Pixley ka Seme Street
Formerly West Stree

Some say he was a born leader with special qualities, others, that he was the product of his circumstances. Whichever, Pixley Ka Seme, the political activist, lawyer and journalist was a co-founder of the ANC and a giant of the liberation struggle. Revered for his patriotism and discipline, Seme, was among the first politicians to envision what later became known as the “African Renaissance”.

In a speech entitled “The Regeneration of Africa”, delivered in England in 1906, Seme made the world comprehend that Africa, once free of its colonial overlords, had the potential to play a leading role in international affairs. The speech won him the George William Curtis medal. He was born on 1 October 1881 in Natal, the son of Isaka Sarah (nee Mseleku) Seme. He completed his primary school education at a mission school, where the American Congregationalist missionary, Reverend SC Pixley, took an interest in him and arranged for him to go to the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, in the US. He later attended Colombia University in New York and graduated with a BA in April 1906.

Vezindaba Seme, 54, of Umlazi, said his grandfather received financial backing from missionaries because they recognized his “vision and political assertiveness”. Vezindaba said, “I guess they realized that in him was a potential leader. He didn’t allow social circumstances to hinder his goals, despite all the hardships they faced as a community.” In September 1906 Seme enrolled at Jesus College, Oxford, in England, to study law. In June 1909 he gained a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Law and passed his first bar examinations. His activities in 1912 went beyond the political and journalistic; he saw a need for organization 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. “His interest in farming and other economic issues proved he was a lateral thinker,” said Vezindaba. He was also instrumental in the founding of the ANC’s newspaper Abantu-Batho in 1912. On 8 January 1912 Seme, and two other lawyers educated abroad, Richard Msimang and George Montsio, called for a convention of Africans to form the South African Native National Congress, which was renamed the African National Congress, in Bloemfontein, in 1923. “As family, we are proud of this history and his role.

Today, the ANC is the giant political organisation on the continent, and this changed the lives of so many in our country, thanks to these co-founders, as a collective,” said Vezindaba. In 1926 Seme travelled with Swazi monarch King Sobhuza II to England, to appeal a land dispute against South Africa. Seme represented the king before the Privy Council. Seme was married to Harriet, a daughter of Zulu King Dinuzulu. They had four sons and one daughter. He died in Johannesburg in 1951. “There can be no present without the past . . . we commend the Municipality for reminding us of the significance of our history. We have, indeed, come a long way,” said Vezindaba.

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