A. P. MDA
Today Ashby Peter Mda is principally remembered in South African intellectual and cultural history as having been Anton Lembede’s closest and best interlocutor. Nelson Mandela in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom (1995) recalls this intellectual relationship in the following manner: “Lembede’s friend and partner was Peter Mda, better known as A. P. While Lembede tended to imprecision and was inclined to be verbose, Mda was controlled and exact. Lembede could be vague and mystical; Mda was specific and scientific. Mda’s practicality was a perfect foil for Lembede’s idealism.” This high praise indeed. Walter Sisulu in a Foreword to Freedom In Our Lifetime: The Collected Writings of Anton Muziwakhe Lembede (1996) written three years after the death of Mda, made the following observation of this relationship: “It was Lembede, together with A. P. Mda and Nelson Mandela who sat up late at night drafting the political philosophy for an as-yet unborn Youth League, before presenting the document to colleagues as such as Willie Nkomo, Lionel Majombozi, Oliver Tambo and myself, to consider and to critique. But of course Lembede, as a typical leader of the Youth League, fought the struggle not only politically, but with all the impressive skills at his disposal.” Jordan Ngubane in the context of praising the intellect of Mda, recalling the moment Anton Lembede introduced him to A. P. Mda, postulates that Catholicism, asceticism and anti-Communism were the underpinning principles of their intellectual friendship: “Ashby was, like Anton, a Roman Catholic. He was unlike both of us in that he had been exposed to the clash of mind on mind along the Reef [Johannesburg] for a much longer period. As a result he had more clearly-defined views on every aspect of the race problem. The expression on his face had been chiselled by concentrated study and disciplined bthinking in a way which made me feel, shortly after I’d met him, that I was in the presence of one of the greatest minds I then had the privilege to know and befriend. His knowledge of African political affairs staggered me. Both he and Anton possessed colossal moral courage; neither knew fear of any sort. The three of us met as often as we could. Anton had been exposed to the influences which had moulded my own attitudes at Adams. He, too, was worried by the question: why are things as they are and not otherwise? The three of us felt very strongly the need for a new ideology with a meaning which would be valid in the day-to-day lives of the African peoples. We rejected Communism. Mda, always the wisest among us, came in between us and suggested that we should work for a re-grouping inside the ANC which would be inspired by a militant determination to be free. We were still working on a unifying ideology when Lembede came along with AFRICANISM as a new philosophy of struggle which we could project before our people as a new road to freedom” (“Lembede and Africanism”, undated document that would seem to be part of Ngubane’s one version of his autobiography: When Apartheid Falls; in the Carter-Karis Papers). In effect, Ngubane argues here that the ideas and philosophies that have always been attributed to Anton Lembede had in actual fact originated with A. P. Mda. If this is true, the history of the ANC Youth League or of the New African intellectualism needs to be re-appraised. The existant writings of A. P. Mda on Anton Lembede and on their historical relationship does not seem to support such a view. Perhaps what Jordan Ngubane seeks to indicate is the inseparable intellectual affinities between the two of them. Mda’s posthumously published Foreword (written at least three years before its actual publication) to Lembede’s Freedom In Our Lifetime indicates how this intellectual affinity emerged: “When I reflect on my memories of Lembede, two things stick out in my mind---his scholarliness and his innovative analysis of the freedom struggle. His dedication to his education brought him spectacular results. . . While he was studying and preparing for his thesis for his M. A. degree, we were staying together in Orlando East. We had extensive discussions because he was studying the philosophers from Descartes to the present day. Now that was very fortunate for me because he used to invite me to take part in discussing some of the issues raised by the philosophers. Very often we took opposite positions. I had to defend a certain position while he attacked it. He wanted to gain some clearer understanding of the subject matter he was studying. He used me as a tool to achieve that goal. And, in this way, he also improved my knowledge. I was argumentative, too. I was a debater. I liked conflict, and he knew I was very stubborn. He was like that, too. He often challenged me. And after explaining to me so and so stood for this and that, he would make a reference to some book. He read to me, and I would read myself. Then we would discuss issues that he wanted to go deeper into. He invited me to take a certain line, an opposite line, so he could give me a chance to go deeper. He learned a lot from contoversies because sometimes I attacked his posditions just to give him an exercise in refuting my arguments.” In this recollection written 50 years after the fact, A. P. Mda portrays himself as a student to the mentoring of Anton Lembede. A viewpoint that takes a perspective that is similar to that of Jordan Ngubane about this great intellectual friendship is that of Nelson Mandela in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, also written half a century after the fact: “Lembede’s friend and partner was Peter Mda, better known as A. P. While Lembede tended to imprecision and was inclined to be verbose, Mda was controlled and exact. Lembede could be vague and mystical; Mda was specific and scientific. Mda’s practicality was a perfect foil for Lembede’s idealism.” In a way, both the views of Jordan Ngubane and Nelson Mandela bespeak to the complex nature of this great intellectual friendship. When the writings of A. P. Mda are eventually assembled together, in all probability they will enrich our understanding of its true dimensions concerning its principal modernistic project of constructing and consolidating African Nationalism in South Africa.