ALLISON W. G. CHAMPION
It is a testimony to Allison Wessells George Champion’s dominant position in Natal politics in the first half of the twentieth-century that he features so prominently in Jordan Ngubane’s Unpublished Autobiography which was written immediately on his going to exile in Swaziland in 1963. Despite the fact that Ngubane politically detested Champion, he was a colussus that was unavoidable. In the province of Natal, Champion was prominent as a political leader of the African National Congress (ANC). The fountainhead of modern politics at this period in Natal was John Langalibalele Dube, who as chosen in 1912 as the first President-General of the ANC in absentia. Champion set about challenging the political leadership of Dube within the Zulu nation in the decades of the 1930s and the 1940s. The rivalry between them defines a large segment of modern Zulu politics. While Dube was recognized as a political leader both nationally and provincially, Champion was recognized only provincially. Part of the explanation for Champions delimited space of political practice in later decades is that in the 1920s when he was national labour union leader of the Industrial and Commercial Worker’s Union (ICU) under the leadership of Clements Kadalie, he was contentious, undisciplined and regionalistic in his commitments and allegiances. Champions contentiousness partly explains the spectacular demise of the ICU in the late 1920s. Champion’s fundamental flaw was a refusal to recognize and accept the principle that the provincial periphery had to follow policy recommendations formulated democratically by the national center. In the same way that Champion used his regional power base (regionalism) in Natal to thwart the national policy tasks of Clements Kadalie and the ICU, he was to do likewise with Alfred Xuma when the latter assumed the position of President-General of the ANC in the 1940s. Largely for personal aggrandizement, Champion constantly used regionalism to derail the national project of integration and unity. It is because of his politics of regionalism that he became the subject of unrelenting political hatred from the ANC Youth leaguers (Anton Lembede, A. P. Mda, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Jordan Kush Ngubane and others), who were uncompromising modernizers. It is in this context that Ngubane writes of Champion in the Unpublished Autobiography that he Ngubane made a secret understanding with H. I. E. Dhlomo to discredit and destroy the political career of Champion in Natal. As both editors of the most prominent national newspapers based in Natal, Dhlomo of Ilanga lase Natal and Ngubane in Inkundla ya Bantu, set about the task of ending the political career of Champion. They succeeded in achieving this. This success was the outstanding example of the role of New African newspapers in removing the obstacles to the modernizing of the New African imagination and consciousness. That Champion was one of the complex political figures in South African modernity, can be glimpsed from Jordan Ngubane’s estimation of his achievements, a judgment which has not been equalled in its pertinancy concerning this historical figure: “As the movement [ICU] spread northwards its political bias became more and more pronounced; it was what one might call an unconscious mationalism; a state of mind in which the ICU, by attacking econonomic repression threatened the foundations of the white man’s ‘superiority’. This had not been the goal the ICU had set itself when it started. It had set out to improve working conditions and get better wages for the African workers in the towns and on the farms. The sequence of events in the South African environment soon imparted to it the character of a nationalistic awakening. This forced the movement to make a choice for which neither it nor the African community was ready at the time---whether it was to develop into a full-fledged political party or remain a trade. It could not function as both at one and the same time. This only served to accentuate the developing differences between the two dominant personalities in the ICU---Messrs Kadalie and Champion. . . . Mr. Champion on the other hand, did not always draw the line between economics and politics in their effects on his people. Consequently he was not always inclined to frown on political organisations. . . . History has decreed that the ICU should not live to see its dream come true. It had made tragic errors [in the late 1920s] of judgement; its leaders had made colossal mistakes for which the movement paid dearly. And none paid more dearly than Messrs. Champion and Kadalie. History will record that champion suffered more than anyone else, for the punishment was mitigated only for a while, to be inflicted, with cyclonic fury later, when it brought to an end his active political career. . . . History will not forget his solid achievements” (“A. W. Champion”, Masterpiece in Bronze, Drum, October 1952). It was non other than Jordan Ngubane and H I. E. Dhlomo who brought down the cyclonic fury that destroyed the political career of Champion. As this quotation makes clear, they made a determination that his political career had to be terminated because he was not an astute political reader of South African history, incapable of making a distinction between the historical of a trade union organization and that of a political party, equally at loss as to the epistemological differences between political economy and political philosophy, and lastly, unable to seize the historical moment of a nationalist awakening. As editor of Inkundla ya Bantu (in effect an intellectual forum of the ANC Youth League) in the late 1940s Jordan Ngubane wrote a series of negative articles on Champion. In the Unpublished Autobiography, Jordan Ngubane is also scathing in assessing Champion’s political career: “I distinguished myself in Selope-Thema’s eyes [R. V. Selope-Thema was the editor of Bantu World and under whose leadership Jordan Ngubane was assistant editor] in this fight. From then onwards I could use the Bantu World more freely to put across our line. With my Transvaal flank secured, I turned my attention to Natal, where Champion threatened to crush the young men who thought as I did and who were led by the poet-journalist Herbert Dhlomo. . . . We regarded him as an incorrigible bigot and a dangerous tribalist. The clergyman was accustomed to talking with pontifical authority while everybody else was expected to shout amens. This was too much for our political nerves. We decided to explode a bombshell; to start the crisis which would destroy the Old Guard’s influence by setting people thinking along different lines” (p. 99-100, Unpublished Autobiography in the Karis-Carter Collection, Center for Research Libraries, University of Chicago). H. I. E. Dhlomo’s participation in this political scheme of by-passing Allison Champion, thereby enabling the leadership of the ANC in Natal to move from John Langalibalele Dube by way of Abner Mtimkulu to Albert Luthuli in 1950, is evident in his writings at this time in Ilanga lase Natal. While he was of the same mind and attitude at this particular historical moments as Jordan Ngubane concerning Champion, Dhlomo seems to have had a more complicated and complex intellectual feelings for him. This difference is explained by the fact that while Ngubane always regarded Champion only on a political plane, Dhlomo regarded this political consideration as unavoidably intermixt with intellectual matters. Hence his ambivalence. On certain occasions Dhlomo could make harsh judgments of Champion: “A reply must be made to Mr. A. Champion’s vindictive and scurrilous letter on the results of the Natal Senatorial elections. What his stooges consider his esoteric cocksureness and his ‘success’ are the measure of his blantant political callowness and bankruptcy---the hysterical and theatrical fulminations and pitiful importunities of a man caught in slow-operating but inescapable quicksands. . . . Mr. Champion has done some good work during his time, for which, perhaps, he would have ultimately received a plsce, high or low, in the Bantu Pantheon. But for long he has been and is still undoing and wrecking it. . . . As in the I. C. U., so in Congress, Mr. Champion was member of the National Executive. He was thrown out. He was President in Natal. He was thrown out fairly and openly, he himself in the chair. He would not co-operate and serve under someone else chosen democratically by the people. He is too great and wonderful. He became an enemy of Congress” (Busy Bee [H. I. E. Dhlomo], “Mr. Champion’s Blatancy And Bankruptcy”, Weekly Review And Commentary, Ilanga lase Natal, January 8, 1955). On other occasions Dhlomo showered respect in the direction of Champion: “Nkwanyana, like a little boy, kicks at giants. He belittles the efforts and the status of well-known men like Mr. Champion and Mr. Mpanza who are known for their long and intimate connection with chiefs, and who worked hard for Major Cowley [a European ‘representing’ the interests of Natal Africans in Parliament in Cape Town] in the recent elections despite provocation from Mr. Nkwanyana. Nkwanyana makes us laugh---and makes himself a laughing stock---when he scorns veterans like Mr. Champion who held the chiefs in the palm of their hands as far back as the I. C. U. days when egoistic, power-mad, and purblind Mr. Nkwanyana, B. A., was a little boy in the wilds of eBaqulusini” (Busy-Bee [H. I. E. Dhlomo], “The Peacock Of Somtseu Barracks: Reply to Mr. O. A. Nkwanyana”, Ilanga lase Natal, August 15, 1953). In contrast to this complicated ambivalence, H. I. E. Dhlomo was much more forthright in his high estimation of Albert Luthuli, the successor of Champion in the political leadership of the ANC in Natal: “Judged by accepted and common standards, Chief Luthuli is an outstanding South African and leader of the people. We say ‘accepted and common’ because it is a custom in this country to make condescending and patronising allowances for Africans, thus not only creating double and dissipating values and standards in our life, but tempting and cajoling the Africans to accept mediocrity and popularity as the genuine article, and making them glorify as their great and representative men, second-raters and ‘painted dolls’ imposed upon them by non-African sources with axes to grind. No so, men like Chief Luthuli. . . . Luthuli grew in stature and usefulness. His erstwhile college colleagues shrank proportionately. There was malleability, height and progressive ripeness in this growth. . . . Then came the plunge into the grim, boiling vortex of Congress or racial politics. First there was the exhausting experience of serving under Mr. Champion at a time when great changes, and a clash between the old and the new were the order of the day. . . . An intellectual with an analytic, objective mind, plunged into the rough and tumble of militant politics” (H. I. E. Dhlomo, “Chief A. J. Luthuli”, Ilanga lase Natal, September 6, 1952; this a reprint of the same article that had appeared a few weeks earlier in R. V. Selope Thema’s Bantu World newspaper in Johannesburg). Since Dhlomo’s fundamental intellectual preoccupation was with the historical significane of the experience of modernity to the African people, he judged Luthuli of greater importance than Champion, because the former had a deeper grasp of the central progressive forces of modernity as well as possessing an unmatched historical consciousness that there had to be an absolute discontinuity between the New Africans of modernity and the Old Africans of tradition. It needs to be indicated that there were other views of A. W. G. Champion within the New African Movement than those postulated by New Africans such as as Jordan Kush Ngubane and H. I. E. Dhlomo. In fact Dhlomo’s older brother by three years, R. R. R. Dhlomo, had a different perspective on Champion. R. R. R. Dhlomo writing a biography of Champion in 1969, 13 after the death of his younger brother in 1956, saw the adversaries of Champion as not so much being organized by the mistakes and the wrong political decisions he supposedly made as by the resentments stemming from him having dominated African political life so long and in such a central manner: “I realize it is going to be extremely difficult to write a book on the life and work of Mr. Allison Wessels George Champion (Mahlathini), because practically from his birth till today his name and work affect the whole development of our nation. There is hardly an organization of whatever kind working for the upliftment of his race of which he has not been a member. There is hardly a subject affecting the welfare of the African which he has not entered into and stirred up with his bellows to create for himself an amazing host of friends but also a similar number of enemies. For it is an undeniable fact that a person who improves things and works for the benefit of others creates mant enemies for himself in the world” (Biography Of A. W. G. Champion in The Views Of Mahlathi: Writings Of A. W. G. Champion a black South Africa, (ed.) M. W. Swanson, University of Natal Press, 1982). By the time R. R. R. Dhlomo passed this judgment, he had already given Champion a popular column in Ilanga lase Natal known as Okubonwa nguMahlathi “As Seen by Mahlathi”, which ran weekly from late 1964 to early 1974, ending a year before the death of Champion at the age of 81. The real differences between A. W. G. Champion and R. R. R. Dhlomo on the one hand, and H. I. E. Dhlomo and Jordan Kush Ngubane on the other hand, came from their differential articulation and understanding of modernity: whereas the former postulated the central presence and role of tradition in modernity, the latter postulated the radical discontinuity between the two. Paradoxically ofcourse, this historical position did not prevent H. I. E. Dhlomo and Jordan Kush Ngubane (respectively, “Tshaka: A Revaluation”, Umteteli wa Bantu, June 18, 1932, and “Shaka: his Character, Philosophy, Policy And achievements”, Ilanga lase Natal, September 25, October 2, 1954; “Chaka: The Warrior Administrator”, Iso Lomuzi, vol. 5 no. 1, December 1936, and “Shaka’s Social, Political and Military Ideas” in Donald Burness’ Shaka: King of the Zulus in African Literature, New York, 1976) from being constantly engaged with the usability of Shakan historical lessons in modernity concerning the construction of African national consciousness, African nationalism, African national culture and African national literature. But these complex intercrossings of historical positions is merely the reflection of the astonishing cultural richness that were at the center of the Zulu Intellectual Renascence which occurred in Natal in the 1920s, 1930s and in the 1940s. The Zulu Intellectual Renascence was a major contribution to the New African Movement in the twentieth-century.