Josias Madzunya was born in the Sibasa area of the northern Transvaal in about 1909, a member of the Venda tribe, Madzunya came to Johannesburg in 1931, eventually establishing himself as a peddler. He joined a night school to earn a Standard 7 certificate, and sought to educate himself politically by attending Communist Party meetings. In 1951 he allied himself with Selope Thema's National-minded Bloc in opposition to left-wing and interracial trends in the African National Congress (ANC). He thereafter became chairman of an Alexandra branch of the ANC and played a leading role in the Alexandra bus boycott of 1957. The press seized on the flamboyant Madzunya and portrayed him as a leading Africanist. The Africanists declined at first to accept him, then later decided to run him for the Transvaal Congress presidency in 1958 on a platform of opposition to the Congress alliance. He lost and also failed to win a seat on the executive committee of the Pan Africanist Congress when it was formed in April 1959. Following the Sharpeville emergency he served an 18-month sentence for incitement; on his release he was endorsed out of Johannesburg.

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