Dr James Lowell Zwelinzima Njongwe

Posted by Jeeva Rajgopaul on

People category:

Biographical information


Medical doctor, Member of the ANC Youth League, President of the Cape ANC and Chief organiser of the Defiance Campaign in the Eastern Cape in 1952

First name: 
James Lowell Zwelinzima
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
12 January 1919
Location of birth: 
Qumbu, Transkei, Eastern Province
Date of death: 

James Lowell Zwelinzima Njongwe was one of the most dynamic leaders of the African National Congress(ANC) after its turn to mass action in the 1950s, Njongwe was president of the Cape ANC and chief organiser of the Defiance Campaign in the eastern Cape in 1952. He was born at Qumbu in the Transkei in 1919 and completed a B.Sc. degree at Fort Hare. In 1945 he became one of the first two Africans to graduate in medicine from the University of the Witwatersrand. While a student in Johannesburg he became involved in the early organisation of the ANC Youth League, serving on its executive and helping to create pressures within the senior ANC that eventually led to the Programme of Action of 1949. "A handsome, sober and clear-thinking yet mercurial young man," according to Benson, "he was a trifle conservative, with a self-confidence that some mistook for arrogance, and above all an extremely hard worker."

Njongwe established his medical practice in New Brighton township. Port Elizabeth, where he became an organizer for the Youth League and the ANC, working closely with Robert Matji. In December 1949 he was elected to the ANC national executive committee. Until Njongwe began to apply his formidable talents as an organizer, the eastern Cape had not been a strong center of ANC activity, even though its population was among the most politically conscious in the country. During the Defiance Campaign, when Njongwe acted as Cape provincial president in the absence of Z. K. Matthews, membership in the ANC soared in both urban and rural areas of the eastern Cape, eventually topping 60,000. Thousands of disciplined volunteers defied the law, while others were mobilized to offer support to the dependents of those jailed. On June 26, 1952, the opening day of the campaign, there was a near-total work stoppage in Port Elizabeth. Njongwe's wife, a nurse, also threw herself into the campaign and led a batch of women defiers. Njongwe and other Cape leaders were arrested in September 1952, tried, and sentenced to nine months' imprisonment, suspended for three years. In December 1952, with his prestige in the ANC at its peak, and as a professional man of independent means, Njongwe was a strong contender to succeed James Moroka as president-general; support for Albert Luthuli eventually proved stronger, however.

In June 1954, just after he had been elected provincial president of the Cape, replacing Matthews, he was issued banning orders requiring him to resign from the ANC and attend no gatherings for two years. In poor health and severe financial straits, he left Port Elizabeth and re-established his practice in Matatiele in the Transkei. In 1956 he was named a co-conspirator in the Treason Trial but was not arrested. In the 1960 emergency, however, he was jailed for some time in East London. From late 1963 until December 1973 he was subjected to new banning restrictions. He died in 1976.

• Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977). From Protest to challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol.4 Political Profiles 1882 ”“ 1964. Hoover Institution Pres: Stanford University.
• Njongwe, P.Z. (Dr). 2009. Dr James Lowell Zwelinzima Njongwe (1919 ”“ 1976)Adler Museum Bulletin[Online] Volume 35 No. 1. Available at: web.wits.ac.za [Accessed 26 November 2009]

Last updated : 10-Aug-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 22-Sep-2011

Support South African History Online

Donate and Make African History Matter

South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.

Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.