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Alfred Bitini Xuma (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Alfred Bitini Xuma (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the national democratic struggle for freedom and for his outstanding contribution to the struggle against colonialism on the African continent and the struggle for a free, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
Profile of Alfred Bitini Xuma

Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma was born in 1890 in the former Transkei. He rose from being a herd boy, houseboy, horse trainer, teacher, shipping clerk and hotel and train waiter, to one of the country’s most influential thinkers and leaders.

Xuma studied at the Clarkebury Training Institution, Engcobo. He taught at various schools, earning 14 pounds a term, and as was the custom, gave his entire salary to his father.

Xuma read about the opportunities for education through self-help in America. In 1913, he sailed for New York, where he entered various institutions and universities. He studied at night while he worked at the Alabama Steel Mills. After graduating as a Doctor of Medicine, he went to Europe where he specialised in Gynaecology and studied further in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

On his return to South Africa in 1927, Dr Xuma opened a surgery in Sophiatown and in 1931 married Priscilla Mason of Liberia, West Africa. Priscilla died three years later, while giving birth to their second child.

After his freelance political activities in the 1930s, Dr Xuma was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1940. He set about rebuilding the organisation against great odds.

During his term, the ANC was revived and revitalised and it grew in membership. It was under his term that both the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League were formally constituted as leagues of the ANC, in 1944 and 1948 respectively.

Xuma was responsible for bringing the Young Turks such as Anton Lembede, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo into the organisation. The formation of these leagues brought new life to the ANC and infused it with energy and new ideas. Dr Xuma was instrumental in bringing about these developments in the ANC. These young leaders were instrumental in the adoption of the Programme of Action in 1949.

It was also under his leadership that the ANC forged closer relationships with the Natal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Indian Congress, and when the leaders of the three organisations signed what became known as the Doctors’ Pact or the Dadoo-Xuma-Naicker Pact. This pact stood for a united front between Indian and African people. There were some in the ANC who were uncomfortable about this pact, complaining that the Indian people might dominate the ANC.

In 1946, Xuma acted as unofficial delegate of the African people at the United Nations.

At the ANC’s National Conference of 1949, Xuma was replaced by Dr JS Moroka. Dr Xuma will always be remembered as the leader who was responsible for reviving the ANC and ensuring that it was better organised and that it grew in terms of membership. It was also under his leadership that the ANC adopted one of its most critical and influential documents, the African Claims.

Dr Xuma died at Baragwanath Hospital, Johannesburg, in 1962.