Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Mahabane, Zaccheus Richard

South Africa

South African clergyman and politician, he was twice president of the African National Congress (ANC).

Of Sotho origin, his father a Sotho from Basutoland, Mahabane was born in 1881 in the Barolong “reserve” at Thaba Nchu in the Orange Free State, South Africa. After elementary education at a local Methodist Mission School he went to Morija in Basutoland (now Lesotho) for post-primary education. At the age of twenty, he qualified as a teacher at the Morija Mission Institute where he was a contemporary of Don Davidson Tengo Jabavu, another prominent South African political leader and educationist.

After a stint as a teacher and later as an interpreter, Mahabane began training for the ministry at the Healdtown Methodist Institution in the Cape, and was ordained in 1914. His first appointment as minister was in 1916 in the Cape Town African township where some African politicians had been active. The political leader and a founder of the Wilberforce African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charlotte M. M. Maxeke and her husband were active here during Mahabane’s posting and Maxeke’s political dynamism left a deep impression on the young cleric. In 1916 Mahabane joined the Cape branch of the African National Congress and two years later became the branch president.

Though a man of great energy and determination, Mahabane was a gradualist in his earlier approach to politics, encouraged by a deep belief in Christian morality which the white supremacy regime rejected, forcing him, and indeed the entire African population, steadily towards radicalism. By 1920 Reverend Mahabane was telling the annual conference of the ANC that the South African whites has rejected the Christian doctrine of universal brotherhood and in its place adopted a new creed: “God Our Father, Whiteman our Brother and the Blackman an Outcast”. Four years later he succeeded Sefako Mapogo Makgatho as president of the ANC and directed the ANC campaign until 1927 when he lost the post to Josiah Tshangana Gumede.

In 1937 Reverend Mahabane was re-elected president of the ANC and held the position for three years. In the period following his defeat in the 1940 elections for the leadership of the ANC he devoted himself to clerical duties for the organization, working there as a chaplain. Between 1936 and 1954 he served as president of the All-African Convention and was part of their several deputations to the government. He sought to foster unity between South African non-whites and also devoted a great time to the activities of the Inter-denominational Ministers Association of which he was president for several years. He died at his Kroostad home in 1970.


Sources Consulted Include:

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Africa (Tunis : Ministère des Affaires Culturelles et de l’Information, 1971 ff).

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