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Dr AB Xuma Street
Formerly: Commercial Road

Alfred Bintini Xuma was born in 1893 into an aristocratic Xhosa family at Manzana Village, Engcobo, in the Transkei. His father was a lay Methodist preacher and his mother a traditional practitioner of medicine. Their seventh child, Alfred, rose from humble beginnings as a herd boy, house boy, horse trainer, teacher, shipping clerk and waiter, to qualify as a doctor and play a prominent role in the liberation movement.

He started school at the age of seven when he entered the Wesleyan Mission School at Manzana. He studied teaching at the Pietermaritzburg Training Institute and then taught at various schools in the Eastern Cape earning £14 a term, before leaving South Africa in 1913 to study medicine in the United States. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity established for African Americans. He became the first black graduate with a PhD from the London School of Tropical Medicine and worked in Europe as a gynaecologist.

He returned to South Africa in 1928 to open a surgery in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, and he soon became involved in political activities. In 1931 he married his first wife, Priscilla Mason, of Liberia who died three years later while giving birth to their second son. After that he married Maddie Hall of Cape Town in 1940. After being politically active throughout the 1930s, he was elected as ANC president in 1940 and served in this position until 1949. He signed a unity agreement with Dr Yusuf Dadoo of the Transvaal Indian Congress and worked hard to turn the ANC into a mass movement.

He introduced a new constitution in 1943 which afforded membership to people of all races, eliminated the House of Chiefs and gave women equal rights in the organisation. He acted as an unofficial delegate of the African people at the United Nations in 1946. He was also credited with bringing a generation of young people, like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo into the organisation. In 1949 he was judged not radical enough to satisfy the ANC’s Youth League and ousted as president. He died at Baragwanath Hospital, Johannesburg in January 1962.

mnyandua@durban.gov.za