John Langalibalele Dube (February 22, 1871-February 11, 1949), was the first president-general of what was to become the African National Congress (ANC). He was active not only in politics, but also in religion, education, and journalism, and wrote the first Zulu novel to be published. His parents were the Rev. James and Elizabeth Dube, and he was born near the Inanda Mission Station in Natal, run by the American Board of Missions. His middle name, “Langalibalele” means “The bright sun.” He belonged to the Qadi clan, who were related to the Zulu royal house. He received his early schooling first at Inanda, and then at Amanzimtoti in Natal, which was later renamed Adams College. In 1889, at the age of 18, he was sent to the United States and studied at Oberlin College, Ohio. Later, he studied for three more years at the Union Missionary Training Institute in Brooklyn, and was ordained in New York when he was 30 years old. It was during this period that he married Nokuthela Mdima, with whom he was to retum to South Africa.
At about this time formative influences on Dube were the works and thoughts of James Booth, (an English Baptist missionary in Natal who later went to Nyasaland, now known as Malawi), and those of John Chilembwe, who established a church independent of Europeans in Nyasaland. Africans had started to question the legitimacy of the influence of the white man’s denominations in the mission field. The perception that European colonial control over Christian missions was being tightened had led some of Dube’s compatriots to form a separate Zulu congregational church in the 1890s.
The movement towards the Africanization of Christianity came to be known as Ethiopianism and Zionism (terms which stemmed from certain Biblical passages referring to Ethiopia and Zion respectively). Dube’s American experience enabled him to be creative, in these circumstances, by emphasizing further education and the acquisition of new skills. He saw such developments as urgent since the government authorities in Natal only provided Africans with primary or elementary education. Self-help, he believed, was the only answer. He stayed in the ministry until 1906.
Dube also drew much inspiration from the work of two black American educators whom he had met, Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute and Dr. John Hope of Atlanta University. In 1901 he himself founded the first all-African educational institution in South Africa, the Ohlange Institute, a Zulu-Christian industrial school at his birthplace, Inanada. He was its superintendent and later its principal. It was governed by a board of trustees in South Africa and had an advisory board in New York. In the early years it was largely financed by his lecture tours in America, in which he was helped in his fund-raising efforts by his wife. Dube publicized his views about Christianity and education among black South Africans in articles that he wrote in English for the Missionary Review of the World.
His second great venture was the launching in 1903 of the first African newspaper in Natal Ilanga lase Natal (“The Sun of Natal”), which he founded together with a leading Zulu journalist, Ngazana Luthuli. In this new enterprise, Dube transcended his initial sense of Zulu messianism and chauvinism. In his earlier articles he had used phrases such as “The Zulu were the dominant race south of the great Zambezi;” “Today they are intellectually superior to many of the tribes of South Africa … being specially gifted they have been providentially watched over. . .”. In one sense Dube was emulating the example set by John Tengo Jabavu who had established the long lived Imvo Zabantsundu (“The Black People’s Opinions”) among the Xhosa in 1884. Published in Zulu as well as English, Ilanga lase Natal provided a useful training ground for many black journalists, including some of those who in later decades were to contribute to Drum magazine in Johannesburg.
It was perhaps inevitable that Dube, a prominent and well-educated figure, would be catapulted into the political arena. Dube’s paper was closed down by the government for a while in 1906 when its columns “vigorously” supported Bambatha in his protest and rebellion against the whittling down of Zulu rights and the imposition of the poll tax upon them. Even after the ban was lifted, in 1908 and 1909, the political stance of the paper again put Dube under severe pressure. Subsequently the reaction of politically aware black South Africans to the erosion of their rights, in the wake of the 1910 act of Union which created a white South Africa, generated the formation of what was later to be known as the African National Congress (ANC). (Until 1923 the organization was named the South African Native National Congress). Dube was elected the first president-general in 1912, and remained in office until 1917. In 1914, he led the organization’s delegation to London to protest the Land Act of 1913, which dispossessed Africans of over 90 percent of South Africa’s land. But from 1919-29, the ANC was all but eclipsed by the activities of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU), led by the fiery immigrant from Nyasaland (now Malawi), Clements Kadalie.
In 1926, Dube was a delegate to the International Conference of Christian Missions in Belgium. Race relations and related matters were on the agenda.
In 1930 he wrote the first Zulu novel to be published, Ujeqe insila ka Tshaka (originally published by the Mariannhill Press in Natal, it was published in an English translation as Jeque, The Body servant to King Shaka by the Lovedale Press in 1951.) In 1936, the University of South Africa awarded Dube a doctoral degree. When the Native Representative Council (NRC) was established by the South African government, Dube became Natal Province’s representative in 1937. This body served as a sort of compensation to blacks for their loss of the last vestiges of franchise rights and their absolute removal from the common voters roll in 1936. Re-elected in 1942, Dube remained a member until he died in 1949. His seat in the council was then offered to Chief Albert J. Lutuli who became president of the African National Congress in 1952.
Wandile F. Kuse
As a scholar and literary figure, Dube is responsible for many publications. Among them was an early collection of Zulu folk songs and dance songs. He also published several books, including: Isita esikhulu somuntu omnyama nguye uqobo lwake (“The Greatest Enemy of the Black Man is Himself’), Marianhill, 1922; Clash of Colour, 1926, written in English with Archdeacon Lee; Ujeqe, Insila ka Tshaka, Mariannhill, 1933. [English translation: Jeqe, The Bodyservant of King Shaka, Lovedale, 1951]; U-Shembe, Pietermaritzburg, 1935, a biography of Isaiah Shembe, the Zulu prophet; UkuziphathaKahle (“Good Manners”), Marianhill, 1935. Dube also published the following articles in Missionary Review of the World: “A Native View of Christianity in South Africa”: vol. XIV (1901), pp. 421-26; “Practical Christianity Among the Zulus”: vol. XX (1907), pp. 370-73; and “Zulu and the Missionary Outlook in Natal”: vol. XX (1970), p. 205. See also Mary Benson, The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress of South Africa, London, 1963; Donald E. Herdeck, African Authors: A Companion to Black African Writing 1300-1973, Washington, D.C., 1973.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-Swaziland. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.