Today in Kimberley's History
The Presidential address by Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman, President of the African Political Organization (APO; later African People’s Organization, founded in 1902), in Kimberley City Hall on 29 September 1913 was undoubtedly a landmark event. The speech (which can be read in full by clicking here) was given at the opening of the 10th annual Conference of the APO. His Worship Councillor Ernest Oppenheimer, Mayor of Kimberley, presided.
He ended his speech as follows:
"It is of the utmost importance that as many as possible of you who are exempted from the Natives' Land Act should get land, and if you cannot get it individually you should endeavour to get it by co-operative effort.
Finally, I would urge you above all to see that you live clean lives physically and morally. How far you are morally superior to the whites is not the point. The main question for you is, Are you doing your best to live that life which will benefit your fellowmen? Are you living the life "Whose peaceful day benevolence endears ; Whose night congratulating conscience cheers? "
"Habit, as you all know, is formed by the repetition of acts. See to it, therefore, that the acts you practice are based on good principles, and then the habits you form will be good ones. Make it you aim to practice the principles of Wordsworth's Happy Warrior
"Who laboured good on good to fix and owes
To virtue every triumph that he knows;
Who through the heat of conflict keeps the law?
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will is equal to the need.
Plays in the many games of life that one,
Where what he most doth value must be won,
Finds comfort in himself, and in his cause;
And while the mortal mist is gathering,
draws His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause."
The following extract, on the same subject, is taken from a website called The New African Movement.
It was without a doubt Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman's "Presidential Address" of September 29th, 1913 to the African People's Organization (A. P. O.) in Kimberley that established him as a major national intellectual and political figure. In this address, he not only outlined the national project of the Coloured people in South Africa, he also undertook a remarkable systematic critique of three historical events and processes: the Act of the Union of 1909, which formed the Union of South Africa in 1910 and in the process excluded the non-Europeans from democratic representation in Parliament; the Natives' Land Act 1913, which in effect confiscated land from the African people; and the racial segregationist policies of the 'new nation', which excluded more than 90% of South Africans from democratically participating in the new entity.
The reaction of white South Africans was a swift condemnation of Abdurahman. But the Indians, Coloureds and Africans reacted with high praise and deep enthusiasm for his forthrightness and historical analysis. Two instances from New African intellectuals indicate the nature of this equally historic response to a historic presentation.
Solomon T. Plaatje, who in all probability heard the "Address" in person as a member of the APO Kimberley branch, wrote in part the following words in an Editorial of his newspaper:
"Dr. Abdurahman has literally set our quiet town on fire with his Presidential Address in the City Hall on Monday, and there can be no doubt that something in the arrangement of the opening ceremony of the 10th Annual Conference of the A. P. O. has seriously touched the most peaceful of our prominent citizens, including those who were not present but who read the full account in the "Diamond Field Advertiser" next morning. In passing we may refer to our friends and sympathisers whose sensibility has been, we regret to find, provoked by the sweeping character of the speech. Let us ask them this, if we may be permitted to so so:----If a bare statement of the facts injures your feelings as it undoubtedly has done, to what extent must it crush the feelings of the relatives of those who, are not only told but, have actually had to endure the improprieties disclosed in Dr. Abdurahman's speech, for they are enjoying it in the 'Free' State, even at the present time of writing, so that despite his unfortunate fire works there is no getting away from the fact, as the 'Pretoria News' says, the A. P. O. President has only given you 'a steel-strong thread of truth'" (Editorial, Tsala ea Batho [The Friend of the People], October 4, 1913).
This "Presidential Address" had such a profound effect on Solomon T. Plaatje that three years later he reproduced it as Chapter 10 of his book, Native Life in South Africa (London, 1916), followed by various commentaries. Plaatje argues indignantly in his book that the hostility Europeans showed to Abdullah Abdurahman was totally unjustified.
The other immediate response to the "Address" was by Allan Kirkland Soga in a Letter to the Editor of Tsala ea Batho (in effect to Solomon T. Plaatje), which said in part:
"I agree with you that the malignant political tendencies which are agitating the native mind can well be described as a War of Extermination. Dr. Abdurahman has been rushed by the allied press for describing the situation as one of extermination. There are many ways of exterminating nations, and since the 'battues' of Bushmen which were countenanced by the old Dutch Government have gone out of fashion, the more civilized tyrants of the present day prefer to accomplish their ends by the exercise of the constitutional methods of Parliament. . . . Now any black or coloured man who at this juncture would like to make himself a 'good nigger' by joining in the hue and cry of the swell mobocracy against Dr. Abdurahman should be marked down as a traitor to the best interests of the race. The best interests of the natives at this time, are to be achieved by outspokenness and agitation. I am therefore in full agreement with the policy of your paper in moving heaven and earth to arouse the native people to a full realisation of the dangers of the present situation, so that the intelligent leaders of the races who realise the true inwardness of the situation can rely at any rate upon the moral support of the inarticulate millions who sit in darkness and the shadow of death" ("To the Editor: The War of Degradation", October 18, 1913).