Anton (Anthony) Muziwakhe Lembede was a South African political activist, teacher, lawyer, and one of the principal architects of Africanism in South Africa who was also instrumental in the formation of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).
Born in 1914 in Eston, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), on the eastern side of South Africa, Lembede was home-schooled by his mother, Martha Norah MaLuthuli Lembede, a teacher, for his entire elementary school education. He then went on to attend formal school at the age of 13 at the Catholic Inkanyezi School where he excelled greatly. Lembede went on to matriculate at Mbumbulu Government School, gathering the funds to pay his fees by working in a kitchen, and was then given a scholarship to attend Adams College, near Durban, where he trained as a teacher.
One of his teachers at the Adams College was Albert Luthuli who then went on to Groutville Mission Reserve to take up his position as Chief. Chief Alberth Luthuli was President-General of the ANC from December 1952 until his death in 1967, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960.
Ever the ambitious young man, in the 1930’s whilst teaching at the Orange Free State, Lembede enrolled at the University of South Africa (UNISA), a correspondence university, to further his studies. He managed to obtain his BA and LLB degrees over a duration of six years.
Lembede changed professions in the 1943 and became a lawyer, moving to Johannesburg. But he wasn’t done with his educational aspirations. In 1945, after submitting a thesis entitled “ The Concept of God as expounded by and as it emerges from the philosophers from Descartes to the present day”, UNISA awarded Lembede with an MA in Philosophy. In 1946 he qualified as an attorney.
In the midst of his educational and professional successes, Lembede became politically active after being exposed to the harsh realities of Afrikaner Nationalism and being inspired to counter the racist tendencies of white people in South Africa and the racist systematic structure of Apartheid through his readings on European philosophy, merging them with his views on African Nationalism. These ideologies served as the foundation for the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in South Africa - a political party founded in 1959 and first headed by Robert Sobukwe, as a breakaway party from the ANC. With deep Africanist roots, members of the PAC saw the ANC’s adoption of the Freedom Charter, a document uniting all anti-Apartheid parties in a non-racial alliance towards liberation, as a betrayal of the struggle.
In 1944 Lembede became the first president of the African National Congress Youth League, going on to become highly pivotal in the drafting of the ANCYL manifesto, and what would become the 1949 Programme of Action.
Incredibly passionate about Africanism, in 1945 Lembede, along with Water Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, almost succeeded in persuading the Transvaal Congress to expel communists, who were viciously attacking Africanism, from its membership.
In 1947, at the age of 33, Lembede died of an undisclosed illness. His doctors could say nothing apart from saying he suffered from “intestinal malfunctioning”.
Further Reading: 'Freedom in Our Lifetime: The Collected Writings of Anton Muziwake Lembede'