Address by the reverend John Langalibalele Dube after his election as president of the South African Native National Congress: report in Indian opinion, February 10, 1912 1

The awakening of the natives

Mr. Dube’s Address

Our friend and neighbour, the Rev. John L. Dube, Principal of the Ohlange Native Industrial School, has received the high honour of being elected the first President of the newly inaugurated Inter-State Native Congress. Mr. Dube has issued a manifesto to his countrymen which are so good that we regret we cannot find sufficient space for it. But we give below a couple of paragraphs which will show the excellent tone of the letter.

“Although, as a race, we possess the unique distinction of being the first-born sons of this great and beautiful continent; although as a race we can claim an ancestry more ancient than almost any round about us, yet as citizens of the glorious British Empire, we are the last-born children, just awakening into political life, born on January 8, in this the year of grace 1912. Yes, politically, new-born babes, we are still very young and inexperienced, and as such it behoves us to feel our way slowly and warily. While teaching ourselves to walk boldly and upright before all mankind, we must still be careful ever to seek out the way where wisdom (not mere sentiment or desire) leadeth, treading softly, ploddingly, along the bright path illumined by righteousness and reason – the steep and thorny path, yet only one that will safely and surely lead us to our goal, the attainment of our rightful inheritance as sons of Africa and citizens of the South African Commonwealth.

“Many are the difficulties I foresee in our way – enemies without, fierce and frank; dangers within, undersigned perhaps, but still more harmful. It will be an uphill fight, but our watchword shall be ‘Excelsior!’ – onward, higher; cautiously, ploddingly! By dint of our perseverance, our patience, our reasonableness, our law abiding methods and the justice of our demands, all these obstacles shall be removed and enemies overcome. We have been distinguished by the world as a race of born gentlemen – a truly glorious title, bestowed on few other peoples – and by the gentleness of our manners (poor though we may be, unlettered and ill-clad), and by the nobility of our character shall we break down the adamantine wall of colour prejudice and force even our enemies to be our admirers and our friend.”

1 Mr. Dube, who was elected in absentia as President of the SANNC, published a letter to “Chiefs and Gentlemen of the South African Native National Congress” in his newspaper, Ilanga lase Natal, on February 2, 1912. Indian Opinion, Gandhi’s weekly newspaper, publishing the following report about the letter.