1. Discovering Seme - Tim Couzens
  2. The Early Years - Richard Rive
  3. The Mount Hermon School File
  4. Product of Moody School
  5. How Congress Began -
  6. R V Selope Thema

Discovering Seme - Tim Couzens

There are two good reasons for the publication of this book. Firstly, the

name of Pixley kaIsaka Seme is today almost completely unknown. Yet it was

largely because of his ideas and inspiration that the African National Congress

was founded on an overcast but calm day (8 January) in 1912 (the subsequent days

of the conference were fine and calm!). There is no full biography of Seme.

Indeed, very little is known about his life. This book, then, aims to make

available hitherto unknown material connected with his early years and to give

insight into a character who was one of South Africa`s most important historical


Secondly, the book is intended to honour the memory of Dr Richard Rive,

scholar and writer (as well as friend). Richard Rive was brutally killed in

1989; his death was a shock to all those who remembered his affability; the

aetiology of his death lies in the complexity of the society in which he lived

most of his life. But he left behind him an uncompleted manuscript which

contained the story of an important discovery.

Northfield Mount Hermon School (situated in north-western Massachusetts) has,

in recent years, established scholarships to bring black South African students

to the school for a year`s free board and tuition. The school then tries to find

money and placings for successful students at universities. Some years ago it

broadened the scope of its programme to include several other schools and

Counsellor C. Yvonne Jones, organiser of the programme, visited South Africa in

1986 to publicize the scholarship among prospective candidates. In Cape Town she

met Richard Rive who had been appointed to Harvard University as Visiting

Professor in the Department of English and American Literature for Spring, 1987.

She mentioned to him that Pixley Seme had been a pupil at Mount Hermon around

the turn of the century.

In February, 1987, Rive visited Mount Hermon as Mrs. Jones`s guest. He was

shown a file of documents relating to Seme`s time at the School. The archivist

of the school library, Mrs. Linda Batty, had discovered the file after it had

lain undetected for over eighty years. Rive was allowed to have copies of these

papers and was thus able to reconstruct details of Seme`s early life. He was

full of gratitude to Mrs. Batty, Mrs. Jones and Northfield Mount Hermon School

and the book which follows has that file as its nucleus.

The originals of the letters, documents and newspaper cuttings are in the

school library. The collection contains nine documents (five application forms,

one list of Seme`s measurements for a suit, one receipt for a catalogue received

by him, and two unidentified, undated press cuttings) as well as twenty-seven

letters, most of them to Professor Henry Cutler (ten from Seme himself.) Rive

appears to have added two further newspaper cuttings to this collection. In

March, 1987, he wrote an introduction to the documents but does not seem to have

edited them or properly arranged them before his death two years later. In order

to complete the whole tale two further important pieces have been added: the

first is Seme`s prize wining speech `The Regeneration of Africa`, a seminal

piece of political thinking for those years just prior to the founding of the

ANC; the second is an article published in the July, 1953 edition of Drum

magazine in its celebrated series `Masterpieces in Bronze`. It is something of

an historic piece in its own right, written as it was by the recently retired

editor of Bantu World and doyen of black journalism, R. V. Selope Thema.

Although the documents relating to Seme are few in number and brief in scope

they give a fascinating insight into the early struggles of the man. For

students and scholars who might want to follow his footsteps there are several

addresses to visit. There are minute details as to his waist measurements and

smallness of size: more importantly, there is a clear indication as to how Seme

grows in stature, improving his language skills, growing in confidence, becoming

a world traveller with expanding knowledge, experience and vision.

Seme was not the first black South African to study overseas (Tiyo Soga was

ordained into the Presbyterian Church in Scotland in the 1850s, for instance)

but he was one of the earliest. These letters give a hint as to the

difficulties, particularly financial, which he and his contemporaries had to

face in their pursuit of higher education. They also hint at the kind of

networking that w as beginning to develop as a particular class of people began

to grow (Seme tried to help the Makanya family place at least one of its sons in

a school overseas). Above all, the letters provide some understanding of the

determination of Seme to succeed.

Black South Africans have been better served by autobiography than biography.

An exception is Brian Willan`s wonderful biography of Solomon Plaatje. If one

reads Seme`s letters in the light of Willan`s book and with the help of a

somewhat different study, Andre Odendaal`s Vukani Bantu! one can begin to

appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of a remarkable group of people at the

turn of the century - there were the four lawyers (Seme, Alfred Mangena, G. D.

Montsioa and R. W. Msimang) who studied overseas and made large contributions to

the early ANC; there were the Sogas, the Jabavus, the Rubusanas, the Jordans and

many more.1 They often combined many talents - their

professions, politics, journalism. Three of them started newspapers. Seme was to

be instrumental in the founding of the ANC`s newspaper Abantu-Batho in 1912 but

one of the tragedies of South African history is that no complete run of this

paper survives even though it lasted into the early 1930s.

Seme`s activities in 1912 were not only political and journalistic. He saw

the need for organisation and unity in the economic sphere, too. Consequently he

was the driving force in the founding of the Native Farmer`s Association of

Africa Limited. The directors of the company met for the first time in the

Realty Trust Building in Johannesburg on 25 October 1912 and Seme was made

chairman.2 The main purpose of the company was to

buy land for blacks to settle on, and in the Wakkerstroom District of the

Eastern Transvaal the farms of Daggakraal and Driefontein were bought; the land

remains in the hands of the original owners to this day, witnessing the

martyrdom a few years ago of the community`s leader, Saul Mkize, and the defying

of the attempts by the South African government at removal. Not only do we have

Seme`s political legacy still, in the form of the ANC, but we also have remnants

of an economic legacy in these farm communities.

But politicians must never be made into total heroes. Both Rive and Selope

Thema implicitly warn us against this. As a lawyer, Seme faced the great odds of

racial prejudice initially; later he became more established. But in 1932, the

Supreme Court removed his name from the Roll of Attorneys.3

The circumstances are not a credit to Seme.

A number of blacks had lived on the white-owned farm of Waverley in the

Pretoria district prior to the passing of the Natives Land Act of 1913. In the

1920s they came under the threat of eviction. They engaged Seme`s services but

the case was lost both in the magistrate`s court and in the appellate division.

The lawyer then failed to lodge a further appeal to the Supreme Court within the

prescribed three weeks and failed to notify his clients that this was a

possibility. The Waverley residents then complained that Seme had not used

properly the considerable sum of money they had paid him. Seme defended himself

by saying that some of the money had been paid not as legal fees but to defray

expenses which Seme claimed had been incurred trying to `fight the case

politically` by using `influence to reach the authorities politically.` His

clients retorted that they had never paid him anything other than for legal

services. The Incorporated Law Society of the Transvaal decided that it must

apply to the Transvaal Supreme Court for Seme`s removal from the register on the

grounds of neglect of his duties to his clients and of `excessive, unreasonable

and unconscionable` fees. Seme failed to appear or defend himself when the case

came before the Supreme Court. There is some doubt as to whether this removal

from the register had any practical effect because a curious note in a

miscellaneous fees book records that he `never ceased practising`. On 14 April,

1942, he was reinstated as a lawyer.

Sadly, too, the man who launched the ANC ship in 1912, nearly sank it when he

was its president in the 1930s. A combination of lethargy and corruption nearly

destroyed the organisation then. But in 1943 he made one last important

contribution - however inadvertently - to South African history. He took a young

man called Anton Lembede on as a law clerk. In that way, it could be argued,

Seme became the father of black attorneys in the country. Lembede took the legal

profession by such a storm that he kindled the idea of law as a profession

amongst many blacks. Lembede was also a key figure in the founding of the ANC

Youth League in 1944 and became its first president. He coined the term

`Africanism` and helped define the concept. On 3 August, 1946, Seme informed the

Transvaal Lawyers Association that he had sold his law firm to Lembede. Lembede

died the following year, however, at the age of thirty-three.4

In the preparation of the documents which follow, idiosyncrasies of spelling,

usage and style have largely been retained. Only occasionally have these been

changed (e.g. certain abbreviations) in order to make the text or its meaning

clearer. The reader should be warned that certain parts of the original

documents are unclear or may be missing and that some faults (e.g. in addresses

or initials of names) may have crept into the text presented here. No doubt,

too, Richard Rive would have acknowledged the help or thanked certain people.

That is no longer possible.

They will no doubt content themselves with being the anonymous contributors

to the preservation of the reputations of both Pixley Seme and Richard Rive.

They must be thanked on Rive`s behalf.

I, too, have several people to thank. Firstly, George Seme and D. Seme whom I

interviewed many years ago in Ladysmith and Swaziland respectively. Then,

Celeste Emmanuel who typed what was sometimes a very difficult text. Most of

all, Professor Charles van Onselen and the African Studies Institute of the

University of the Witwatersrand who gave me the time and encouragement to

undertake this task. There is obviously a great deal more to be done on Seme`s

life. It is hoped that this small book will encourage a full-scale biography and

help whoever embarks on such a worthy undertaking.

A number of addresses in America, England and South Africa are given in the

letters and witnessed, for shorter or larger periods, the presence of Pixley

Seme. It would be nice to think that, one day, Monuments commissions round the

world might commemorate them with plaques or street names. In the meantime we

must content ourselves with the memorial of a modest book. In it the voice of

Seme, the pioneer newspaperman, the guardian of land tenure, the father of black

attorneys, the founder of the ANC, speaks to us after nearly a century and his

hand reaches out (with the help of Richard Rive) to nudge our memories lest we

forget again.


1. For further information on Seme and the

founding of the ANC, see T. Karis and G. Carter, From Protest to Challenge,

Stanford University, 1977, particularly Volumes One and Four; Odendaal, Vukani

Bantu! Cape Town, 1984; P. Walshe, Rise of African Nationalism in South

Africa, London, l970; and T. Couzens, C. Seme: `Lawyer and Leader`, in African

Law Review, Volume 1, No.1 January, 1987, pp 4-5.

2. Minute Book of the Native Farmers

Association of Africa Limited (rescued from a garbage heap and now housed in the

African Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand).

3. Most of the following information comes

from the Supreme Court trial record and from the Transvaal Lawyers Association


4. For slightly fuller information on Lembede,

see T. Couzens, The New African, Johannesburg, 1985, particularly pages


The Early Years - Richard Rive

During 1911, a thirty-year-old black lawyer with a growing practice in

Johannesburg, South Africa, took the major initiative in organising a

nation-wide congress of black representatives. This was an idea that had already

germinated in his mind eight years before while he was still an undergraduate

student in New York. His name was Pixley kaIsaka Seme. He was a Zulu

barrister-at-law, practising in the Transvaal as an attorney of the Supreme

Court of the Union of South Africa.

In this historic call, he emphasized the necessity for black unity.

The demon of racialism, the aberration of the Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity

that exists between the Zulus and the Tongas, between the Basutos and every

other native must be buried and forgotten... We are one people. These divisions,

these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness and

ignorance today.1

On January 8, 1912, his hope seemed to be realised when personalities from

black communities all over Southern Africa converged on Bloemfontein.

Appropriately Pixley Seme, as the initiator, gave the keynote address.

Chiefs of royal blood and gentleman of our race, we have gathered here to

consider and discuss a theme which my colleagues and I have decided to place

before you. We have discussed that in the land of their birth, Africans are

treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water. The white people of this country

have formed what is known as the Union of South Africa - a union in which we

have no voice in the making of laws and no part in their administration. We have

called you therefore to this conference so that we can together devise ways and

means of forming our national union for the purpose of creating national unity

and defending our rights and privileges.2

The assembled delegates then sang Tiyo Soga`s hymn, `Lizalise Dingalako Tixo

We Nyaniso` (Fulfill Thy Promise, God of Truth) and Seme formally proposed that

...The delegates and representatives of the great native houses from every

part of South Africa here assembled should form and establish the South African

Native National Congress.3

His motion was seconded by Alfred Mangena, a fellow lawyer, who had been

called to the bar two years earlier at Lincoln`s Inn, London. The African

National Congress was born.

Seme was elected Treasurer, Mangena one of the four Vice-Presidents and, in

absentia, Seme`s cousin, Reverend John Dube of Inanda, Natal, the President. Two

months later, on February 2, Dube made his first official call to the leaders,

chiefs and gentlemen of the South African Native National Congress.

Booker Washington is to be my guiding star (would that he were nigh to give

us the help of his wise counsel!). I have chosen this great man, firstly because

he is perhaps the most famous and the best living example of our Africa`s sons;

and, secondly, because like him, I, too, have my heart centred mainly in the

education of my race. Therein, methinks, lies the shortest and best way to their

mental, moral, material and political betterment.4

John Langalibalele Dube was the son of a minor Zulu chief of the Ngcobo line.

He was first educated at the American Board Mission at Amanzimtoti, Natal. Then

in 1887, as a sixteen-year-old boy, he managed to reach Oberlin College, Ohio,

where he trained as a teacher. He travelled widely in the United States

lecturing on self-help for Africans. In 1892 he returned to South Africa and two

years later was appointed superintendent of a Christian industrial school. He

returned to America in 1897 to study theology at a seminary in Brooklyn, where

he was later ordained as a minister of the Congregational Church. In 1900 he

returned to Natal.

While in the United States he had been strongly influenced by the work of

Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee and was desirous of setting up a similar

institution in South Africa. In 1901 he founded the Ohlange Institution in Natal

based roughly on Washington`s principles of self-help. Later, in 1903, he also

founded and edited the Zulu newspaper, Ilanga Lase Natal.

There is a fair amount of information available about John Dube but almost

nothing about his younger cousin Pixley Seme. The bare facts about Seme`s

earlier years are that he graduated from Columbia and Oxford and was called to

the bar at the Middle Temple, London. Material is also sparse about his years

after the establishment of the African National Congress. This might be because

his conservative influence, after the militant promise he had shown initially,

almost spelt the demise of that organisation. So lack-lustre and turgid was his

Presidency between 1930 and 1937, that Seme was at one stage accused of

`culpable inertia`. By the time he was ousted from office the Congress was all

but dead.

Recently some important documents connected with his school career in the

United States were unearthed by Mrs Linda Batty in the library archives of

Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.

Today this is a prestigious education institution of over 1100 pupils. It is

situated on two campuses. But the school had humble beginnings. In 1881 Dwight L

Moody, evangelist and educator of East Northfield, Massachusetts, founded the

Mount Hermon School for Boys on the west side of the Connecticut River on high

sloping ground which commanded an extensive view of river, valley and mountain.

The site he selected was the Old Purple Farm which he procured after much

effort. Once he had done so, he got down on his knees on the vacant site, and


O Lord we pray that no teacher may ever come within these walls except they

have been taught by the Holy Spirit; that no scholars may ever come here except

as the Spirit of God shall touch their hearts.5

These words proved prophetic when amongst others it later touched the heart

of a quiet, humble, Zulu herdboy who would years after come from faraway Inanda

in Natal.

A few months after Mount Hermon School was established, Isaac Seme was born

on October 1, 1881, on the other side of the world, at a rural mission station

in South Africa.

Seme later claimed to be a nephew of Umqawe, one of the most powerful chiefs

of Zululand, but a conflicting opinion seemed to suggest that he came from a

humble, Tonga family which for a long time identified itself with the Zulus.6

What is known is that his parents were farmers, that he was called Isaac after

his father, and that both parents were Christians. They died while he was still

a young boy. Seme had brothers and sisters but there is no certainty about the

numbers. Two of his sisters were married to preachers.7

He initially attended a school at a missionary institution in Natal run by a

white American priest attached to the Congregational Board Mission in Natal.

Reverend S.C. Pixley was later to play a dominant role in Seme`s American

education, both as mentor and financial provider. In 1895, at the age of

fourteen, Seme entered the Amanzimtoti Institution, which had by then changed

its name to Adams Training School for Boys. Here he was under the principalship

of Mr. George B. Cowles. Seme also helped out on the local farm which made

Reverend Pixley later describe him as `... caring for cattle. He is a cowboy`.8

The young boy was given the opportunity of training as a teacher at Adams

School, but he desisted. He seemed bent on emulating the achievement of his

cousin, John Dube, and continuing his education in the United States. John Dube

was at the time in his second year at the theological seminary in Brooklyn.

Reverend Pixley was also temporarily back in the United States staying at the

Congregational House in Boston.

Isaac Seme, at the age of sixteen, with a bare smattering of English to

assist him, travelled second and third class for over 10 000 miles in 1898 until

he eventually reached his cousin in Brooklyn. For a few months he remained there

to improve his English. He then travelled to Reverend Pixley at Boston and

eventually found work as a bellboy at `The Northfield` hotel in north-western


The manager was Ambert C Moody, a nephew of Dwight Moody, the founder of the

nearby Mount Hermon School. Ambert had himself graduated from there in 1888. He

was now, in addition to running the hotel, the general advisor in all business

problems that confronted the school.9 Ambert might

have influenced Seme to seek admission or been instrumental in his gaining

admission. The principal was Henry F. Cutler, a B.A. graduate of Amherst

University, to whom Reverend Pixley applied for admission for Seme, ... `that he

may be fitted to be a teacher of a high type of piety - and ultimately a

missionary to the Zulu people 10

Seme`s academic attainment to date was sparse. This was a major obstacle, but

the more serious one was how to obtain annually the $100 required for tuition

and boarding. Reverend Pixley was prepared to find the money for the first year,

but since he would be returning to his mission station in South Africa, he could

not give any further guarantees. Seme would have to learn to rely on his own

efforts by working during the Summer vacations.

His case is a very interesting one. He has worked his way to America and

wishes to do all he can towards self-support... Try him for one year. Have faith

that his bills will be paid.11

Professor Cutler was prepared to accept the challenge and permission to enter

Mount Hermon was granted. Reverend Pixley sent two cheques for $25 mentioning


He (Seme) has been at work at the hotel, `The Northfield` but will put in an

appearance at Mt Hermon on September 6th (1898). I hope to send him also some

clothing and an outfit in a day or two as soon as I can get to some place where

I can purchase the necessary articles... Hoping he will prove himself a boy

thoroughly in earnest to do good work and in due time if the Lord will be

prepared, to return to South Africa to aid in the elevation and Christianization

of the Zulus. Commending him to your Christian watch and care.12

John Dube, himself still a student at Brooklyn Seminary, managed to send a

money order for $38 and a cheque for $2. He promised to send the remaining $10

as soon as he could, and did so four days later.

In a beautiful, cursive hand, possibly to impress his penmanship on his

prospective principal, Seme wrote to Professor Cutler from `The Northfield`

hotel requesting a copy of the school catalogue. He signed the letter `Pixley

Seme, the Zulu Boy`.13 The new first name is interesting. He must have decided

to adopt it as a tribute to his guide and sponsor. He retained it for the rest

of his life.

There was also uncertainty about his ultimate profession. He gave these

variously as photographer, missionary and medical doctor. Only years later at

Columbia University did he add lawyer.14

In a questionnaire he was required to complete he was asked, `Do you believe

that you were a Christian before you came to Mount Hermon?` He replied in the

affirmative. The next question was `Do you believe you have become a Christian

since coming here?` He replied, `Much clearer.`15 Such was the influence of his

new school.

On September 6, 1898, Pixley Isaac Seme entered Mount Hermon School for boys

as a full-time pupil.

His tuition and board were paid up for that year and he had the promise of

clothes from Reverend Pixley. Either that missionary or John Dube contacted Mrs

Doubleday of New Jersey who in turn wrote to Professor Cutler to have Seme

measured up for clothes and the statistics sent to her. As a result the suit was

forwarded express to Seme by H.R. Jackson, tailors of Rutherford, New Jersey.16

By April, 1899, Reverend Pixley was about to return to South Africa. He was

worried because he had not heard from Seme for two months and feared that the

boy was ill. He was also concerned about the fees for the next academic year,

and suggested to Professor Cutler that Seme should try and procure work for the

Summer vacation. Seme did indeed do so and returned to his job at `The

Northfield`. There he was able to save $45.

John Dube in New York was also actively trying to raise extra money. He

approached Mrs Francis L. Stimson of Brooklyn, who in turn sought assistance

from Dr H.B. Silliman, a trustee of Mount Hermon, who three years later was to

donate a science laboratory to the school. She requested that Dr Silliman

contact Seme and suggest to the boy that he work for a year in order to raise

money. `He is an exceptional case- for which there may be some provision for he

has no home or friends this side the water.17

Nothing, however, came of this. Dr Silliman sent on that letter to Professor

Cutler for his consideration. Reverend Pixley in the meantime had found an extra

$50 towards the second year`s fees and was trying to interest what he referred

to as `some unnamed party to have a change of mind and help him (Seme) on his


Help indeed came albeit for the following year. Mrs Eliza Smith of Holyoke,

Massachusetts, sent a cheque for $100 directly to the founder of the school,

Dwight Moody19 (who died two months later). Reverend Pixley requested that Seme

not be informed about this windfall, to ensure that he would continue to work

during his Summer vacations and thus `depend mainly on himself`.20

Still more help came. Mr. A.J. Breinig, Secretary and Treasurer of the

Allentown Manufacturing Company in Pennsylvania, offered financial support. `The

Lord has put it into our hearts to provide the means for his next term at the


By this time John Dube had qualified as a Congregational minister in Brooklyn

and returned to Natal in order to found his Ohlange Industrial School.

Seme, unaware of how healthy his financial position was, spent the Summer

vacation working at Hotel American-Adelphi at Saratoga Springs, New York, where

he managed to save $50 which he promptly forwarded to his school principal.22

August 1901 was the beginning of Seme`s final year at Mount Hermon. It also

saw the start of Seme asserting his rights as an individual. His views on racial

attitudes seemed to have crystallised from passive acceptance to an aggressive

assertiveness. This had nothing to do with his stay at Mount Hermon where he was

treated like anyone else. He did fall foul of Mr. Charles Dickerson,

Vice-Principal and teacher of Natural Science and Mathematics. There seemed to

have been some dispute about room distributions for the coming year and Seme

wrote a strong reply to Mr. Dickerson who was in charge of room allocations.

I suppose it makes no difference with you where I sleep anyway - I don`t

believe it so I guess I better write anyway. I thought it best for me to send my

room allocation now because I will come in late in the afternoon 29th. I will be

very well pleased if you will fill my place as best you can in the following


C. Hall (Cressley Hall)

1st choice 96 or 98

2nd choice 53 or 51

3rd choice South East Corner. 2nd Floor

I don`t want the 4th at all so don`t try it. 4th Choice South West Corner. 2nd


Then followed this peculiar request. `For my room mate put the best new

coloured fellow.23

Could it be that Seme`s racial attitude was now manifesting itself and that

he was seeking sanctuary within the safety of a black identity`? This latent

awareness of his colour situation was to play an increasing role in his later

development which would culminate, just over a decade later, in the African

National Congress.

In April, 1902, Pixley Seme graduated from Mount Hermon School for Boys. He

spent the vacation working on a farm for Mr. Breinig of the Allentown

Manufacturing Company, who had assisted him financially two years before.24

A new problem arose, that of finding a university place and money for tuition

and board. At his request Professor Cutler applied to Yale University. The

application was processed by Alfred K. Merritt who might have had some former

connections with Mount Hermon.25 Seme was to write the entrance examination at

his old school. Once he had gained admission, there would be scholarships


Seme also applied for admission to Columbia University in New York. He was

deeply disappointed when he was unsuccessful in his bid for a Yale entry.

Instead, at the age of twenty-one, he entered Columbia University in September,


He still received assistance from diverse quarters. A niece of Reverend

Pixley, Mrs. Beale, sent $5 and a letter to Professor Cutler to forward to Seme,

with the promise of more to come later.26

In New York he was now a jaunty, talkative young man full of self-confidence.

In the big city he was in his element and the disappointment of Yale faded into


This is a very fine College. I am sure I could not have made a better choice.

The students as well as professors make it very pleasant for me.27

For his first vacation he had the romantic idea of becoming a gentleman`s

gentleman aboard a pleasure yacht. The newspapers played up the story and

headlined the item, `Royal Zulu Willing to Become a Valet`.28 His alleged royal

image could have been deliberately cultivated or mere newspaper sensationalism.

The article also stated his intention of qualifying as a medical doctor rather

than a lawyer. A further paragraph in the same article stated that Seme was

embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. Seme might have been more

cautious about certain inexactitudes reaching his cousin, John Dube, who was

running Ilanga Lase Natal. Nevertheless he was enjoying the publicity and

attention he was receiving and taking it all in his stride. He did not get the

position as a valet but instead procured the less romantic and more menial

position, at Kent House, Greenwich, Connecticut, of a storeman and a general

handyman. He earned $30 per month with board.

Seme graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University,

in April, 1906, and at the same time won the University`s highest oratorical

honour, the George William Curtis medal. His subject was `The Regeneration of


By this time he had adopted the more resounding and impressive name of Pixley

ka (son of) Isaka Seme. The newspaper article about his oratorical success added

that he was going to read law at Oxford for four years and then return to South

Africa to become `Attorney General for his people`.

Seme was engaged by the New York Board of Education Public Lecture Bureau to

deliver a series of free public lectures on `Life in Zululand`. This was a far

cry from working as a bellboy or storeman. His confidence was now such that he

told the reporter, `It is easy for me to learn and I can do anything I make up

my mind to do.29

In September, 1906, he entered Jesus College, Oxford, to read law. Because of

his interest in debate and current affairs he soon joined the Oxford Union. He

wrote to Professor Cutler in 1908 that that was going to be his last year of

undergraduate life in colleges.30 After all he had lived in dormitories and

institutions for eleven years and had never been back to South Africa during all

that time. He cut short his Summer vacation to complete his course as soon as

possible, and in June, 1909, gained the degree of Bachelor of Civil Law and

passed his first bar examinations. He went down to London and afterwards was

called to the bar at Middle Temple. In 1910 he finally returned to South Africa.

Seme had left as a quiet but ambitious herdboy twelve years before and now

returned as a sophisticated, highly qualified professional and a man of the


While in London in 1909, he had made contact with the W.P. Schreiner

delegation which attempted to plead against discriminatory articles contained in

the proposed Act of Union. Seme met with Reverend W. Rubusana, John Tengo Jabavu

and his later legal and political colleague, AIfred Mangena. With them he

discussed the possibility of a permanent nation-wide congress of black leaders.

When he returned in 1910, his first brief was the defence of an African

charged with the assault of a white man. His mind was now concentrating on a

congress of black people, and the following year his purpose was realised with

the establishment of the South African Native National Congress.

Seme built up a large legal practice and his clients included the Swazi Royal

Family. Later he married the daughter of Dinizulu, paramount chief of the Zulus.

In 1928 his former university, Columbia, conferred on him the honorary degree of

Doctor of Laws.

The leadership of the African National Congress was held by J.T. Gumede in

1928. He set the organisation on a course of alliance with the Communist Party

of South Africa which alarmed the conservative faction in the movement, who

rallied around Seme. In 1930 Seme captured the Presidency from Gumede by 39

votes to 14.

Seme`s leadership was conservative, lack-lustre and autocratic. He had grand

designs of making the African National Congress an engine of economic self-help.

He also tried to revive the now defunct House of Chiefs with which the Congress

had been burdened at its inception. In 1937 he was replaced as leader by Z.R.

Mahabane in spite of his packing annual conferences with his own delegates. Seme

retired into the political wilderness and spent the rest of his life

concentrating on his lucrative legal practice. In June, 1951, he died in


The African National Congress was now under the militant leadership of Chief

Albert Luthuli, and was taking a more dynamic direction. The Leaders gathered in

Johannesburg for the funeral of Seme and used the occasion for the discussion of

a closer political liaison with the South African Indian Congress. This was to

be initiated by jointly launching the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign the

following year with Nelson Mandela as the Volunteer-in-Chief. It can thus

correctly be said that the old, conservative, passive African National Congress

was buried on June 17, 1951, in the grave with Pixley kaIsaka Seme.


1. Peter Walshe, The Rise of African

Nationalism in South Africa. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of

California Press,1971), p.33.

2. Ibid., p.34.

3. Ibid., p.35.

4. Ibid., p.37.

5. Thomas Coyle (ed.), The Storm of Mount Hermon (Mount

Hermon, Mass: Mount Hermon Alumni Association,1906), p.8.

6. The statement that Seme was of Tonga background was made by

Jordan Ngubane, writer and politician. See Thomas Karis and Gwendolyn Carter

(ed., From Protest to Challenge. A Documentary History of African

Politics in South Africa (1882-1964). Vol. 4. (Stanford: Hoover Institution

Press, 1977), p.137. For references to Dube see p.24.

7. In his application for admission to Mount Hermon it is stated

that both Seme`s sisters were married to preachers. (Library, Northfield Mount

Hermon, August, 1898.) A newspaper cutting, `Royal Zulu Willing to Become

Valet`, mentions that Seme had a younger brother studying for the ministry at

Benedict College, South Carolina. (Library, 1903.)

8. Application to Mount Hermon, August 1898.

9. Coyle, Op. Cit., p.75.

10. Application to Mount Hermon, Op. Cit.

11. Pixley to Cutler, August 13,1898.

12. Pixley to Cutler, September 5, 1898.

13. Seme to Cutler, August 26, 1898. This is the first known

document in Seme`s hand.

14. Application to Mount Hermon, Op. Cit. His wishing to

become a lawyer is first mentioned in the newspaper article, `Royal Zulu Willing

to Become Valet`, Op. Cit.

15. Application to Mount Hermon, Op. Cit.

16. Doubleday to Cutler, February 2,1899.

17. Stimson to Silliman, August 26, 1899.

18. Pixley to Cutler, September 18,1899.

19. Smith to Moody, October 24, 1899.

20. Pixley to Cutler, September 18,1899.

21. Breinig to Cutler, December 26,1899.

22. Seme to Cutler, August 30,1900.

23. Seme to Dickerson, August 22,1901.

24. Seme to Cutler, May 14, 1902. See also Breinig to Cutler,

December 26,1899.

25. Merritt to Cutler, May 31, 1902. At the funeral of Mrs.

Cutler in 1902, a prayer was said by Reverend George Power Merritt, who had

graduated from Mount Hermon in 1895. He could have been a relation. See Harriet

Louise Ford Cutler. (The Living Recollections of Pupils and Friends) (East

Northfield, Mass.: the Book store, n.d. 1902).

26. Beale to Cutler, January 1, 1903.

27. Seme to Cutler, January 17,1903.

28. `Royal Zulu Willing to Become Valet`, Op. Cit.

29.` Zulu of King`s Race a Prize Orator`, unnamed, undated

press cutting, Library, 1906).

30. Seme to Cutler, September 5,1908.

The Mount Hermon School File

Application for admission Mount Hermon School

Applicants will understand that filling out this blank does not imply the

acceptance of the candidate.

Every application will be considered on its own merits, and its relation to

other applications, existing vacancies, and the purpose of the school.

Meritorious cases may be refused because they do not fall in line with the

special design of the school or because others have made prior claims.

Applicants are requested to answer every question with equal care and candor.

Flattering or misleading statements regarding the mental and moral character of

a candidate may bring about his admission to the school, but will only act

against him when he is here seen and known.

Among the indispensable conditions of admission are a sound mind and a sound

body. Feeble minds with no aptitude for study, and feeble bodies with no power

of endurance, are excluded, not because they need no help, but because the

school is adapted to this class of pupils. Lazy boys are not desired.

Every candidate accepted is received upon the understanding that he will

prove himself worthy of the advantages offered him or consent to forfeit them.

The parent, guardian, or some responsible person will fill out this blank and

return to the Principal of the school.

Please send photograph of applicant and also letter of own composition and

writing, stating what studies he has pursued, what his purpose in life is, and

which of the courses he wishes to take here.

Name of candidate Pixley I. Seme


Date of birth October 1, 1881

     Inanda Mission Station

Date of filling out this blank August 12, 1898

When do you wish to enter? This fall, 1898

What class do you hope to enter?

Do you apply for the full course? Yes

If not, how long do you intend to remain?

Name and address of parent Louis Stoiben


        722 Broadway

        N.Y City

1. Full name of candidate for admission.

        Pixley I. Seme

2. Birthplace.

        Inanda, Natal, South Africa.

3. Send a physician`s certificate as to health, specifying any weakness. Has

good health.

4. Has candidate done anything toward self-support? Yes. In what occupation?

Taking care of cattle. `Cowboy`.

5. What schools attended and how long? Mission School in South Africa.

6. Amount of work done in the following studies, give rank if possible:

        Arithmetic: Square root

        Grammar and analysis: Analysis

of complex sentences

        Geography: Longman`s Geography

        U.S. History: He studied British


7. If higher branches have been studied, state amount of work done in each.

8. Any marked preferences in study, reading and occupation? No preference.

9. Has candidate shown ambition to excel in anything?

10 Has he formed any purpose in life?

11. What prominent traits of character? A good boy.

12. Has he had any bad companionships? No.

13. Does he use tobacco? No. Has he any bad habits? No.

14. Is he a member of any church? He is a member of the Inanda Congregational

Church in Natal, South Africa.

15. In what religious belief educated? Congregationalism.

16. If not a member of a church, has he shown any interest in religion?

17. Why do you wish to send him to this school? I regard this school as being an

ideal for the purpose the young man has to be of service in his country.

18. Does the candidate himself wish to come here? Yes.

19. Full names and addresses of father, mother, guardian, or nearest friend.

        His parents are dead and I, John

L. Dube are willing to sign my name here.

        John L. Dube, Incwadi, Natal,

South Africa.

20. Are they in church membership? Both his parents were Xians

21. Their occupation and means? Farmers.

22. Who will be responsible for the pupil`s board and tuition? Mr. Louis Stoiben

of N.Y. City, 722 Broadway.

23. Who will be responsible for other expenses? Himself.

24. Send address of pastor and some business man.

1. Name: Pixley I. Seme

2. Do you intend to go to college? Yes.

3. What profession or occupation do you hope to enter? Missionary

4. Have you a trade?--What?--

5. Are you a communicant member of any church? Yes.

6. If so, of what denomination? Congregational.

7. Do you believe you were a Christian before you came to Mt. Hermon? Yes.

8. Do you believe you have become a Christian since coming here?

1. Name: Pixley I. Seme

2. Do you intend to go to college? Yes, if nothing will prevent.

3. What profession or trade do you hope to enter? Not decided.

4. Have you a trade? Yes. What? Photographer.

5. Are you a communicant member of any church? Yes.

6. If so, of what denomination? Congregationalist.

7. Do you believe you were a Christian before you came to Mt. Hermon? Yes.

8. Do you believe you have become a Christian since coming here? Yes.

1. Name: Pixley I. Seme

2. Do you intend going to college? Yes.

3. What profession or occupation do you hope to enter? Medicine.

4. Have you a trade? Yes. What? Photographer.

5. Are you a communicant member of any church? Yes.

6. If so, of what denomination? Congregational.

7. Do you believe you were a Christian before you came to Mt. Hermon? Yes.

8. Do you believe you have become a Christian since coming here?

1. Full name of candidate for admission: Seme, Isaac

2. Birthplace: Inanda Mission Station, Natal, South Africa.

3. Send a physician`s certificate as to health, specifying any weakness.

        Never has been sick. Born of

healthy parents.

4. Has candidate done anything toward self support? Yes. In what occupation? As

labourer on farms and Assistant Photographer at Adams.

5. What schools attended and how long? Mission Station School and Adams High

School - three years.

6. Amount of work done in the following studies, give rank if possible:


        Grammar and Analysis. Geography


7. If higher branches have been studied, state amount of work done in each.

8. Any marked preferences in study, reading and occupation? Photography.

9. Has candidate shown an ambition to excel in anything?

10 Has he found any purpose in life? Hope to fit himself as a teacher.

11. What prominent traits of character? Patience, perseverance.

12. Has he had any bad companionships?

        It is hardly possible to travel

10,000 miles as a second or third class passenger and not meet with evil men but

his intimate companions have been good and religious.

13. Does he use tobacco? No. Has he any bad habits? His missionary teacher does

not know of any.

14. Is he a member of any church? Is a member of the Lindley Mission Church, at

Inanda, Natal, South Africa.

15. In what religious belief educated? Protestant, Evangelical


16. If not a member of a church has he shown any interest in religion?

        See reply to question 14.

17. Why do you wish to send him to this school? That he may be fitted to be a

teacher of a high type of piety and ultimately a missionary to the Zulu people.

18. Does the candidate himself wish to come here? Yes, if he can do something

towards self support.

19. Full names and addresses of father, mother, guardian or nearest friend.

        Parents both dead. Missionaries

of the Zulu mission and John Dube are his nearest friends. Has