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AB Xuma to be reburied after 58 years

President Matamela Ramaphosa has declared the reburial of Dr Alfred Bathini Xuma as a Special official Funeral category one. Former African National Congress president, Dr Xuma will be reburied on Sunday, March 8, 2020 at 7am at his birth home, Kwa Manzana Village, Ngcobo.

This day marks his birthday as he was born on March 8, 1893. A surgeon, AB Xuma was elected as the ANC president in 1940. One of his first-ever achievements was to extend equal membership rights to women for the first time, allowing them to vote. Xuma was very passionate about the rights of women across all sectors.

His vision of a revived ANC included building a women’s section within the ANC. The ANC of 1913 granted women only ‘auxiliary’ membership in Congress, not full membership. He revived the Bantu Women’s League which had faded, giving them the right to participate in the organisation at all levels. Madie Hall Xuma, his wife, became president of the ANC Women’s League .

Government has been working with the Xuma family to repatriate his remains from a grave in Johannesburg. He developed cancer of the pancreas and passed away in 1962. President Ramaphosa will deliver the eulogy at this funeral and the Premier has encouraged the people of the province to attend this funeral service.

At the age of 18, while studying to become a teacher, Xuma’s first taste of activism was when the Cape Education Department decided to make a distinction between the teaching certificates granted to Europeans and Africans who had completed teacher-training courses.

He led a student protest and walkout, but he graduated. In 1913, he left home for East London to sail to America to study agriculture. For money, he waited tables on trains and in restaurants, shovelled coal, groomed horses, milked cows, and fired boilers to earn his keep.

In 1920, he received his Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Home Economics. The following year, he enrolled in medical school, still in America, as the only black man and qualified as a physician.

He studied gynaecology and obstetrics in Hungary and became a surgeon. He returned to South Africa in 1927, amid some doubt from the South African immigration authorities. His first stop after clearing customs was the East London home of Reverend Walter Rubusana.

He established his medical practice in Sophiatown where he operated for 30 years. He appealed for the establishment of a medical school in South Africa for Africans or prospective African medical students must get government assistance to pursue their studies overseas.

In the 1930s, he fought for African miners suffering from respiratory diseases and denied adequate compensation. This struggle was to be won in 2019. He presented a groundbreaking talk at the University of Fort Hare entitled his talk ‘Bridging the Gap between White and Black in South Africa’, calling on the government to abandon policies of segregation.

He was passionate about land, and he wanted more land for African farmers; increased state loans and irrigation assistance; improved agricultural education; and better working conditions for African farm labourers. This, he said, would stop the African influx to the cities.

He had a soft spot for Fort Hare University as he raised funds to build them a library, scientific laboratories, a scholarship fund for Fort Hare graduates to travel overseas ‘to prepare them for leadership’ in South Africa; and to study medicine overseas.

The Xuma African National School Fund was set up to provide for the growing numbers of African schoolchildren and compensate for inadequate government funding of African education. In 1938, the academic became the first African from South Africa to be officially awarded a Diploma of Public Health.

When the Native Bills came out, it is only then that Xuma joined an organised African political movement for the first time in his career. During his early years as ANC President, Xuma set about rebuilding Congress almost from scratch. He worked on drafting a new ANC constitution and opened the ANC’S first national office in Johannesburg.

Xuma’s greatest success during his early years as ANC President was as the emerging document: Bill of Rights. Besides demanding full citizenship rights for all, it called for the post-war government to improve the socio-economic position of Africans and abolish all discriminatory legislation.

Xuma’s leadership was questioned by the emerging ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and many black South Africans called for more militant forms of protest. He received a lot of criticism from the Youth League’s founding members; Rholihlahla Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo.

Xuma encouraged cooperation with Indian and Coloured South Africans as well as the Communist Party, which he viewed as a potential ally and a potential rival. He insisted that the ANC serve as a forum for a diverse range of opinions. He built a solid relationship with trade unionists.

He addressed the United Nations to mobilise international opinion against South Africa’s policies of white supremacy. For the first time, South Africa’s racial policies were subjected to international scrutiny.

He served three terms for the ANC and resigned. He wrote that he was stepping down, both because he objected to the Youth League’s election tactics which he described as smacking of ‘bribery and corruption’.

Against much criticism, Xuma chose to be an intermediary between the authorities and the people’s leaders. ‘All intelligent and responsible people know that it takes an outsider to bring a dispute to a harmonious settlement or to judge their case objectively,’ Xuma wrote.

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