Allison Wessels Champion

Names: Champion, Allison Wessels

Born: 4 December 1893, Sans Souci School, Natal

Died: 1975

In summary: Trade unionist, political activist and civic leader.

Allison George Champion was born on 4 December 1893 at Sans Souci School near the mouth of the Tugela River in Natal. His father had been adopted by American Body Missionary and was given the surname, Champion. His original surname was Mhlongo. He attended the Amanzimtoti Training Institute, which later became Adams College, but was suspended for rebelliousness in 1913, before completing standard seven. Champion left the school that year and was employed as a Native constable in Johannesburg. He retired from service after acting as a plain-clothes constable in Dundee, Natal, in 1915. From 1917 to 1925 was engaged as clerk on the Crown Mines. He also had a brief stint at diamond digging in Kimberley. Elected president of the newly formed Native Mine Clerks' Association in 1920, Champion soon gained noticed as an African spokesman and became associated with the of the Joint Council of Europeans and Natives, Johannesburg, and Bantu Men's Social Centre.

In 1925 Champion met Clement Kadalie and, seeing a wider scope for his organising talents, he joined the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU) as its Transvaal secretary. He was posted to Durban later that year as Natal secretary, where he rapidly demonstrated his abilities as a leader by building up the largest and wealthiest branch of the ICU. Second in command to Kadalie, and strongly supporting him in ousting Communists from the organisation in 1926, Champion became acting ICU national secretary during Kadalie's trip to Europe in 1927. The following year, after Kadalie's return, the ICU began to break up. Champion sought local control as a leader of a now independent and the powerful ICU yase Natal . F ollowing a period of unrest and rioting in Durban, he became the first person to be exiled from the whole of Natal and Zululand under the notorious Riotous Assemblies Amendment Act of 1930, by the Minister of Justice, Oswald Pirow, on the 24th of September 1930. He then found employment in Johannesburg until 1933. When his ban was lifted he returned to Durban.

During J.T. Gumede's presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) in the late 1920s, Champion held the post of “minister of labour” in the ANC National Executive. When Pixley Seme succeeded Gumede as president in 1930, Champion lost his position in the inner councils of the Congress; but his influence among Natal Africans could be not ignored, and in 1937 he came back onto the ANC executive where he remained for the next 14 years.

He was elected to the Native Representative Council in 1942, and was re-elected in 1945 and 1948. A long time rival of the powerful John L Dube in Zulu politics, in 1945 Champion, with the aid of Selby Msimang and Jordan Ngubane, captured the provincial presidency of the ANC from A.S. Mthimkulu, the ailing Dube's designated successor. The national head of the ANC, A.B. Xuma, welcomed this political coup and increasingly sought Champion's cooperation, finally making him acting president-general of the ANC during his own absence abroad in 1946-1947.

Within the ANC Champion exerted a powerful conservative influence, vehemently opposing the Youth League and its radical activism, which he regarded as a product of brashness and inexperience. Increasingly hostile to cooperation with the Johannesburg headquarters of the Congress and seemingly intent upon promoting the Natal-Zulu patriotism that had marked his earlier career, Champion eventually goaded his critics in the Natal Youth League too far. In 1951 they engineered his defeat by Albert Luthuli in the elections for the Natal president

After resigning from the Congress, Champion concentrated on local advisory board politics and his business affairs, including the running of a general store in Chesterville location in Durban. As a long-time chairman of the Durban Combine Location Advisory Boards and Urban Councils, he was a conservative and influential figure in Natal. He had strong links with the Zulu royal family and many of the chiefs in Natal, and he occasionally advised Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. In 1968 his daughter married the deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland. Champion died in 1975. 

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