Anton Lembede

Anton Lembede Street
Formerly: Smith Street

Anton Muziwakhe Lembede was born on 21 March 1914 into a peasant family, on a farm at Eston, north-west of Durban. He was schooled at home until he completed his elementary education. In 1927 his family moved to Umbumbulu. One of the reasons for the relocation was that his parents wanted Lembede, then 13, to get a formal education. He attended the Catholic Inkanyezi School and excelled in class, so much so that his teacher soon had him teaching his fellow pupils. He was passionate about his studies and would be often found deep in his books while out herding the cattle.

After completing standard three, Lembede worked briefly in a kitchen to raise funds to buy books and pay school fees for the Umbumbulu government school. He passed standard four with outstanding results and the local school inspector, Hamilton Makhanya, was so impressed by Lembede’s performance that he secured him a scholarship for Adams College near Amanzimtoti.

Lembede trained as a teacher from 1933 to 1935 under the guidance of various teachers, including Chief Albert Luthuli. After qualifying he started teaching in Natal before moving to the Free State. While teaching, he enrolled with the University of South Africa (Unisa) and obtained his BA and LLB degrees in six years. In 1943, Lembede left teaching to become a lawyer.

He moved to Johannesburg to serve articles under Dr Pixley kaSeme, an ANC leader. On arriving in Johannesburg, Lembede revived his friendship with his old friends Jordan Ngubane and AP Mda, who introduced him to ANC politics. He became instrumental in the formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944. Lembede became part of a national provisional committee overseeing the formation of the Youth League. On 10 September, 1944, the League was officially formed. Lembede, its president, helped draft its manifesto.

Two years later, Lembede was seconded to the ANC National Executive Committee and National Working Committee, under Dr AB Xuma. In 1945, after submitting a thesis entitled “The Concept of God as Expounded by and as it Emerges from the Philosophers from Descartes to the Present Day”, Unisa conferred upon him a MA in Philosophy. In 1946 he qualified as an attorney and partnered with kaSeme. He led a Youth League campaign to destroy the Natives Representative Council and boycott elections under the Native Representatives Act of 1936. In 1947, aged just 33, Lembede died of an undisclosed illness – his doctors said he suffered from “intestinal malfunctioning”. At the time of his death he was studying towards a doctorate in law.