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Rev Zaccheus Richard Mahabane


15 August 1858, Gasebonwe executed at Rooidam.
15 August 1881, Rev Zaccheus Richard Mahabane born.
15 August 1925, England Ladies defeat GW Ladies at hockey 7-0.
15 August 1927, The new X-Ray building at the Kimberley Hospital opened.

Reverend Zaccheus Mahabane – 10 years in Kimberley

The Reverend Zaccheus Mahabane (pictured) has a special place in the history of Kimberley, South Africa and the African National Congress in that he is still the only person to have been elected to serve two separate terms as the ANC President, the second term coming some ten years after the first. Oliver Tambo, despite the fact that he served as ANC President for 24 years, had a continuous run without a gap between terms.


Rev Zaccheus Richard Mahabane

Zaccheus was born on 15 August 1881 at Thaba Nchu, Eastern Free State, at the time a Wesleyan missionary centre. His parents were prosperous farmers and Christians. He was educated at mission schools near his home before attending Morija Mission Institute, an establishment of the Paris Evangelical Mission in Basutoland (now Lesotho), where he qualified as a teacher (aged 20) in 1901. He gave up teaching to become a court interpreter – similar to Sol Plaatje’s career – a career that lasted until 1908 when he proceeded to the Lessyton Theological School near Queenstown for theological training, and was ordained as a Wesleyan minister in 1914.

His first congregation was at Bensonvale near Herschel.
He went to Cape Town in 1916, where he joined the South African National Native Congress (Cape Branch), and was elected as local President in 1919 at age 38.

It was in 1923 that he wrote his only book entitled: “The Colour Bar In South Africa”. Subsequent to his death, there was another published, entitled: “The Good Fight: Selected Speeches of Rev. Zaccheus R. Mahabane”, under his name, but edited by G. M. Carter and S. W. Johns, of Evanston: Northwestern University.

Reverend Mahabane was elected President-General of the ANC in 1924 for his first three-year term, (it had been the SANNC until 1923 when the party changed its name to the African National Congress). In 1925 General JBM Hertzog proposed a law (known as the Hertzog Bills) that would limit black rights even further in that land would be returned to the black South Africans in return for exclusion from the franchise.

The Bill was in four parts, and was eventually passed. The Bill was criticised extensively, including comment from Mahabane: “…the policy of political, economic, as well as industrial, segregation is fundamentally unsound, being based on an artificial foundation. It is calculated to antagonize the races and create a state of lasting estrangement among the races.”

He was also the Vice President of the Cape Native Voters’ Convention. Mahabane traveled to Europe in 1926 in connection with the ANC, and in 1927 and 1937 for missionary conferences.

In the middle of 1927 the Church sent Reverend Mahabane and his wife to Kimberley where they remained until their departure in January 1937.

He became quite involved in religious and educational matters during his 9½-year stay in the diamond city, quite understandable in that two of his contemporaries were Solomon Plaatje and the Reverend William Pescod. Indeed, in May 1931 Mahabane had gone to Cape Town in a deputation (with Plaatje and the Reverend C.B. Liphuko) that had seen the Minister of Education in order to extract the promises made originally in 1925. This promise was that the Cape provincial authorities would provide for Standards 7 and 8 at the Lyndhurst Road School, but they could not get the necessary funds from the Department of Native Education. In other words, African children completing their education would have to go to a school such as Tigerkloof (near Vryburg), or to the unofficially reserved (and limited) places for Africans at the Perseverance School for Coloured children. By January 1932 higher secondary education would begin at the Lyndhurst Road School, but only for 40 pupils, and not the 95 as originally planned.

One of the saddest (and perhaps proudest) moments in Reverend Mahabane’s life was when he was asked to officiate at Solomon Plaatje’s funeral in Kimberley on 22 June 1932, Plaatje having died at Pimville, Johannesburg on 19 June. The entire funeral and graveside service was conducted by Mahabane at the German (Berlin) Lutheran Church at No 3 (Meyer’s) Location where Plaatje worshipped, despite the fact that Mahabane was a Methodist and not Lutheran. “The African people had lost one of its ablest sons. A large gap had been created in the communal life of the Bantu community of Bechuanaland and Griqualand West,” said Mahabane about Plaatje in his eulogy at the graveside.

Reverend Mahabane, (“of the Native Methodist Church”), had also officiated the previous month at the funeral of Douglas Matyalana, an African killed by a policeman who had fired indiscriminately on passersby from the Police Barracks on Transvaal Road. The policeman shot himself dead. At this stage the Mahabane family resided at 59 Lyndhurst Road.

While in Kimberley he had also been the Secretary of the African Christian Minister’s Association of the Diamond Fields.

He was married to Harriet Mantoro, the marriage producing three daughters and two sons. Harriet was President of the National Council of African Women of Kimberley in 1936.
Rev Mahabane associated himself with the All African Convention when it began in 1935 as a unified voice of all black parties in South Africa. Mahabane and ZK Matthews were elected to the executive, Mahabane becoming Vice president in 1937. He was Vice President until at least 1954.

That same year of 1937 he was elected President of the ANC for his second term. He had left Kimberley in early January for Winburg in the Free State. At his farewell party in Kimberley at the Centenary Church on Lyndhurst Road – attended by the Deputy Mayor Mr M.E. Doherty, as well as Mr MacDonald, the Superintendent of Locations, he had pleaded assistance for the black schools in Kimberley.

Doherty, speaking on behalf of the citizens of Kimberley and Beaconsfield, said that he “regretted the departure of Reverend Mahabane at a time when his services were most needed.” Doherty had found Mahabane to be a man of outstanding ability who had ably represented his people on various deputations. Before the City Council where he always obtained a “good hearing”, he had never failed to place the views of the Africans clearly and effectively. The Reverend P. Rampon, of Beaconsfield, who officiated at the farewell concert for Reverend and Mrs Mahabane, said that his departure was a great loss for the African people of Kimberley, as he had during his stay used all of his energies for the bettering of conditions of his people on the Diamond Fields.

Upon his term as ANC President ending in 1940 he became official Chaplain to the ANC, and was elected a lifelong Honorary President in 1943. During the 1940s he concentrated more on the AAC, and on the Non-European Unity Movement, of which he became President at its foundation in 1945, remaining in that position until 1956 when he resigned.

From the 1940s he also concentrated on religious organizations as units with which to uplift his fellow Africans.

These included the Inter-Denominational African Minister’s Federation that was founded in 1945. He became its President in 1963. He played a prominent role in the development of the Methodist Church in South Africa and assisted in drawing up the constitution and in defining the equal status of all within the church. He was one of the first three Black Africans to acquire an official position at the Methodist Church conferences.

A diplomat, slow speaking and calm, he combined Christian ethics and politics in order to fight racism and apartheid. He tried to unify all Blacks, Indians and Coloureds into one effective unit in politics, continually attempting to educate all about their rights.

He died at Kroonstad, Free State, in September 1971.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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