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 prabability 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 Oresidential 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 (appearing in this issue) in the "D[iamond] F[ield] 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 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 on Solomon T. Plaatje that three years later he reproced it as Chapter 10 of his book, Native Life in South Africa (London, 1916), followed by various commentaries. Plaatje argues
indignitantly in his book that the hostility Europeans 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). Other nationally renowned achievements of Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman was his election as President of APO from 1905 to his death in 1940. More monumentally, he founded the A. P. O. newspaper in 1909, which was continuously published until 1923. The newspaper gave a forum to many Coloured intellectuals to articulate their participation in the making of South African modernity. Abdurahman worked very closely with Harold Cressy in the formation of the Tachers' League of South Africa (TLSA) in 1912-13. He served for a long time as a member of the Cape Town City Council and also as member of the Cape Provincial Council. Twice in 1906 and in 1909, he was a member of a delegation to the British Government and Parliament protesting the then upcoming Union of South Africa.With the passage of time, the great man became more and more conservative. There is a monographical study of Abdurahman written by Richard van der Ross: The Founding of the African People's Organisation in Cape Town in 1903 and the Role of Dr. Abdurahman (Munger Africana Library, 1975).