After actively petitioning the National Convention and being ignored during 1910 and 1911, delegates to the South African Native Convention (SANC) decided to call a meeting in Bloemfontein on 8 January 1912 to consider the formation of a dynamic and unified movement that would challenge the White government. The outcome was the formation of SANNC.
The inaugural conference was organised by Seme, Alfred Mangena, Richard Msimang and George Montsioa (all lawyers educated abroad). Seme wrote an article in October of 1911 called ‘Native Union’. In it he proposed an agenda for the inaugural conference, pasted in the box below. Resources are unclear as to whether this exact agenda was used at the conference.
The chief business for their important deliberation will, for convenience, be divided into two sections.
•To formally establish the South African Native Congress as a National Society or Union for all the Natives of South Africa.
•To Consider, amend, and adopt, the Constitution and Rules for the Society, Union or Congress.
•To elect Officers for the ensuing year.
•The installation of Officers.
•To take a Vote of Confidence on:””
•General the Right Honourable Louis Botha, P.C.
•The Honourable the Minister for Native Affairs.
•The Honourable the Native Senators.
•Native customs and union.
•Native Marriages and Divorce.
•Native beer, is it a national beverage?
•Native schools and churches.
•The Black Peril and White Peril.
•Native Lands and Reserves.
•Native Courts ”” civil and criminal.
General Concert and farewell Reception for the Delegates, Members and friends'
Source: Karis, T & Carter G. M. (1972)
The conference took place on 8 January 1912 at Maphikela House in Mangaung Township, Bloemfontein. Of the group of delegates that met, the Transvaal was the best represented with 25 delegates, while a few influential people, including John Langalibalele Dube and John Tengo Jabavu were unable to attend (see list of delegates who attended the conference). The SANNC was founded at this meeting.
J.T. Jabavu, the founder of ‘Imvo zaBantu’ (a mouthpiece for the new Elite's political thinking in the Eastern Cape) was opposed to this move. He described it as a ‘dangerous delusion’ in that it preached that Africans should have nothing to do with White institutions. Rev. John Dube was elected the SANNC’s first president at the conference in absentia, Plaatje was elected Secretary-General and Seme was elected Treasurer-General.
A committee was formed to draft a SANNC constitution so that an umbrella federation of all African organizations could be formed. The constitution outlined the organisations’ five basic aims:
- To promote unity and mutual co-operation between the government and the South African Black people
- To maintain a channel between the government and the Black people
- To promote the social, educational and political upliftment of the Black people
- To promote understanding between chiefs, and loyalty to the British crown and all lawful authorities and to promote understanding between white and black South Africans
- To address the just grievances of the black people
Although the contents of the constitution were not radical, there was no agreement on it and was only finalised in 1919. The SANNC was an elitist rather than a mass movement in its early days, and consisted of members with an education or a position in the community. Much like the African People's Organisation (APO) and the Natal Indian Congress, exclusivity along the lines of colour were also a norm and women were not initially permitted to be members.