T. D. MWELI SKOTA
The importance of T. D. Mweli Skota in the cultural history of South Africa in the twentieth-century is not as yet full recognized or acknowledged. The founding of the Skotaville Publishers in honor of the great man by Mothobi Mutloatse following the Soweto Uprising of 1976 is part of this recognition. Although Mweli Skota was not of the same intellectual calibre as many other New Africans who made enormous contributions to journalism, for instance Solomon T. Plaatje, Jordan Kush Ngubane, Allan Kirkland Soga, H. Selby Msimang who were great journalists, or John Tengo Jabavu, John Langibelele Dube, R. V. Selope Thema, William Wellington Gqoba, Elijah Makiwane, B. M. Khaketla who were masterful editors, or H. I. E. Dhlomo, R. R. R. Dhlomo, Josiah Mapumulo as brilliant columnists, none of them seem to have possessed a deeper sense than he in viewing newspapers as economic and social institutions that can sustain the African people in modernity in their attempt to overcome and overthrow white domination. It is this unwavering conviction which explains the plethora of remarkable newspapers he founded and launched or made central contributions to in the first half of the twentieth-century: Mweli Skota, like other New African intellectuals such as R. V. Selope Thema, was editor of Abantu/Batho (The People) founded by Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1912 which for all intents and purposes became the newspaper of the African National Congress (ANC) until its demise in 1931; he was editor of The Africa Leader that survived for only a year and half (January 1932-May 1933), which was founded in replacement of the then recently defunct Abantu/Batho; launched and edited African Shield (1922-24), unfortunately copies of which have survived. Besides these newspapers which could be characterized in one form or another as 'his own', he either contributed journalistic pieces or helped in sustaining others of quality which were edited by other New African intellectualsor owned by African regents. Because of his involvement with many high quality New African newspapers, T. D. Mweli Skota was a central contibutor to the cultural ambience in which the New African Movement unfolded, one of the great modernist experiments in the twentieth-century. Given this seminal contribution, it is not surprising that he is mentioned in a formidable profile of New African journalists in arguably the best book on South African journalism: South Africa's Alternative Press: Voices of Protest and Resistance, 1880-1960 ([ed.] Les Switzer, Cambridge University Press, London, 1997). Even more remarkable perhaps than his contribution to journalism, is his assembling, compiling and editing a book that is an extraordinary collective expression of New African modernity and the New African Movement: The African Yearly Register: Being an Illustrated National Biographical Dictionary (Who's Who) of Black Folk in Africa (R. L. Esson &Co., Ltd., Johannesburg, 1930). The book assembles in the form of intellectual and political biographical sketches nearly all the most important figures of this fascinating who were active from the late nineteenth-century to the time of its publication and slightly beyond: Dr. James E. K. Aggrey (a Ghanian; then known as the Gold Coast), John Knox Bokwe, Dr. Wilmont Blyden (from the Caribbean and stationed in Sierra Leone), Bishop Samuel Adjai Crowther a Nigerian), King Dinizulu, John Tengo Jabavu, Sekgoma Kgame, King Lobosi Lewanika, Reverend Elijah Makiwane, Alfred Mangena,Chief Silas Thelesho Moleme [sic], Moshoeshoe, Reverend Marshall Maxeke, Reverend Jeremiah Mzimba, Mark Radebe Sr., Chief Sandile, Reverend Tiyo Soga, Reverend Nehemiah Tile, Reverend Isaac Williams Wauchope, Paul Xiniwe, Isaac Bud-Mbelle, Reuben T. Caluza, A. W. G. Champion, H. I. E. Dhlomo, R. R. R. Dhlomo, Reverend John L. Dube, Charles Dube, Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu, Ngazana Luthuli, Sefako Mapoch Makgatho, Josiah Mapumulo, Z. K. Matthews, Charlotte Manye Maxeke, Dr. Silas Modiri Molema, Mangane Maake Mokone, Griffiths Motsieloa, S. E. Krune Mqhayi, H. Selby Msimang, Reverend A. H. Ngidi, Albert Nzula, Solomon T. Plaatje, Reverend Dr. Walter B. Rubusana, Dr. Pixley ka Isaka Seme, T. D. Mweli Skota, John Henderson Soga, King (Ingwenyama) Sobhuza II, Allen Kirkland Soga, Professor James Thaele, R. V. Selope Thema, Dr. Alfred B. Xuma, and many others. What all these names indicate and make clear is that T. D. Mweli Skota wanted to project and situate the New African modernity in South Africa in relation, and within the context of African and African diasporic modernities. In the Preface to the book, Mweli Skota outlines his historical vision of a new Africa to come or to be: "For years the world has been wanting to know more about Africa and her people. And Africa on account of her wonderful mineral wealth, has emerged from the dim background to the forefront of international importance. But little or nothing is known of her people. Threy are deemed to be savages prone to witchcraft, cannibalism and other vices credited to barbarians. Even historians are wont to record the worst that is in some of the great Africans they sometimes mention in their books. The result is obvious; young children reading in their schoolbooks that their kings and ancestors were murders, traitors, etc., are tempted to feel ashamed of their race. In this book the lives of such men as Tshaka, Moshoeshoe, Crowther, Tiyo Soga, Montsioa, Khame and others are potrayed by African contributors, and in each case a genuine historical summary has been given to show, without favour, the qualities of these sons of Africa. It goes without saying that a lot of information is missing in this first edition, but the task of producing a book like The African Yearly Register---covering the whole continent as it does---is no easy job, especially when one takes into consideration the lack of modern communication, the backwardness of certain large areas, and the disintegration of the many tribes that form the African race, but we can assure the reader that the following editions will be improved to a very high degree [no subsequent editions followed]. Being the first of its kind, The African Yearly Register is bound to be of great service both in Africa and in other parts of the world. The biographical sketches in this book have for the most part been contributed by various writers to whom we offer our thanks, particularly: Messrs. Plaatje, Jordan Nobadula, Mrs. C. Maxeke, Messrs. Champion, Gumede, D. S. Letanka, Mapanya, the Right Rev. Nobzondza, Messrs. R. Mqayi [sic], and Mabaso. The Editor also wishes to extend his profound thanks to Mr. H. I. E. Dhlomo for information and photographs appearing in the second part of his book,. . . . " Indeed what partly makes the book fascinating are somewhat polar opposite visions of modernity portrayed by Solomon T. Plaatje and H. I. E. Dhlomo: the former having written a larger portion of the portraits of Chiefs in Section I of the book, and the latter having sketched many portraits of the New Africans in Section II. As somewhat to be expected, given that Plaatje was by 24 years the senior of Dhlomo, was skeptical of the wholesomeness of modernity towards African people, profoundly fearful, like John Dube, Allan Kirkland Soga, Walter B. Rubusana and others, of its moral and social equivocations, while Dhlomo, similar to Walter B. Nhlapo, Mark Radebe, Benedict W. Vilakazi, celebrated the historical options and opportuniies it offered. The primary exhibit here is that while Plaatje always showed deference towards African chiefs, Dhlomo was violently hostile believing that they were the culprits of Africa's backwardness. It is revealing to read their cross purposes in Umteteli wa Bantu in the late 1920s and in the early 1930s, Plaatje writing Letters to the Editor, and Dhlomo as a Correspondent and Contributor. Yet Dhlomo deeply revered Plaatje, as this excerpt from an obituary makes unequivocally clear: "A great, intelligent leader; a forceful public speaker, sharp witted, quick of thought, critical; a leading Bantu writer, versatile, rich and prolific; a man who by force of character and sharpness of intellect rose to the front rank of leadership notwithstanding the fact that he never entered a secondary school; a real artist, passionate, assiduous, alert, keenly sensitive---Such were the qualities of the late Mr. Sol T. Plaatje whose death will be deeply mourned un literary, social, political and religious circles throughout British South Africa" ("An Appreciation", Umteteli wa Bantu, June 25, 1932). Never again did Dhlomo write with such passion and esteem concerning any other New African intellectual, or for that matter, anyone else. It would seem that H. I. E. Dhlomo was taken by the appearance of The African Yearly Register for he wrote the longest and the most detailed book review he ever published. In fact, it appeared in three weekly installments in Umteteli wa Bantu. Here is what he said in part: "Some time back the present writer undertook to compile and publish a Bantu Who's Who. After collecting some material for the work, he learned that Mr. T. D. Mweli Skota was busily engaged compiling a similar book. He decided, therefore, to give it up in favour of Mr. Skota who, as General Secretary of the African National Congress was in a better position to carry on the work. Accordingly, the writer gave over to Mr. Skota the information he had amassed. For over two years Mr. Skota has been busy collecting and compiling all required material---a difficult, tedious job. I am pleased to say the book is now ready, and on sale. . . . The compilation of the Yearly Register is a national undertaking. Its value cannot be exaggerated. It will serve as an up to date work of reference, and as a national record of the efforts and achievements of Africans, past and present. Secondly it is an important contribution towards the solution of the problems of race, which are aggravated by ignorance on either side of the colour line. To many Europeans it will be a surprise to read of the achievements and qualifications of Africans. . . . One hopes the book will find [a] place in every enlightened Native home and in every school so that boys and girls may read, learn and be encouraged. It will prove invaluable to students who desire to know the history of Africans, living and dead, and of Bantu societies. I learn that over 200 copies have been ordered overseas" ("The African Yearly Register", October 17, 1931). The allusion of Dhlomo to Mweli Skota as a man of political action, rather than a person preoccupied only with intellectual matters, gives us an occasion to look at the other side of this extraordinary man. He was one of the early Treasury-Secretaries of the African National Congress (ANC), an organization launched in 1912 (known up to 1925 as the South African Native National Congess). Later he became the organization's Secretary-General. Sometime after the ANC was banned following the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, probably in the 1970s, T. D. Mweli Skota was a deep inspiration to many of the young leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement. At this time in his life he was involved in many business ventures. One fundamental lesson T. D. Mweli Skota imparted to the New African Movement was the need constantly to construct and built institutions, whether economic, political or intellectual, that could sustain the anchoring of the African people in the historical experience of modernity.