Political freedom from foreign rule, essential as it is, is not freedom.1One freedom is essential. That is the freedom for an individual to develop to his/ her full potential.


Josiah Gumede, who for much of his formative years offers no apology for his close identification with Zulu tradition and history, had his ancestral home outside Zululand.2Gumede was born on 9 October 1867 in Healdtown Village, Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. His history, however, does not start there. It dates back to a historical period in the history of the Zulu nation which historians call the Mfecane.3Josiah would come to know more of the Mfecane since his father was closely involved with the event and the battle of Mbholompho in the Eastern Cape where a combined force of Tembus, Mpondos and British under Lt. Col. Somerset defeated Matiwane on 28 August 1828.4In 1829 when news of Shaka’s assassination reached the Ngwane, Matiwane decided to return to Zululand, looking for sanctuary.5

Upon Matiwane’s arrival Dingane ordered his execution at kwaMatiwane. Theophilus Shepstone, Secretary of Native Affairs in Natal, settled the destitute Ngwane with their young heir, Zickali, on a reserve in the Bergville/Klip River Division, Natal, at the foothills of the Drakensberg. The ‘diaspora’ of the Ngwane became a historic reality.

The Ngwane minor chiefs Ntsimango and Khondlo remained behind in Tembuland. Ntsimango and Khondlo went across the Kei River to settle at Siqiqaba, Nqxukhwebe (Healdtown) in the Fort Beaufort district. Soon afterwards, some of the Ngwane moved back to the Transkei “where they came to be part of the composite group known as the Mfengu”.6Josiah Gumede’s ancestry can be traced back to chief Khondlo.7Khondlo was succeeded by his son Phakathwayo, then came Vezi, Makhunga and John Tshangana, Josiah’s father. Although John Tshangana was a tribesman of Matiwane and a member of the latter’s inSimbi regiment, he stayed behind in the Eastern Cape after the battle of Mbholompho. Economic reasons might well be the reason why Gumede’s parents were reluctant to return to Zululand.

John Gumede started a transport business (ox-wagons and horse carts) at Grahamstown and achieved some prosperity. John Gumede was not slow to seize the transport opportunities that came about as a result of the discovery of diamonds. It was from his father that Josiah inherited a spirit of enterprise.Unfortunately, very little is known about Josiah’s mother. The family later settled at Fort Beaufort where Josiah spent his early childhood years.8Founded as a British outpost during the Frontier wars, Fort Beaufort in the 1860s had grown into a “British town” where once the Xhosas had lived and farmed.

Josiah’s parents were Christians and according to Archie, their grandson, only the third Ngwane couple to be married into the Christian (Wesleyan) faith. During his trial in 1907 Josiah shared more light on the rest of his family. He had a younger bother, William and three or more sisters, the names of two being Mina and Joyce.9All of them were given Christian first names. In honour of their Zulu ancestry, Josiah was also given his father’s second name - Tshangana. In the up-bringing of his children John Gumede strove to balance Western values with Zulu norms and customs. The elder Gumede, mindful of the shortcomings of his own formal education, wanted his children to acquire a better education and to rise above the humble standing of their parents. Africans in the Cape also strove to obtain the non-racial qualified franchise, which meant certain economic and political rights. The fact that the British administration needed a group of literate Africans to pursue certain professions like teaching, interpreting, policing, clerical and postal work, etc. also served as a powerful incentive.

Little is known about Gumede’s early childhood and mission school years. In all probability, he began his elementary schooling at the famous Healdtown Wesleyan mission station at Fort Beaufort. The mission school gave the young Gumede his first exposure to the British System of Education. More importantly, the Wesleyans led the way on gender rights. An integral aim of the Wesleyan missionary education was to emphasise and pursue gender equality. Thus, it was the rule, rather than the exception for Wesleyan missionaries to educate and liberate African girls. Of all Josiah’s fellow-pupils hailing from Fort Beaufort, none was perhaps more committed to her school education and singing than Charlotte Makanya, who became President of the ANC Women Congress. Katie Makanya, her sister, recalled that Charlotte had always dreamt of pursuing further studies in England, her obsession “to study what the white people are taught”, and to teach their own people beyond the mountains who could not read or write.10From a humble start in Fort Beaufort, Charlotte and Josiah, would rise to become leading figures in ANC and South African politics. Katie and Josiah shared a gift for languages and both would become interpreters at different stages of their lives.

Gumede was eleven years old when the Anglo-Zulu War erupted. Judged against the background of his involvement with politics in Zululand during the 1880s and his memoirs, Gumede’s family’s sympathies were undoubtedly with the plight of the Zulu royal house, in particular Cethswayo. Gumede was old enough to understand that their Zulu independence and culture were trampled into the ground by the boots of colonists who were seldom paragons of tact and humanity. Later in life Gumede came to hold Britain responsible for the destruction of the Zulu monarchy. “There was no occasion for the Anglo-Zulu War” he proclaimed at a Conference in Brussels in 1927.11

After completing his elementary missionary schooling, Gumede went on to attend the “Kaffir Institute” in Grahamstown either in 1882 or 1883.12

His parents and sisters had in the meantime moved to Queenstown. Gumede’s aim was to qualify as a teacher. For Gumede to have gained admission was no easy achievement. The qualifications for admission were that candidates be baptized and able to read in their own native language and in English, and be no less than fifteen years of age.13The Institution served as an important intellectual breeding-ground for the Black youths. Many men who became national figures and leaders of Black public opinion spent their formative years within the walls of the Kaffir Institute - among them were Thomas Mapikela and Samuel Masabalala who became prominent ANC executive members. A printed report issued in 1879 showed that there were 41 students and that fees were between five to six pounds per pupil, per annum.14As could be expected, the curriculum was heavily geared towards religious education. Industrial training also formed an integral part of their curriculum.

The pupils received training in carpentry, wagon-making, blacksmithing, tailoring, shoe-making and printing. Manual labour from 2 to 4 p.m. in the garden was obligatory, the aim being to develop farming skills. Gumede’s stay at the Institute was decisive for his intellectual development. Gumede was fortunate to have Rev. Canon Robert Mullins as principal who strove to shape his students according to the high standards of scholarship, moral code and discipline he had set for himself. In the establishment of the English culture in the school, every encouragement was thus given to African students to excel in the English language. Gumede’s command of the English language was fostered at the Kaffir Institute.15

Although Gumede left no record of his years at the Kaffir Institute it represented an important formative political experience. At Grahamstown Gumede became aware that formal education was clearly a political issue and that different people had different access to education. Pam Christie claimed that the Cape governors were generally uneasy about aiding Africans to higher education.16They saw Africans as merely unskilled labourers and they did not want education to be a path to social equality for Africans. Thus there were clear divisions along the lines of race and class. While the youth from different Bantu-speaking societies (Mfengu, Xhosa, Sotho and Zulu) were boarded at the Kaffir Institute, the youth of different European origins attended the celebrated local St. Andrews College. While there was always a lack of sufficient funds to attract good teachers to the Kaffir Institute, the Cape Government’s grant enabled St. Andrews to appoint two outstanding “University lecturers”, Arthur Matthews in Mathematics and P Warren in Classics and the Humanities in 1882. The facilities at the two institutions, like buildings, classrooms, libraries and laborities, were also not of equal quality.

Currey commented in 1913 that the double storey building which had housed the Kaffir Institute was “an ugly, formless, brick and plaster building, a dirty ochre in colour.17

At the Kaffir Institute African students were bound together by a body of shared beliefs and values. The majority of them, if not all, were baptised into the Christian faith which drew no distinction between Zulu, Xhosa or Sotho converts. At the Institute, like the missionary stations, cultural homogeneity was emphasised and language differences between students were played down. In time Gumede had the opportunity to gain knowledge of the history and political developments of the different South African societies. The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the subsequent power struggle in Zululand were undoubtedly important matters, which Gumede would probably have discussed with some of his classmates. Thus his education at Grahamstown gave definite direction to Gumede’s political attitudes. On completion of his studies in the early 1880s, Gumede was about to enter the new class of “respected” Black intelligentia who had become both articulate and politically conscious.


Gumede started his teaching career at Somerset East in the Eastern Cape during a period which had witnessed an increased African “thirst for formal education”.18Apart from Mweli Skota’s references, we have no records of Gumede’s teaching debut at Somerset East.19Interestingly John Tengo Jabavu, owner of Imvo Zabantsundu (Native Opinion) and prominent political figure also started his teaching career in Somerset East in 1876. Gumede probably stayed with his sister, Lydia and her husband, Boyce Skota. Boyce, a civil servant, was well established and played a leading part in the local Presbyterian Church. Their son, Mweli became organiser and sub-editor of Abantu Batho, the newspaper of the SANNC. It was not long before Gumede’s aspirations caused him to pursue his teaching career in Natal. Indications are that Gumede took up a new teaching post in Natal.20Josiah’s parents however remained at Queenstown.21It soon became clear that Gumede’s interest was also turning to politics in Zululand. It was during this period that Gumede and Martin Luthuli, another Wesleyan convert, befriended and acted as indunas for the young Dinizulu. While Luthuli was fleeing from his Durban creditors and thus looking for sanctuary, it is not clear why Gumede opted to involve himself in the “tumultuous almost no-win politics of a ravaged post civil war Zululand”.

The only safe conclusions that can be drawn is that he had a sincere feeling for the cause of the Zulu royal house, and secondly that he was somewhat ambitious. Dinizulu was heir to the Zulu kingdom, hence Luthuli and Gumede must have taken pride in their prestigious appointments. The possiblity of land and other financial rewards deriving from their appointments cannot be overlooked. Gumede gave up his teaching career in Natal and went to Zululand.

What did Gumede find on arrival in Zululand? He arrived in Zululand at a period of historical transition for the Zulu. The details of these developments need no repetition here,22but in outline, following the death of Cetshwayo in 1883, Garnet Wolseley, the British High Commissioner in South Africa divided Zululand into thirteen independent chieftainships. Although the majority of the thirteen chiefs were drawn from the Zulu political hierarchy, as it existed before 1879, certain men of status and influence were overlooked by Wolseley. Consequently many of the appointed chiefs found it difficult to exercise their new-found authority. The period of civil wars that ensued in Zululand proved disastrous for the political status of the Zulu royal family and the idea of Zulu national unity. The most immediate adherents of the Zulu royal house, the Usuthu, were dealt their heaviest blow by the appointment of two disaffected Zulu of the royal lineage itself, Hamu and Zibhebhu, to rule as chiefs over Zululand’s northern regions. Hamu defected with his followers to the British side during the Anglo-Zulu war. His district included the personal homestead of the Buthelezi leader, Mnyamana, who had been Cetshwayo’s principal adviser. To the east of Hamu, Zibhebhu was awarded a district that included the core of the Usuthu, including Cetshwayo’s son, Dinizulu.23In May 1884 Dinizulu accepted an offer from the Transvaal Boers to drive Zibhebhu from his district. Neither Shula Marks nor Jeff Guy refer to the proclamation issued by the Transvaal government on 9 May 1884 which prohibited Transvaal Boers from leaving their districts to go to Zululand.24Many of the Transvaal field cornets, commandants and magistrates ignored the proclamation. Having assisted Dinizulu in defeating Zibhebhu in June 1884, the Boers claimed their promised reward, nearly 3 million acres of the best cattle country in the healthy upper belt of Zululand, stretching to the natural harbour of St. Lucia Bay. This was an exorbitant demand on Dinizulu’s land resources.

By virtue of his position as Dinizulu’s induna Gumede became intimately involved in issues related to the dispossession of Zulu land as a result of the wars of conquest. In his ‘negotiations’ on behalf of Dinizulu, Gumede had to rely greatly on the insight, superior intellect and guidance of Harriette Colenso, who, like her father, Bishop Colenso, was a staunch friend of the Zulu royal house and of the African people of Natal. After her father’s death in 1883, Harriette continued to protest strongly at the loss of land inflicted on the Zulu royal house. Her solidarity with the Zulus royal house and Africans in Natal earned her their respect and trust and she had an influence among them which no other White person in South Africa at the time exercised. There can be little doubt that Gumede was greatly influenced by Harriette’s philosophy of compassion for human suffering and passion for justice. Gumede’s fourth daughter was named Harriette. Among Whites at the turn of the century, there were two predominant attitudes on how to deal with Africans on a political level. In the Cape, liberals advocated an integrationist policy. The other, more widespread view, was the well-used ‘divide and rule’ policy.

Harriette advocated neither. In the context of her work in Natal and Zululand, she affirmed the need to maintain the cultural integrity of the Zulu people alongside allowing freehold tenure and franchise to those Africans who wanted it. In her own way Harriette was a freedom fighter who believed in the ‘power of the pen’. Evidence for these statements is to be found in her many booklets, letters, petitions, which forms part of the impressive Colenso Collection at the Durban Archives. Harriette’s devotion to the plight of the Zulus was not lost on Gumede. At later stages of his life, Gumede would continue to look towards Harriette and the Colenso family for guidance and assistance.

To return to his negotiations, Gumede contested the claims that Dinizulu awarded vast tracts of land to the Boers in August 1884 as compensation for the latter’s assistance against Zibhedhu, claiming:

They were given land at Mpenwane, the boundary being the Magodo stream, near Vryheid, thence along the stream into the Blood river taking in a small piece of country.25

Referring to the Boers’ illegal encroachment” beyond the boundaries of the land given to them”, Gumede claimed:

I am one of those who went to the Boers in connection with these matters. The others who went with me are no longer alive. The Boers merely replied that they were only grazing their stock. They gradually extended themselves further and further over the country.

The original band of Boers who had fought with the Usuthu against Zibhebhu were afterwards joined by more Boers looking for farms in northern Zululand. Only a hundred or more Boers were involved in the civil war against Zibhebhu, but more than 800 “wanted booty” in northern Zululand.26

Dinizulu and the other Usuthu leaders, Mnyamana, Ndabuko and Shingana rejected the Boers’ demarcation of their so-called ‘New Republic’. Their desperate appeals for British assistance fell on deaf ears. Sir Henry Bulwer, Governor of Natal, (1882-85), argued that the Usuthu had only themselves and their White advisers to blame for “bartering away the best part of the inheritance of the Zulu people.27Harriette Colenso, daughter of the late Bishop Colenso, resented this British attitude:

The English and Dutch are conspiring to finally crash out the Zulu and to divide the spoil. If the Zulu make an attempt to stand for their liberty, they will be mercilessly butchered by either or both of these civilised and Christian nations.

Throughout 1886, Dinizulu had tried desperately not to lose his head kraal of Ondini (today Ulundi) at Nhlazatshe to the Boers. Gumede was locked in tough negotiations with the Boers. His first meeting with the Boers at Nhazatshe was a frightening experience. The Boers refused to negotiate with the youthful induna and instructed Gumede to “go back to Dinizulu and tell him that they wanted him to produce a man because their object was to do away with the Ondini kraal”.28The Boers took their revenge on the Usuthu leaders for their appeals for British intervention:

The Boers caught Dabulamazi, (the half-brother of the late Cetshwayo), at Imphle and killed him at Mvunyane. I was afraid, because the Boers were killing people, it looked like war.

Dinizulu did not accompany Gumede on his next rounds of negotiations with the Boers. On arrival at Nhlazatshe, Gumede found that the Boers had tied a number of hostages from the Subeni homesteads and commanded them to destroy Dinizulu’s head kraal at Ondini. It was a bitter humiliation for the Usuthu. All their protests to the British officials fell on deaf ears. The Transvaal Boers’ encroachment and particularly the idea that they might gain control of St. Lucia Bay in Zululand and thus acquire their own harbour, finally forced the British government to act. On behalf of the British government, Sir Arthur Havelock, the Natal Governor, recognised the Boers’ annexation of the ‘New Republic’ (the districts of Vryheid, Utrecht and Wakkerstroom); fixed the border between the Boers and the Zulus and annexed the rest of Zululand on 19 May 1887. Gumede claimed that the Usuthu refused to acknowledge the ‘New Republic’ and protested to the British government:

We cry to you as children who have been injured. We bear earnest witness that this cutting off of Zulu country, we do not willingly accept.29

The Zulus as well as the Colenso family’s strong protests at the annexation of the ‘New Republic’ had no effect. Indications are that Luthuli and Gumede’s services as Dinizulu’s indunas were terminated after the British annexation. Dinizulu and Gumede’s friendship would last until the former’s death in 1913. What was the historical significance of JT’s involvement in Zululand politics? Undoubtedly Gumede’s involvement is fundamental to an understanding of the development of his political philosophy. The lessons are rich, varied and complex. Clearly, his entry into Zululand politics had endangered Gumede’s life at times. He had gained firsthand experience of the reality of Whites’ coercion and dispossession of the Zulus’ land. He experienced the frustrations and difficulties, which confronted the Zulu royal house. The Boers’ occupation of nearly five-sixths of the Zulu territory instilled a sense of bitterness in him towards the Boers. At the same time Gumede felt that the British offered little, if any help to prevent the disintegration of the Zulu socio-economic and political stability. Britain’s unwillingness to intervene on behalf of the Zulus affirmed their (Britain’s) determination to bring an end to the Zulu monarchy. Consequently Gumede never approved the British annexation of Zululand, claiming that it had opened up the territory to further White settlement.30History has shown that Gumede’s fears were well-founded. The 1890s saw a marked increase in the pressure to open Zululand to White settlement, the continued protests and resistance of the Zulu spokespersons like Harriette Colenso and Gumede notwithstanding.31


Gumede returned to the Bergville/Klip River Division where he was welcomed back by his chief Ncwadi of the Ngwane. Ncwadi had built up a reputation as being one of Natal’s loyal chiefs. Although many of his younger men became migrant workers at the gold and diamond fields, Ncwadi allowed his boys and young men to become proficient in reading and writing. They might dress and become Christians (Kholwas) if they liked, but they were all managed according to native law. Gumede was no exception. Despite his European education, his loyalty and appreciation of traditional Zulu culture and chieftaincy was unquestionable and earned him Ncwadi’s trust. In 1895 Gumede would render important assistance to his chief in the latter’s struggle against a White magistrate. Towards the end of the 1880s Gumede accepted a temporary teaching post at the famous Adams College.32In its early days it was called the Amanzimtoti Institute, but it was later renamed after its founder, Dr Newton Adams. At the time of Gumede’s appointment, it had built up a good reputation with three teachers of high calibre: John Dube, Albert Luthuli and Mavuma Nembula.33

An event of significant importance to Gumede was the visit of a Black American troupe of Virginia Jubilee Singers to Natal in 1890.34The group also visited Adams College where Gumede had been teaching. Inspired by their performances and international success, Saul Msane, Gumede and a group of twelve singers formed the “Zulu Choir”. The story of the Zulu Choir is one of ambitions and dreams that refused to be stifled by Pass Laws regulations and curfews; of black Christian musicians who drew large multi-racial audiences.

The majority of the troupe hailed from Edendale, Driefontein and Indaleni and consisted of six sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, three tenors and four basses.

Not content with singing at the local churches, the Zulu Choir embarked on a tour in Natal and major towns on route to Cape Town in 1892.35This meant the end of Gumede’s teaching career at Adams College. The Zulu Choir received great receptions at Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Ladysmith, in Natal, and East London, Grahamstown, Queenstown, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.36

However, their national tour was not without racial obstacles. The Choir had great difficulty in securing hotel accommodation in Port Elizabeth. Inspired by their successful South African tour, its European managers considered the choir good enough to embark on a challenging tour to Britain in May 1892. The aims of the tour were twofold: to pay off the debt on the Edendale Institution, where most of them had been educated, and to introduce to the missionaries’ mother country the vibrant richness of South African Black culture. Proceeds from their South African tour were sufficient to cover their expensive voyage costs. The URMS Tartar sailed into Southampton at 11h00 pm on Sunday 1 May 1892 after a voyage of eighteen days.37The Choir was by no means unique in performing overseas at that time. In 1891 another African Choir, the Jubilee Chorus had travelled abroad, performed before Queen Victoria both in traditional tribal dress and in their ‘Christian clothes’, and had been presented to the Queen at her court.38Both choirs were performing in England during 1892.

While their South African tour had brought high hopes of possible musical careers abroad for the Zulu troupe, the tour to England brought one disappointment after another, in particular for Gumede and Saul Msane, theChoir leader. Importantly, the kind of racial and colour prejudice that awaited the Choirs in England was without parallel. That it existed was clear enough from the contemptuous comments in the local newspapers. Even before their debut appearance at the Imperial Theatre, the Choir’s English managers were accused “that their noble savages are not Zulus”. “It would be impossible”, wrote one reader in the London weekly South Africa, (aimed at South African readership) “to get even one Zulu to come to Westminster and these specimens are either low degraded Tongas or Togt Kaffirs”. The reader added that: “A Zulu doing a solo in England would be a black swan”.39The managers, Holloway, Illing and Co. reacted angrily to these accusations. They informed the editor that the credentials of the Choir were signed by GM Rudolph, the resident magistrate of Klip River country and the acting Colonial Secretary for Natal, Christopher Bird. “As to the sneer of the paragraphist”, remarked the managers, “we have in our troupe many black swans, some of exceptional power; and as your writer has shown himself ignorant, as well as coarse, we shall be pleased, if he will call on us to give him a lesson about Zulus of whom he knows nothing”. The Choir’s performances received a mixture of critiques and praises in the British press. A reviewer of The South African Empire praised the musical talent of the Choir in no uncertain terms:

Whether as soloists or as choristers, they exhibit a marked degree of excellence.Under the able tuition of Mr. Horace Seymour, the musical director, they performed a vocal selection that would not have discredited a London Choir.40

Unfortunately, the ubiquitious star that had been showering its light upon the Choir soon disappeared.41When reports of the Choir appeared in the London press again, it was for a different reason, namely the growing friction and misunderstanding between Msane and the managers. Msane, a Wesleyan lay preacher, objected to continuing to give performances as “Zulu warriors in traditional garb” at music halls.42Gumede sided with Msane, claiming that these performances were misrepresenting the aspirations of Black Christians and “show the English public how savage heathen they can become”. The managers tried to hold the dissident members of the Choir to their contract, but failed.

The final split came on 6 October 1892 leaving the Msane family, Saul, his wife and daughter as well as Gumede without any financial resources to return home.

The case of the Zulus (Msane’s group) “who applied at one of the police courts for advice appears to be rather a hard one”.43Although efforts were made to provide relief for Msane’ group, they had to remain behind when their former Choir members returned home in March 1893. Gumede, et al, only managed to return to South Africa on 5 August, aboard the USS Goth on her maiden voyage from Southampton. Msane and his company stayed in England for more than a year. It is clear that their overseas tour was one of the most important influences on the performance culture of Black South Africans. The tragedy is that all attempts to reconcile the Choir members failed.

Gumede arrived back in Rookdale with little, if any, finances. His priority was now to establish himself. Less than a year after his return from England, Josiah married Margareth Rachel Sitole, who also hailed from the Bergville district. Little information has been found about Margareth’s history. Magema Fuze holds that the Sitole was an important Zulu clan.44Margareth was said to be a dedicated teacher by profession and a devoted Wesleyan. Not having their own church building at Rookdale, the bridal couple travelled the 10 km to Ladysmith where Rev Aron Illing conducted their marriage ceremony at the St. John Mission Station on 30 June 1894.45Margareth combined the qualities of a serious Christian mother with a determination and individuality of character. She assisted the Rev. Illing in his pastoral duties at Rookdale and was instrumental in having their own church built.46Gumede was employed as an induna of his chief in 1895. During this period his chief, Ncwadi’s authority over his community was constantly being challenged by a European magistrate, David Giles. Gumede, convinced that Giles’s acts constituted a violation of the Shepstonian principles of African Administration, supported his chief. A bitter struggle between Gumede and Giles was in the making.


Gumede was aware that the course of White administration of Africans had never run smoothly in Natal. The main reason for that lay in the fact that in Natal, like elsewhere in the country, Whites always looked upon the thousands of Africans, as constituting a potential danger to the White minority should there be any disturbances. Following the Anglo-Zulu War, the British Colonial Office pinned their hopes upon the continued application of the Shepstonian system of administration as the most important factor for keeping the Africans peaceful. Three main pillars of the Shepstonian system of territorial segregation and racial differentiation were:

  • (1) the Zulus should be left in possession of their lands;
  • (2) they should be administered through their chiefs applying customary laws, and
  • (3) the imposition of a hut tax to cover the costs of the administration.

For Africans in Natal, their position became acute in the 1880s when the Shepstonian system was threaten by discriminatory legislation forced upon them.47Pass Law No 48 of 1884 restricted the liberty of Africans to move freely in Natal. Law No 52 of 1887 imposed certain fees on Passes for Africans.

Gumede regarded these laws as `an infringement and repudiation’ of their rights.48

It was especially the appointments and rule of the White magistrates that were destined greatly to exacerbate the already strained relations between the Africans and the government. Although magistrates were appointed to promulgate African laws, the records show that they often failed their duties.

Harriette Colenso claimed that the magistrates and administrators knew little or nothing of native customs and tradition.49

Already in 1882 Sir Theophilus Shepstone had warned that the breakdown in contact between the magistrates and the Africans would create tension. The stirrings of African protest – in this case Ncwadi’s - against the despotic rule of magistrates like Giles should be understood against this background. On the 2 September 1895 Josiah Gumede forwarded a petition at the request of his Chief Ncwadi to the Secretary for Native Affairs “praying that some other magistrate may be appointed to the Upper Tugela Division”.50

In this petition which contained 59 signatories, Gumede pointed out that Ncwadi and his people forwarded the petition “with sorrow and distress”.

The Ngwane were not satisfied with their resident magistrate, Giles’s, administration of law. Giles was accused of acting aggressively and often illegally towards the chief and his people. Giles was accused of oppressing the people for no reason.

Furthermore the tribe claimed that Giles had fined and imprisoned 13 tribesmen “without an offence”. The accused’s attitude towards the chief was also a cause for complaint. The petition called the Secretary’s attention to the fact that Giles treated Ncwadi with contempt. Gumede pointed out that Giles had involved himself in a quarrel between Ncwadi and the missionary of Hoffenthal Mission Station. Giles apparently sided with the missionary and even promised the removal of Ncwadi from his position as chief. The Ngwane’s fight against the Mnyamanas was also mentioned. They complained that Giles had fined Ncwadi’s people three pounds each while one of the Mnyamanas was fined only one pound. In conclusion the petition specifically declared that “ever since his arrival in the district, Giles’s administration has been severe and his authority oppressive on the Natives”. The tribe gratefully acknowledged the invaluable assistance rendered them by the colonial government. They affirmed their respect for the government of her Majesty in times of peace and war. They prayed that the government would have pity on them and send them some other magistrate.

On 10 September 1895 Gumede forwarded a second petition containing 75 signatures. The list referred to eleven individual complaints against Giles.

The Secretary for Native Affairs was informed that the Europeans’ cattle had overrun their location. Ncwadi had gone to Giles to ascertain why the latter brought European cattle into their location but was informed that the cattle were to be permitted because the land was droughtstricken. The Ngwane also complained about having to take off their hats while at a distance from the magistrate’s office, even though the sun was hot or when it rained. Furthermore they pointed to the fact that matters that were triable by their chief were now being tried by the magistrate.

An analysis of the nature of the complaints revealed that the petitioners ultimately focused upon the disadvantages, if not the dangers, of the despotic powers of a magistrate who would brook no opposition. As far as their two petitions were concerned, Gumede had placed his hopes on Frederick Moor, who was appointed Secretary for Native Affairs in 1893. Moor’s position, however, was extremely ambiguous, since he was elected by a White constituency consisting mainly of White farmers, and responsible to them in Parliament, yet he had to represent African interests in the government.51

Assessments of Moor’s first term of office (1893-1897) had been encouraging for Gumede and the Ngwane’s petitions. The petitions put Agnes Colenso’s verdict of July 1895 that “Moor tried to do his best to look after and protect African rights” to the test.52History reveals that Agnes Colenso’s verdict did not stand this test. Accusations that “the government was reluctant to take action against magistrates or publicly express disapproval when they erred”,53were again proven to be right. A few days after receiving the petitions, Moor instructed Christopher Bird, the Principal Under-Secretary, to circulate the petitions among the government ministers concerned.54

The Colonial Secretary, Attorney General and the minister of Lands and Works were called upon to comment on the petitions. They all shared the view that a report from Giles to the petitions should be obtained. On the 20 September 1895 S.O. Samuelson, the Under Secretary for Native Affairs, whose appointment in 1893 was welcomed by the editor of the Inkanyiso with “no better man could have been chosen”, requested Giles to respond to the accusations listed. In his report Giles was at his most vitriolic. Giles, headstrong as ever, was not prepared to budge an inch to Gumede and Ncwadi.

Giles reacted angrily to the accusations and in return accused Gumede of “making a handsome living out of writing these complaints which he will continue to do as long as taken notice of ”. With regard to accusations that he punished natives without offenses, Giles referred Moor to the monthly returns records of both the SNA and the Attorney General departments.

Giles pointed out that there had been only two cases of appeal against his sentence of which one was remitted by the government. As for the complaints about the grazing of European cattle in the location, Giles had to admit that some Europeans declined to pay Ncwadi. Referring to the hat issue, Giles was equally scathing: “I do make them raise their hats when saluting or talking to me”. Giles exonerated himself of all responsibility for the strained relations with the chief. Instead he accused Ncwadi of “many and manifold injustices this chief is so fond of perpetrating on his tribe”. “The petitions”, in his opinion, “were the outcome of his remonstrating with Ncwadi for fining a tribesman five pounds for going to work in Johannesburg without first obtaining the chie’s permission”. In conclusion Giles speculated that the signtories were compelled to sign the petitions, “since they dare not refuse to sign”.

Giles’s report was circulated amongst the government ministers. Moor could not have had more compelling evidence of the pent-up frustration of both parties, nor of the state of tension and the fatal lack of mutual confidence between the magistrate and the Ngwane. Ncwadi and Gumede awaited the judgement of the SNA with expectations. Their expectations were only partly fulfilled since Giles won the constitutional battle. The Natal government delivered its judgment on Giles’s report on 2 November 1895. The Government was not prepared to remove Giles from his position as resident magistrate in the Upper Tugela Division. In order to pacify Ncwadi and his people, the government reprehended Giles conditionally. In his letter to Giles the Principal Under Secretary, Christopher Bird, warned Giles that “it is absolutely necessary that you should be most circumspect in your discharge of the duties of the office which you hold”.55Bird warned Giles that if strained relations continue to exist between himself and the inhabitants of his district, whether European or Native, “the Government will be compelled to further consider the question of your position in the service”. Moor paid lip service to the Ngwane’s struggle. It was clear that he had little sympathy for Gumede’s petitions and the interests of the Ngwane. Instead he was insistent that the prestige of the government had to be maintained among the Africans at all times.56It was clear that Moor was “a White supremacist in the Shepstone tradition, in many ways illiberal and extremely harsh in his approach to the Africans”.57

S. Samuelson’s support for the Africans’ cause was also lacking. This and similar actions in the future contributed to his being regarded by many Africans “as simply an officer under responsible government who is carrying out the instructions of his superiors, ignoring their interests”.58In 1906 Joseph Baynes was to echo a common complaint when he wrote to the Secretary of State, Elgin, that Samuelson’s voice was never heard on behalf of the Africans.59

Even Sir Matthew Nathan who became the Governor of Natal in 1907, had little confidence in S. Samuelson.60Behind the struggle between Gumede and Giles lay much political calculation. No other member of Ncwadi’s community campaigned more strongly for the removal of Giles than Gumede. Ncwadi, mindful of Gumede’s formal schooling and teaching credentials as well as his earlier involvement in the politics of Zululand, opted for Gumede as his official spokesperson. Gumede’s role in the struggle should therefore not be underestimated. His struggle against Giles revealed his potential powers of leadership. He devoted his political and literary talents to the dismantling of Giles’s rule of fear, which consequently contributed considerably to his prestige amongst his fellow compatriots. Ncwadi and his people knew that Giles rebuke at the hands of Bird was brought about by Gumede’s eloquent and detailed critiques of Giles’s aggressive and illegal system of African administration. Gumede’s battle with Giles inevitably benefitted Ncwadi albeit only on a short term basis. Gumede took upon himself to see that Ncwadi and his people no longer had to worry about continous harassment from Giles. His battle with Giles provided Gumede with a lesson in political and legal strategy which he would use again in future.

Indications are that Gumede also spent a short period on the gold mines on the Rand, where he “was making matresses” and dispatching parcels. His wages of six pounds per month was well above the two pounds which was paid to the unskilled African worker.61The Gumede family’s financial prospects appeared to be much brighter. Having experienced the trauma of land expropriation through his ordeal with the Transvaal Boers in Zululand, Gumede realised the importance of land hence his decision to invest his earnings by purchasing land. Gumede became a shareholder in the Rookdale-Keswick land syndicate. As would be shown, one of Gumede’s main concerns throughout his life had been the question of African landlessness. The years 1898 and 1899 saw the birth of the first two of Josiah and Margareth’s five daughters, namely Edith Beatrice and Tabita Sarah.62Edith became a teacher and taight the late President Banda of Malawi in Johannesburg. In return the President bought her a house in Pimville, Soweto. Edith died in 1992 at the age of 101. The childrens’ Christian names is an indication of their parents’ loyalty to their Christian faith. At this time dark and dangerous war clouds were again appearing on the South African horison. Gumede was about to take a major step towards military prominence.


“This is to certify that Josiah Gumede, Native scout and Interpreter, has been employed as a scout in Military employ from 8 August 1900 - 3 June 1902, and was given his discharge on latter date owing to the peace declaration”. Signed sgt. Russel Luckork on 3 June 1902.63

From the beginning, Africans like Gumede, played a central role, firstly as non-combatants and, as will be seen later, as combatants, serving both armies.64

Africans hoped that a British victory would result in the extension of idealised British non-racial ideals over the Afrikaner Republics.65A substantial proportion of the African military labour force joined the war for economic reasons, some African labourers earning between three and four shillings a day.66

Financial as well as the above political reasons may well be the reasons why Gumede availed himself for duty in the war.

Gumede was one of the first Africans to be recruited and trained by the Natal Intelligence Department even before the war started in October 1899. Gumede was appointed the Headman over a group of Basuto scouts who were attached to the Natal Field Force Headquaters.67Gumede’s scouts worked in close co-operation with the Natal Guides of Corps, which consisted of English farmers. Their main duty was to patrol part of the Natal border.

The scouts also played an important role in the relief of Ladysmith. Following the relief of Ladysmith, Gumede and his scouts were transferred to the Intelligence Department at Van Reenen. They were attached to the Drakensberg Defence under the command of Allan Hershensohn.68They eventually stayed more than seven months at Van Reenen. Hershensohn respected Gumede’s contributions:

I have much pleasure in testifying to the excellent manner in which NativeScout Josiah Gumede has at all times discharged his duties, both in scouting, his position being that of Chief of Native Scouts, and also Interpreter for the Natives for over seven months past. He has always taken the greatest interest in his work and been very prompt and zealous in the performance of his duties.69

This was the spirit in which many other War officers expressed their gratitude to Gumede and his scouts’ war effort.70

At the end of the war, Gumede obtained employment as Head Clerk and Interpreter in the Native Refugee Department at Harrismith.71The Native Refugee Department was established in June 1901 in the Transvaal and in the Orange Free State in July 1902.72Towards the end of the war there were 31 camps for Africans in the Orange Free State alone. The Native refugee Camp at Harrismith consisted of six farms and housed six thousand Africans or 1000 families.73At Harrismith Gumede bears witness to the suffering of Africans in those camps. Three days before Gumede was discharged from his duties in the war, Britain agreed at Vereeniging to a peace settlement that would put Afrikaners back in power, give them 3 million pounds compensation and keep Africans, Coloured and Indians in subjection. Needless to say, Gumede and Africans in general felt betrayed. To add insult to their injury Gumede and the scouts were engaged in a fierce battle with the Colonial officials to secure their war medals.74To begin with, in his speech at the Ladysmith Banquet on 2 January 1903, Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, promised that war medals would be awarded to some of the African chiefs and others who had rendered valuable assistance to the British Army. Ministers in the Natal Government were opposed, in principle, to the granting of silver war medals to Africans, which to them implied a degree of equality between the European and African soldier. The Natal authorities were in favour of granting bronze medals to the African scouts, which the African scouts bluntly refused. They instructed R.C. Samuelson, the Officer Commanding of the Natal Native Scouts, to draft a letter to the Governor, Sir Henry McCallum in which he expressed that:

they are very much hurt and deeply disappointed to find that theirservices in such an important campaign as the late Boer War are not nowconsidered of sufficient value to entitle them to the Silver Medal under Section28 of Army Order No. 94 of April 1901, which was also promised to them bythe Minister of Lands and Works on 30 June 1903.75

Consequently, the Governor arranged a meeting with the leading men of the Native Scouts for 14 February 1905 in order to clear up what he thought “is a little misunderstanding”.76The Scouts were represented by Jabez Molife and Stephen Mini of Edendale; Josiah Gumede of Bergville; Simeon Kambule of Driefontein and Zephaniah Masuku of Blood River. McCallum made it clear to the scouts that the proposal of the Government to issue bronze medals instead of silver ones, should not be seen as treating them badly. The Governor claimed to have seen the Army Orders and that it was bronze medals that were in question. The second question discussed at the meeting related to the limitation of the numbers of scouts who were to receive medals. McCallum promised the scouts that he wanted to see them all rewarded - not only the bravest. However, he felt that it will make a precedent for all the other bodies of Natives in South Africa. McCallum wanted to know whether they had changed their decision of refusing to accept the bronze medals as mentioned in their last letter. The Governor’s attempts to persuade them to accept the bronze medals failed. Stephen Mini responded by assuring the Governor of the loyalty and obedience of the African people. Mini pointed out that many Officers of the Government had made them believe that they would all have medals. The notion of only a few receiving awards, went against the scouts’ principles. Mini’s views were that:

"those who were ready to lose their lives and to sacrifice their all for the King, should all be treated alike as was the case in our own country with our own Kings. Even the humblest men in the country got the same mark of distinctionas the greatest, because they had all shared the same danger and risks of thewar”.

Samuelson concluded that silver medals were never given and most of the Black leaders had died, “leaving their children with the feeling that the Whites cannot be trusted”.77


Undoubtedly the period under discussion portrays Gumede’s highly eventful young career. It is clear that Gumede was an ambitious man, constantly in search of upward mobility and success in his private and public life. For Gumede it was also a period of an increasingly confusing nature where he tried to come to terms with Christianity, European-type education, segregation and racism. Gumede never attempted to hide or disregard the fact that he was a Zulu. On the contrary, seeking to preserve African, in particular Zulu culture from being trampled into extinction, Gumede emerged as a spokesperson for this cause. Gumede entered politics at a relatively young age and the lessons of his defeats at the hands of the Transvaal Boers were not totally lost on him. He understood the true nature of white dispossession of African lands. A highlight of his career was his visit to England as a member of the Zulu Choir. Another dominant theme of this chapter is that of the ambiguity of early elite politics in that Gumede actively supported the British in the Anglo-Boer War hoping to claim their rights as British subjects afterwards, while at the same time opposing the negative implications of colonial policy.