At the Gandhi museum at the Phoenix Settlement, near Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa — as noted in our previous blog — the Inanda region, in the early Twentieth Century, was the home of three major leaders in the movement for equality and democracy in BOTH South Africa (Dr. John L. Dube and Isaiah Shembe), and India (Mohandas K. Gandhi). The museum notes: “Even though it was impossible at that time to predict the profound influence Gandhi, Dube and Shembe would have on the religious, social and political landscape in South Africa, THE SEEDS OF DEMOCRACY WERE SCATTERED HERE, to slowly take root and spread. eNanda was a place that held the promise of a different kind of society; one where diversity is celebrated rather than feared, and where all people are free, equal and empowered to reach their full potential”.
Our excellent local guide, Greg Garson, drove us on the Inanda Heritage Route from the Gandhi home and museum at the Phoenix Settlement to the Ohlange Institute (named from “uhlanga” in the Zulu language, which means “the origin of new growth”) which Dr. John Dube started in 1900. The Zulu Christian Industrial School, which later became known as the Ohlange Institute, opened on 26 July 1901 and was the first black controlled institution of its kind in South Africa.
Dr. John Langalibalele Dube (1871 – 1946), was the founder and first president of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in 1912 (which became the African National Congress party, ANC, in 1923). Descended from Zulu royalty, Dube was born in the Inanda region and raised at the American Zulu Mission. He studied in the United States (Oberlin College) and was heavily influenced by Booker T. Washington. In addition to being an educator, he was an essayist, poet and novelist. He wrote the first novel in Zulu, Insila kaTshaka, the story of Jeqe, a man who desires a position close to the Zulu King Shaka. According to the Dube museum, “Jeqe is more of a mythological hero than a real person. In the character of Jeqe, we see Dube’s own struggle between the personal autonomy of modernism and loyalty to traditional collective.” Dr. Dube and his second wife, Angelina, are both buried at Ohlange.
The Ohlange Institute site is also the location of Dr. Dube’s first house and the JL Dube Hall of the Institute where Nelson Mandela voted in the first democratic election in South Africa, in 1994.
Nelson Mandela had the following reminiscence about voting: “I voted at Ohlange High School in Inanda, a green and hilly township just north of Durban, for it was there that John Dube, the first president of the ANC, was buried. This African patriot had helped found the organization in 1912, and casting my vote near his graveside brought history full circle, for the mission he began eighty-two years before was about to be achieved. As I stood over his grave, on a rise above the small school below, I thought not of the present but of the past. When I walked to the voting station, my mind dwelt on the heroes who had fallen so that I might be where I was that day, the men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause that was now finally succeeding.”
After voting, Nelson Mandela walked up to Dr. John Dube’s grave (at the Ohlange Institute) and declared, “I have come to report, Mr. President, that South Africa is now free.”
Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe (c. 1870 – 1935), was the founder (in 1910) of the largest African originated church during his lifetime, the Nazareth Baptist Church. He was a self-proclaimed prophet of God for the Zulu people and built a large number of congregations, making his church the largest Zulu church, with over a million members. Shortly after founding the church, in 1914, he established Ekuphakameni Settlement (meaning “elevated place”) in the Inanda Valley which became the holy place of the Nazareth Baptist Church; Shembe was buried there. Shembe was a major Zulu leader and he and his church played a leading role in the development of Zulu nationalism. In the 1930s his biography was written by Dr. John Dube.