”The African National Congress — Is It Dead?” Pamphlet by Pixley wa Isaka Seme, 1932 [Extract}

It appears as if there has never been such a strong demand amongst the Native African people for the Congress in the past as there is to-day. The persistent personal attacks from my friends and enemies in the "Native Press" may be proofs or evidence of this re­awakening. This new love for the African National Congress amongst those who had hitherto been indifferent. If, therefore, my supposed inertia can cause such a wide-spread desire for unity to arise, then I am glad. But I am sure it is the dreadful vision of chattel slavery which has so easily passed unopposed in both Houses of the Union Parliament under the guise of the Service Contract Bill, which has opened the eyes of the natives in this country to-day. There is no other alternative. We shall be made slaves indeed unless we can unite and become a nation. If we desire unity then we must form the African National Congress into a solid and impregnable fortress for the defence of our Liberty, even on this Continent, which is our birthright.

By Congress I mean a duly constituted assemblage of African men and women in one Conference which may truthfully be regarded as representing all our African people. I mean all African people who have the pride in the African blood which runs through their brains. My conviction is that here in Africa, as in America, the Africans should refuse to be divided. We need a strong body of men and women to give the leading daily thought and guidance to all our people in their daily duties and struggles as a nation. Such a leading voice can only be produced by a conference, com­posed of the chosen leaders of the people come together for the purpose of building up the nation and not for the purpose of creating difficulties or racial stumbling blocks for those who today are earnestly working for our unity and strength. I cannot ever forget the great vision of national power which I saw at Atlanta Georgia in 1907 when the late Dr. Booker T. Washington L.L.D., presided over the Annual Conference of the Negro Business League of America with delegates representing all Negro enterprises in that New World and representing 20 million Africans in the United States of America, the most advanced of my own race.

I must come back to the subject of our own Congress, which I am now rightly or wrongly being accused of killing. Time is very precious. I shall not waste it by publishing personal incriminations against my enemies or facts which would go very far to prove that my work of organising the Congress has been seriously retarded by the want of co-operation between the leaders and myself, and more especially through the want of co-operation between the members of my own National Executive and myself. It is urgent that our Constitution should be amended so as to provide an easy way out of such difficulties in the future, if the President-General of the Congress is to be expected to lead our people during his term of office. No member of the Executive should be allowed to defy his chosen leader and then simply stand in the way and refuse to resign. The well-known rule which is observed amongst all nations is that the subordinate in the Cabinet should readily resign if so requested by the Head of his Government. In the same way, the President-General of the African National Congress, as the Chief Executive, should be obeyed and followed by his Cabinet because he is respon­sible for their failures. They are his subor­dinates, and because he alone appointed them, he should be allowed to replace any one of them who proves to be useless or unsuitable. The Constitution of the Congress should be amended so as to fall into line with this well-known rule. There can be no unity amongst us until we shall acquire the habit and the will to recognise one man as head over us. Until we shall learn to do this we shall continue to be slaves.

Ladies and gentlemen, my firm conviction is that if our Congress is to be made a real success, it should be founded more firmly upon its original Constitution, namely: that the African National Congress be made really and truly to consist of two Houses—the Upper House of Chiefs and the Lower House of representatives or delegates. The members of the Upper House to be in the nature of a permanent body whose members succeed each other by hereditary rights and not by election. The Lower House should be composed of delegates elected by the branches of the Congress for the period of two years. I carefully suggest that the delegates should be elected by the branches and not by the Provinces, because in this way only can we get the rural population to be properly repre­sented in the Congress. My friends will agree with me that by departing from this founda­tion, the African National Congress has been made to lose its former influence, when I used to invite all our great Chiefs to attend the Congress. The Chiefs should be made to feel that they have a House of their own in the African National Congress, wherein they can meet alone as Chiefs and without being inconvenienced by strangers. They should feel through this Great House that it is their duty to meet with the other Chiefs of the Nation for the purpose of exchanging views in connection with the new problems which face them to-day, the problems of employment for their people, the problems of conserving national pride, customs and traditions.

It is time that our Chiefs came to realise that their office of Chiefs has very impor­tant duties attached to it. They must lead their people and their tribes unto salvation. Our Chiefs should realise that their people to-day in the country, as well as in the towns, are face to face with the grim and difficult times which the old kings and prophets of Africa have foretold. Tshaka, when he fell under the sword of his royal assassins, saw this day and uttered grave warnings just before he died, King Sobhuza I. in Swaziland caves told his people before his death that the white man was coming and that they should not kill the white man when he comes; the great Xosa prophet Ntsikane also foretold these days and gave positive warnings to his people. Africans, you must unite this day and consider the ways and means of earning a living as a nation which is destined to live amongst  strongly organised and more advanced nations in your own country. No other nation or white men Councils or Joint Councils will be able to do this for you.
The Chiefs to-day should realise that their forefathers won these positions of honour and high esteem by fighting hard for the salvation of their own people and not by lying down and seeking personal comforts and pleasures. No Chief should be satisfied with his own position until he has exchanged views in an African Conference with his brother Chiefs of South Africa in the Upper House of the African National Congress. It is their duty as Chiefs to create such a Great House for their own good and for the good of their own people. As your chosen leader this year, I hereby appeal to you and to every Chief to come out and help build up the African National Congress. I must depend upon your financial assistance and patriotism. I depend upon every Chief in South Africa to help me in the difficult task of inviting the African people to come into their own inheritance and become a nation.

I am pleased to see so many of our young educated men and news writers criticising me for doing nothing for the Congress, or for killing the Congress, as some have written in their ignorance. I feel, therefore, that I can also appeal to these same men, as teachers and leaders of thought amongst our young people to-day, to come forward and join the Congress movement, for which I am pleading in this leaflet. I have no other means of reaching you—all my other efforts have failed before. I want to address myself, as I am doing in this paragraph, to our young educated men and women. The present is very bad indeed for you, but the future is bound to be worse for you and your children unless we all unite and form one strong, well organised National Congress. We really don't need much of that common agitator, who only wants to create strife and class hatred. We need the white man in this country as much as the white man really needs us. Our welfare as a nation can never be served by sowing hatred between whites and blacks in this or in any other country or by disseminating cowardly slanders against the Government, who have no means of knowing what our wishes as a nation may be. Let us unite and form the African National Congress, make it really and truth­fully to represent our people. Then, and not until then, can we be able to place before the Government, or, if necessary, before the whole world, the evidence of our desire to co-operate in making Africa the greater and the happier Continent of them all.

I feel, too, that I should carry this denunci­ation of this spirit of non-co-operation amongst educated Africans one more point further. The time has really passed when educated men and women of any country could stand aloof and watch the uneducated folk suffer. Some time ago the missionaries came into this country to look after the heathen and to love them, but by a strange contrast, every "native" who got educated by these missionaries immediately became disin­terested in the heathen and, in fact, despised his heathen brothers. The result has been that the greatest bulk of our people who are still heathen have no educated men to lead them amongst their own tribes. The Chiefs and their uneducated people are despised and forsaken by their own educated tribesmen.

This attitude of despising your own people has created antipathies between the new leaders and the old population, which are most regrettable. There is no reason why the educated Africans should throw away their tribal connections and so much desire to be regarded as being detribalised natives. I fear that in this sense the so-called "detribalised natives" have not properly considered their positions and their duty towards their own people. We need more of what the American Negro calls "Race Pride. "In that country you find coloured people most highly educated and efficient in the leading professions who cannot be distinguished from the white people, nevertheless refusing to be regarded as whites. Their mothers are Negro Africans and they want to remain as Africans also. If our African people would only take a leaf from this book of Negro life in America, how much richer our people would be from trading between ourselves. I wish to urge our educated young men and women not to lose contact with your own tribes. You should make your Chiefs and your tribal Councils feel that education is really a good thing. It does not spoil their people nor detribalise them. Most of the misery which our people suffer in the towns and the country to-day due to this one factor, no confidence between the educated classes and their own uneducated people. The former cannot open any business relations amongst the latter and get good support because to be able to establish a business anywhere you want confidence. The Indian trader succeeds because he makes friends with all classes and ever tries to win their confidence. You must learn to likewise.

Moreover the so-called "educated native” is the loser in the show because by cut himself adrift from all tribal ties he becomes a prey and a victim to false standards of living He copies the white man, his tastes and standards of living, without the least thought that all that must cost more money than what he can possibly afford or be able to earn in his position. I say that we can and should through the African National Congress, able to regulate our own standard of living and adjust ourselves to all the necessary changes of dress and progress as a nation. Congress can make us learn how to produce our own wants as a nation. We can learn to grow up cotton and wool and make our own clothes and blankets in our own factories make our own leather, boots, bags and harness from the hides of our own cattle; we can cut African timber and supply good furniture to all African homes. The African National Congress will teach us "Race Pride," and this "Race Pride" will teach us how to become a nation and to be self dependent. Instead of concentrating our efforts into building up one organisation with a stable tradition, our young educated folk are developing the craze for ever creating new organisations, churches and whatnots in order to weaken the old ones. No other nation does that. The new blood is required to strengthen the old and not to break them down as you do.

<strong>Documents: Africans Acting Alone</strong>