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Zaccheus Richard Mahabane (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Zaccheus Richard Mahabane (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the national democratic struggle for freedom and for his exceptional contribution to fostering the unity of the oppressed people, non-racialism and in fighting for a South Africa that belongs to all.
Profile of Zaccheus Richard Mahabane

ZR Mahabane, as he was affectionately known, was born on 15 August 1881 in Thaba Nchu in the Free State. Like many leaders of his time, he also received his early education in mission schools before going to Morija (Lesotho), where he trained as a teacher.

He, however, felt that he could serve his people even better if he became a priest, hence he went to the Cape to study for priesthood. On completion of his studies, he was ordained in 1914, after which he was deployed to work in Cape Town in 1916.

This was a time when African people deeply felt their exclusion from national politics after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, which also led to the formation of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912. The effects of the Natives Land Act, 1913 and a system of pass laws also greatly affected many people, which led to the rise of African nationalism and African political activity.

Mahabane was deeply concerned over the conditions facing his people and he soon identified with the struggle led by the ANC, which he joined in 1916. He was one of the gallant leaders who led the ANC at critical moments in its history.

ZR Mahabane was elected president of the ANC of the Cape Province in 1919, and from that time onwards his stature rose in the organisation. He was part of all major developments in the ANC from 1919 to the 1940s.

In the 100-year history of the ANC, the name of Zac Richard Mahabane will go down in as having been the only ANC president who has ever served the organisation during two separate terms, first during 1924 to 1927 and again from 1937 to 1940.

He also made a huge contribution to the ANC as its official National Chaplain in 1940 under the leadership of Dr AB Xuma. His second term as ANC president from 1937 to 1940 was critical.

From 1937, while he was at the head of the ANC, Mahabane acted as vice-president of the All Africa Convention (AAC), and from 1940 to 1954 he served as the AAC’s official vice-president, first under Prof. Davidson Jabavu and then under Wycliffe Tsotsi.

Mahabane cooperated with Abdul Abdurahman in calling a series of non-European conferences that met between 1927 and 1934. From the 1940s, Mahabane concentrated much of his energy on church-related activities and in particular the strengthening of the interdenominational African Ministers Federation, founded in 1945.

In 1956, he was the principal convener of the Bloemfontein Conference to discuss the recommendations of the Tomlinson Commission, and in December 1957, he chaired the follow-up multiracial conference convened in Witwatersrand. Mahabane died in 1970.