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Josiah Tshangana Gumede

The Order of Luthuli in

Josiah Tshangana Gumede Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the national democratic struggle for freedom and for his exceptional leadership qualities and his contribution to the fight against racism and colonialism.
Profile of Josiah Tshangana Gumede

Josiah Tshangana Gumede was born in Natal on 9 October 1867 and attended school in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. He taught for some time at Somerset East before returning to his home town where he became adviser to Natal and Orange Free State chiefs.

Josiah Gumede played a bigger role in the formation of the African Political Organisation with his counterparts Saul Msane and Hariette Colenso in 1899. In 1900, he became the co-founder of the Natal Native Congress together with Martin Luthuli and Saul Msane, where he was secretary general for several years.

In 1906, Gumede was part of the delegation to Britain to address the land laws of the Orange Free State. He was a representative and interpreter of Basotho chiefs and many of them served under him in the Anglo-Boer/South African War as scouts. As a representative of amaNgwane, colonialists wanted to co-opt him and make him an “exempted African”. In refusing the offer, he said that he did not want his education to be used to separate him from his people. He acted as an agent of the Sotho people who bought land in the Orange Free State. He was arrested for leaving Natal without a pass and fined 10 pounds or three months in prison.

In 1907, he and ZM Masuku of Driefontein co-signed the Constitution of lliso Lesizwe Esimnyama – The Eye of the Black Nation. It was an organisation of Wesleyan Methodist converts and chiefs formed in the Dundee and Newcastle area.

Gumede was one of the founding members of the South African Native National Congress, which later became the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923. He was a member of the ANC delegation which went to petition the British Government in 1919.

JT Gumede was elected ANC president between 1927 and 1930. He served the ANC loyally and selflessly, in the process losing a lot of money, land and quality time with his family. He introduced radical politics in the ANC, and ensured that the ANC and the working class forged a closer working relationship in the execution of the struggle. In December 1943 in Mangaung, he was conferred as an Honorary Life President of the ANC together with John Dube, Sefako Makgatho and Zacharias Mahabane as a result of an initial motion that was moved by the then President AB Xuma.

It was under his presidency that the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa formally signed an agreement to work together, thus laying solid foundations for what was to later become known as the Tripartite Alliance. He is regarded as the father of the alliance between the nationalists fighting for freedom and the working class fighting for the same goal.

At the 1943 conference that resolved that the Youth League be formed, he made a prophetic input: ”Congress is looking up. I see in the youthfulness and enthusiasm of the delegates a new hope. Things will certainly move in the coming year.”

During Gumede’s leadership, important developments took place within the ANC. Gumede also represented the ANC during the Brussels Congress, which was attended by communists and anti-colonial freedom fighters from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

During this congress, Gumede used the platform to give a thorough analysis of the plight facing the people of South Africa, their living conditions and resistance. Together with La Guma, they also attended the Berlin Congress. For the first time, he stood as equal among people of all races united in brotherhood with the sole purpose of putting an end to the contemptible system of colonialism.

We still remember his speech during that conference when he said: “There are many Communists in my country, I myself am not one but I know that the Communist Party is on the side of the people.”

He had the insight of seeing the significance of uniting people of different classes and nationalists in their struggle against colonialism. Gumede died on 6 November 1946.