representation; quality education; free and fair trade; exploitation of the labour force; land ownership and the dispossession of land.
Poverty and unemployment were one of the main causes of forced labour, well concealed by the oppressors in the days of Dr Dube, yet still ingrained and starker than ever before in our nation today.
Dr Dube’s campaign against the Natives Land Act, oppressive taxes and laws is a campaign that goes on until today as our people face illusive property rights, lack of access to land, unsupported local economies, and no title deeds.
Now, 150 years later, we find ourselves still grappling with our tumultuous historic journey. Dr Dube’s activism, his writing, his religious conviction, his dedication to education, and his presidency of the ANC, asks us to view our current challenges through the lens of colonial disentanglement, and to consider the ethical dilemmas and politics of the legacy of apartheid within the movement towards sustainable, equitable and inclusive growth. Navigating these African issues, forces us to shine a spotlight on the political and economic aspirations of African communities alongside the ongoing impact of Western influences and the legacy of oppression and colonisation.
As we contemplate over Dr Dube’s call for education and the emancipation of the mind, may we take the opportunity to direct our gaze to ourselves and ask of ourselves some difficult questions.
What accounts for our sudden loss of memory of the lessons from our forefathers? Who accounts for our sudden loss of compassion in the face of global pandemics? Where do we go to find our lost morals? How do we engrain in to our minds and hearts the duty to serve humanity for humanity’s sake and not for riches? How do we ensure the best possible future for all?
May we be motivated by the motto by which Dr John Langalibalele Dube lived his life by, “Learning and Labour”, for the test of theory is in practice. Let us find the answers in his obsession for education, and let us continue to be inspired by Dr Dube: to organise once again under knowledge, to unite all Africans across borders for a common goal of freedom and justice, and to keep journeying onward for another 150 years in search of Dr Dube’s smile.
I thank you.