Alcott Skei Gwentshe

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Biographical information

Alcott Skei Gwentshe

Synopsis:

President of the Cape ANCYL and the Chair of the ANC in East London, an organiser of the 1950 and 1952 Defiance Campaign, a banned and  banished person. 

First name: 
Alcott Skei
Last name: 
Gwentshe
Date of birth: 
1920
Location of birth: 
Tsomo,Eastern Cape,South Africa
Date of death: 
27-October-1966
Ban information: 
Banished. Order suspended for a certain time period.
Miscellaneous: 
Lives of courage

Alcott Skei Gwentshe was born in 1920 in Tsomo in the Transkei. A shopkeeper in (Duncan Village township)East London, Alcott Skei Gwentshe played a key role in the establishment of an African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) branch in East London in 1948, and ‘in organizing East London for the stay-at-home of 26 June 1950 and the 1952 Defiance Campaign.’ Gwentshe was ‘powerful and charismatic’ and was ‘orphaned as result of the Bulhoek massacre in 1921.’ He helped to make East London one of the most powerful centres of protest during the Defiance Campaign.  He was arrested and tried with other Defiance Campaign leaders in the Cape and received a suspended sentence. The documentation related to his banishment noted that Gwentshehad attended African National Congress (ANC) meetings since 1948. He was active in various towns in the Eastern Cape and was clearly under the watch of the security police.   They registered that he addressed meetings in East London on 2-3 March 1952, 8 June 1952 and 23 October 1953; in Port Elizabeth, on 13 April 1952 and 27 September 1952; in King William’s Town on 29 June 1952; in Queenstown on 15-17 April 1952 and 7 February 1954; in Cradock on 15-16 August 1953, and in Uitenhage on 18 October 1953. Gwentshe became the chairperson of the ANC in East London and the president of the Cape ANCYL. He was a versatile man, also being ‘leader of the Hot Shots musical band.’

Gwentshe was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act by the Minister of Justice from attending meetings for six months. He was subsequently found guilty of violating his banning order on 26 March 1953 and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. In February 1954, at a Liberal Party meeting he was alleged to have said that disenfranchised people wanted their ‘own people in the Volksraad, they do not want representatives.’ The East London Municipality urged that be Gwentshe’s banished. On 6 July 1954,he was banished from Duncan Village, East London, [Eastern Province, now Eastern Cape] to ‘Maviljan Farm No.250’ in the Pilgrims Rest district of the Eastern Transvaal [now Mpumalanga Province]. Subsequently, in April 1955, he was banished again to ‘Natives Trust Farm Frenchdale,’ in the Mafikeng district of the Northern Cape [now North West Province]. His new banishment order noted that upon arrival in Pilgrims Rest he declined the job that was offered to him, and it was suspected that he received money from the ANC. It was alleged that he was being visited by ANC members in secret and that there were plans afoot for him to abscond. As his residence in an urban area made it diffficult to monitor his movements, it was proposed that he be banished to a locale where it would be easier to keep a watch on him.

In 1956, he was arrested in Mafiking for disobeying the order of the Governor-General to remain on the farm Frenchdale. He was alleged to have left the farm and to be living in Mafiking location. He was released on bail of £25 (R50). Represented by Joe Slovo, hewas found not guilty of contravening his banishment order. Another banishment order was served on Gwentshe in May 1957 to restrict him to Frenchdale. This arose from theNative Commissioner’s(NC’s) problem of Gwentshe continually being in the town of Mafekingand not beign able to successly charge him. It was complained that Gwentshe frequently met with ANC members and that his acquittals encouraged them. In August 1956, Can Themba’s expose of Frenchdale ‘concentration camp,’ in the Drum ‘Banned to the bush,’ focused extensively on Gwentshe, and his flamboyant character. Gwentshe was released from banishment in 1960 to Tsomo, his hometown, in the Transkei, [Eastern Province, now Eastern Cape]. His banishment order was withdrawn on 5 August 1964, with a document in Afrikaans bearing the signatures of President CR Swart, Prime Minister HF Verwoerd, and Minister MDC de Wet Nel.It was noted that although there had been accusations of misconduct, no evidence could be found, and the Police Commissioner did not object to his return.In 1960 he was allowed to return to Tsomo,but his banishment order was not officially lifted until 1964.One of his sons,Mzimkulu Gwentshe,served a five-year sentence on Robben Island for ANC activities and qualified as a lawyer in the 1980s.He died on 27th of October in 1966.


References:
• Contribution by Professor S. Badat on Banishment, Rhodes University, 2012. From the book, Forgotten People - Political Banishment under Apartheid by Professor S. Badat.
•  Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977)
• Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) http://www.jacana.co.za/component/virtuemart/?keyword=from+protest+to+ch... (last accessed 08 January 2019)

Last updated : 08-Jan-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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