From the book: Freedom In Our Life Time by Anton Muziwakhe Lembede
When I reflect on my memories of Lembede, two things stick out in my mind ”” his scholarliness and his innovative analysis of the freedom struggle. His dedication to his education brought him spectacular results. When he was young he got a lucky break. He had performed very brilliantly in Standard VI, so he was given a scholarship to further his education at Adams College. And he did well on that scholarship. He laid a good foundation for his later studies. He became a teacher, and this enabled him to work and earn some money to support himself and his parents and prepare for his future.
He made rapid strides in his studies ”” all through self-study. Oncehe completed his B.A., he began working towards his LL.B., the Bachelor of Laws. And then he rounded off his education by earning an M.A. degree in Philosophy. While he was studying and preparing for his thesis for his M.A.degree, we were staying together in Orlando East. We had extensive discussions because he was studying the philosophers from Descartes to the present day. Now that was very fortunate for me because he used to invite me to take part in discussing some of the issues raised by the philosophers. Very often we took opposite positions. I had to defend a certain position while he attacked it.
He wanted to gain some clearer understanding of the subject matter he was studying. He used me as a tool to achieve that goal. And, in this way, he also improved my knowledge. I was argumentative, too. I was a debater.I liked conflict, and he knew I was very stubborn. He was like that, too. He often challenged me. And after explaining to me so and so stood for this and that, he would make a reference to some book. He read to me, and I would read myself. Then we would discuss issues that he wanted to go deeper into. He invited me to take a certain line, an opposite line, so he could give me a chance to go deeper.He learned a lot from controversies because sometimes I attacked his positions just to give him an exercise in refuting my arguments.
When Lembede arrived in Johannesburg in 1943 to practice law, I was already there. In Orlando, I was chairman of the local branch of the ANC. There were people like myself and Walter Sisulu who had already been baptised into ANC politics, so we introduced him to the politics of Johannesburg and the ANC. But we soon learned that he was an independent and creative thinker; and he fast rose in the ranks of the young people who made up the Youth League.
Lembede was already politically conscious when he came to Johannesburg. He was critical of the set-up in South Africa ”” very critical. He could not understand why organisations like the ANC were weak. As time went on, it had become weaker and weaker.I likened the situation to a horse that was ridden by a small boy. The horse was not aware that it had greater powers than the boy. If it became aware. then it would not tolerate him for long. It would come to a point where the horse would say, "Get off. Get down quickly. "Now our power was potential. We weren't aware of it. Our power lay in the fact that we carried the South African society on our shoulders, literally in so far as our labour power was concerned. In the kitchens, in the gardens, in industry, on the roads, and on the farms, we more or less carried South Africa.
However, our power was only imaginary. But if we could unite around some issue, we could go very far. Once we achieved unity, we would give our rulers an opportunity to change their line. Once we decided on positive action and we were united, we would truly shock the whole country. We did not want to destroy South Africa. We wanted people to change their views and decide to meet and compromise in discussion as human beings. We were weak not only organisationally; we were weak in theory. We had not yet been able to study the situation in South Africa and the role we would play in bringing about a new South Africa. When Lembede and others joined the Youth League, we were quite clear on the general issues that faced us. But he was prophetic in his outlook; and this enriched his experience. He learned to come down to the people and to have the common touch and to address himself to the issues of common, ordinary poor people, workers and others.It was a great thing that he came amongst us. We really felt that he was a gifted man. He was learned. He had covered a lot of fields. He was a very clear thinker, a very good speaker. He came at a time when we needed a man of his type and background that enabled him to learn more and more and quickly.
He already had some clear-cut ideas on Africans. He was very critical of the African people. He said they were not conscious of who they were, where they came from, why they were here, and where they were going from here. Those were his complaints. It was our duty to devote ourselves to the great tasks of nation building along which we could lead the people and organise them. Very soon Lembede became accepted in the community and was acknowledged as a person who had a future in the country and would be useful to the people as a leader.
To those of us who personally knew Lembede he was an inspirational leader who left us as he was entering his most productive years.To present-day South Africans he is little more than a name from the past. I commend the editors for the patient detective work they have put into tracking down information on Lembede's life and collecting his writings. This volume will go far in educating people about Lembede, his ideas and politics. And I hope others will be challenged to follow its example and publish the writings of other stalwarts in our struggle. We need many more volumes like this so that present and future generations of South Africans can learn about their past and make their own critical judgments about what was said and done.