Press "Enter" to skip to content

Long live Anton Muziwakhe Lembede!

Those who perish in pursuit of greater good in the course of human advancement never die. They live eternally. This is true for Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, a martyr removed from Earth on July 30 1947 by a mysterious illness, reported as cardiac failure with intestinal obstruction.

Lembede was an ordinary African from a humble background. Born on January 21 1914, he was the first born of seven children. His father was a farm worker and a staunch Christian and  his mother an educationist. From an early age Lembede invested utmost dedication in his studies, a passion he sustained until his death. This saw him securing a scholarship to do a Native Teachers Higher Primary Certificate. He finished in 1935 and started teaching the following year. 

While teaching, he furthered his education and completed a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and Roman law in 1940. He continued studying and completed a Bachelor of Law degree by 1942 and by 1945 he had completed his Master’s in Philosophy. He was studying towards his PhD and practising law at the time of his death.

Politically he was active, which led to him being elected as first president of the ANC Youth League in 1944. Leading with utmost integrity and credibility he became the one of the first engineers of Africanism and/or African Nationalism.

Lembede struggled against poverty, eventually beating the odds and forging ahead to become an illustrious son of Mother Africa.  

Vulnerable to erasure

African Nationalism as espoused by Lembede was Pan Africanist in outlook. He pronounced it to be the only ideology capable of enabling the continent to claim her rightful place in the world.

Under the motto “Africa’s Cause Must Triumph” Lembede’s nationalism called for self-determination and the attainment of freedom for the African people. It further stipulated that with Africans overcoming their inferiority complex, white domination would collapse.

He called on Africans to break their reliance on European leaders. He firmly opposed the idea of Africans merging their cause with European groups, white sympathisers, Indians and Coloureds, especially those who shared the European attitude and consciousness towards Africans. 

These are some of the ideas that saw Lembede attacked by different political actors including some within his party. Yet, he successfully defended his ideology against its rivals.

His untimely demise left his ideas and legacy vulnerable to erasure. There have been constant efforts directed against the memorialisation of Lembede’s contribution in the struggle against white domination, both pre- and post-apartheid. 

One understands when this was done by the racial supremicist apartheid government that despised the idea of equality among races, the ideal Lembede represented.   

But, it is dumbfounding when it is done by the “democratic government”. The rebellion  against Lembede by the incumbent regime is carried out for fear of the unknown. It must be understood in that context. 

It is the fear of what would happen if the people of South Africa, especially the Africans, realise that African Nationalism as our tool of analysis and a guide to action was long abandoned. What if Lembede’s teachings make people realise that all that the struggle was advanced for is far from realisation. That the incumbent chose the rainbow nation over African Nationalism as a guiding liberation theory and principle in addressing the previous imbalances of the past that persist. 

It is out of this fear that we see Lembede silenced and systematically wiped out from the country’s national consciousness by our leaders.

Anton Muziwakhe Lembede must and will live forever 

We usually say heroes never die, they multiply. It is for this reason that we must take a conscious decision to see to it that Lembede’s legacy continues to multiply 73 years after his demise. 

In our lifetime he will multiply at an increasing rate. 

Every young African, especially revolutionary activists in pursuit of fundamental change, ought to emulate his life. A life of courage, selflessness and commitment to a cause for advancement of the African people. His teachings must never fade. 

As he correctly asserted, African Nationalism must be “pursued with the fanaticism and bigotry of religion, for it is the only creed that will dispel and disperse the inferiority complex which blurs our sight and darkens our horizon”.

As we commemorate his day today, we recommit to do exactly that.  


  • Bonginkosi Khanyile

    Bonginkosi Khanyile is a youth activist and a Fees Must Fall advocate who is serving three years’ house detention