HENRY SELBY MSIMANG
It is difficult to know what to make of this extraordinary intellectual figure: the General-Secretary of South African modernity. H. Selby Msimang is perhaps first and foremost the transcriber of the script of the historical development of the African people in the tentieth-century. Not an original mind, but a profoundly lucid one. Perhaps a good point of departure in considering Msimang is an anonymous sketch in Drum magazine, in the Master in Bronze series, in all probability written by one of the members of the Sophiatown Renaissance writers (most likely Henry Nxumalo): "At 68, stocky and tiny-voiced Henry Selby Msimang is still the most eloquent and articulate black politician of the old guard in South Africa. He was secretary of the African National Congress for many years; and he is vigorous and vocal in times of crisis. His political enemies call him an unstable moderate and a compromiser. . . . In 1908 he joined the Native Affairs Department as an interpreter and was later transferred to the Department of Justice as a court interpreter. Early in 1910 he became the first postmaster in the Indian-African post office at Krugersdorp but resigned that position to become clerk and typist to Dr. P. ka I. Seme, attorney, on his return from England at the end of 1911. That started a business and a political association lasting many years. Selby assisted Dr. Seme in forming the African National Congress in 1912 and attended the momentous conference at which African tribes entered into a covenant to become one nation with one national political body" ("Selby Msimang, June 1954). The social upheaval and suffering caused by the Natives' Land Act made a deep and lasting impression on Selby Msimang, as did on many Africans, especially the New African intellectuals. He accompanied John L. Dube, the first President-General of the ANC (then the South African Native National Congress), when the founder of the Ohlange Institute travelled throughout the country to witness the social devastation the Act had unleashed. It was in this context that he made his intellectual debut. Writing as Honorary Secretary of the Organising Committee of the South African Native National Congress, Selby Msimang wrote a long piece attempting to clarify the differences that had emerged between the ANC delegation in London to appeal to the British government to annul the Natives' Land Act and the Aborigines Protection Society, which was suppose to assist the delegation ("The Lands Act and the Deputation", Tsala ea Batho [The Friend of the People], June 13, 1914). The Society argued that the delegation should not have made the trip to England. What the ANC leadership was not aware of was that the Aborigines Protection Society was in secret collusion with the white South African government to hinder the mission of the delegation. In the following year returning to the issue of the traumatizing effect of the Natives' Land Act on the African people, he wrote the following, as part of a Letter to the Editor of Ilanga lase Natal: "It is a little over two years ago since the Union Government declared in writing its policy in connection with the furtherance of Colour Prejudice and Racial Hatred. Already that instrument is affording us ground for dissatisfaction, despite the Government's constant assurances to respect our interest as aborigines, which by the way, have and can never reach the point of their realisation. When the Natives raised their pitious and prayerful voice appealing to all humanitariansfor the reversal of the Union policy, indicating the extent and magnitude of wickedness likely to accrue in the event of the instrument becoming legal and the nature of madness to which the Natives would find themselves driven desperately, the apostles of prejudice rebuked them and called them eccentric agitators. The truth remained however that beneath those assurances lay hidden a conspiracy to dispossess the Natives of their land in the hope to realise the anbition to make South Africa a 'Whiteman's Country' whatever the fate of the aboriginal inhabitants may be" ("The Editor of Ilanga: The Natives Land Act", October 29, 1915). Another of Msimang's letters about the Act appeared in another newspaper ("Correspondence: The Natives' Land Act", Izwe la Kiti, October 15, 1913). From this moment onwards, for next 70 years of his life, Selby Msimang was to preoccupy himself and grapple with politics of modernity, whether as editor of the short lived newspaper in the early 1920s Morumia (Messenger) or as President for a short time also in this decade of the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU). It was in this extraordinary decade that H. Selby Msimang, together with R. V. Selope Thema as political correspondents in Umteteli wa Bantu newspaper, that engaged himself in the most unrelenting manner with South Africa as a modernist eventuation. These approximately 130 articles written between 1922 and 1926 are genuine and real contribution to intellectual culture in our country this century (it would be interesting to compare them to his column in the Natal Witness in the 1970s; his Zulu column in the Inkatha Freedom Party newspaper Ilanga lase Natal in the early 1980s, is of a different order). Both the writings of Msimang and Thema in Umteteli, in their intellectual tenacity and historical amplitude, have few rivals, perhaps challenged by the writings of Jordan Kush Ngubane in Inkundla ya Bantu and those of H. I. E. Dhlomo in Ilanga lase Natal, both wtitten in the 1940s. In the 1930s Selby Msimang wrote a lucid and cogent pamphlet which was a critique of the Herzog Bills of 1936 intended to disenfrachise the African people in the Cape Province: The Crisis (1936). Disillusioned with the ANC, because of his bitter struggle with A. W. G. Champion within the Natal ANC, Selby Msimang shifted his political alliances to the Liberal Party beginning in the early 1950s. That nevertheless H. Selby Msimang had an influence among the younger generations of the ANC New African intellectuals within the New African Movement, is evident from this Open Letter to him from H. I. E. Dhlomo, in which the great poet asked him in effect as to why he not left a larger written legacy given his intellectual stature: "You have long been in public life, and have occupied a score of important positions. In the early days of the Congress you played a prominent part, sometimes serving as secretary to some of our past eminent leaders. You and Dr. P. ka I. Seme served the Zulu royal family well during the hard times of Dinizulu---an episode that is not wellknown today and might form a fine story if you decide to write and publish your life experiences (why is it that many of our leading men do not keep records of their life and work?) You helped Mr. Kadalie to form the I. C. U." ("Weekly Letter: To H. Selby Msimang", Ilanga lase Natal, April 29, 1950). This reproach of 50 years ago by Dhlomo of Msimang in not having written an autobiography or a book of historical reflections still stands, especially in view of what historical perspective since then has afforded us about the greatness of Msimang's life experiences, if not his will to record an incomparable legacy, of which he was one its central shapers! Two later documents of the 1960s and 1970s show the central position of H. Selby Msimang in the political history of South Africa in the twentieth-century: an Interview ("Mr H. Selby Msimang Tells How It Started: 50 Years on the Road to Liberty", Contact, April 2, 1960); and an Autobiographical Essay (Topical Talks 25: H. Selby Msimang Looks Back, South African Institute of Race Relations, Johannesburg, no date [probably from the the 1960s or 1970s]).