Launch of the Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme Foundation



Durban International Convention Centre: 21 October 2017


I am honoured to speak tonight about my own experience of Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, my uncle and my mentor.

Much has been said and written about this great man who founded the South African National Native Congress in 1912. Not everything is accurate, but every mention of his name carries with it the admiration of several generations, for there are few leaders who influenced the world’s perception of Africa as much as Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme.

In June 1953, the editor of The Bantu World newspaper, Mr SV Selope-Thema, wrote an article in The Drum, in which he said –
“Pixley ka I. Seme has made a notable contribution to the development of our consciousness and national spirit, both creative and driving forces in our forward march. He has thus left his mark on our unwritten history, and when this history comes to be written by African historians his name will certainly find a place of honour among the great men of our race.”

These words are somehow reminiscent of the words of Dr Seme himself, who said –
“Oh, for that historian who, with the open pen of truth, will bring to Africa`s claim the strength of written proof.”

This call for Africa’s genius to be embraced and memorialised was sounded by Dr Seme in 1906, when he graduated from New York’s Columbia University. His speech, titled “The Regeneration of Africa”, won him the George William Curtis Medal for oration. Already then, 111 years ago, Dr Seme had a vision of Africa as a continent fully liberated.

In his own words –
“The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business, and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of peace – greater and more abiding than the spoils of war…
[The African] has refused to camp forever on the borders of the industrial world; having learned that knowledge is power, he is educating his children. You find them in Edinburgh, in Cambridge, and in the great schools of Germany. These return to their country like arrows, to drive darkness from the land.”

Dr Seme did indeed return like an arrow, to drive darkness from South Africa. His qualifications from Columbia and Oxford were recognised even by an oppressive regime, and he was admitted as an attorney of the Supreme Court of South Africa.

He was instrumental in the founding of the Native Farmer’s Association of Africa, and in the founding of the ANC’s newspaper Abantu-Batho. He represented King Sobhuza II before the Privy Council in England, appealing a land dispute for the Swazi Monarch. But he is most well-known for the meeting he called on January 8th, 1912, which launched Africa’s oldest liberation movement.

Dr Seme’s leadership in politics impressed me deeply, so much so that in 1949 I joined the ANC Youth League at the University of Fort Hare, out of respect for the organisation my uncle had founded. He was not merely someone I’d heard about. He was part of my own family.

Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme was married to my mother’s sister, Princess Harriet Phikisile, the eldest daughter of King Dinuzulu. When I was growing up at KwaDlamahlahla, the palace of my mother’s brother, Dr Seme often used to visit. Later he built a homestead near the palace and would send for me, to run errands for him or just to sit and talk. I also visited my aunt and my cousins, so I was often in the Seme’s home.

In my matric year, Dr Seme had to undergo an eye operation, and his eye was actually removed. To assist him and my aunt in that difficult time, I lived at their homestead of Ekuqhamkeni in Mahashini and spent many hours with Dr Seme. I took dictation from him so that he could stay up to date with his correspondence.

Considering our relationship and the time I spent with him, it is not surprising that Dr Seme became one of my mentors, stirring in me deep political convictions and a deep love of my country. I was proud to honour him in September 1984, when I and Inkatha erected the tombstone on Dr Seme’s grave.

Over the years I have spoken at many events, recalling Dr Seme and his founding role in our country’s liberation. I have spoken about the principles that he and his fellow leaders laid at the foundation of the ANC; the principles of non-violence, inclusivity and unity. I believe it is important that we remember his contribution.

For this reason, I thank my nephew, Mr Vezindaba Seme, for being a caretaker of Dr Seme’s legacy. I appreciate all he has done to establish the Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme Foundation and I support the launch of a legacy project that places this history in the forefront of our minds.

If we are to talk about an African Renaissance, we must understand the beginning of this conversation. It started in 1906, with a young black man who stood up and spoke to the western world. He spoke on behalf of Africa, and his words ignited the dawn of hope.

As we launch this Foundation, may the conversation spread and grow.

I thank you.