Duma Nokwe

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Philemon Pearce Dumasile Nokwe (13 May 1927, Evaton – 12 January 1978), known as Duma Nokwe, was a South African political activist and legislator, and served as the Secretary-General of the African National Congress from 1958 to 1969.

He was educated at the famous St. Peter`s school in Johannesburg and Fort Hare University in the days before it was wrecked by the Nationalist Government. After graduating with a B.Sc.degree and a diploma in education, he took up a teaching post at Krugersdorp High School.[1]

Active in the ANC Youth League from his university days (he was its secretary from 1953 to 1958) Duma was inevitably drawn into political action and served a sentence for entering Germiston location without a permit during the 1952 Defiance Campaign. On leaving prison he was summarily dismissed by the Transvaal Education Department, which would not even allow a farewell party to be organised for him by his students. Undismayed, possibly even relieved,by this setback to his career, Duma went as a member of the South |African delegation to the 1953 World Youth Festival in Bucharest, and afterwards toured the Soviet Union, China and Britain. On his return to S. Africa, he wrote and spoke extensively about his experiences until silenced by a banning and restriction order served on him in July 1954.[2]

Shut out from the teaching profession, Duma studied law, probably strongly influenced by the example of his ANC colleagues Mandela and Tambo. When he qualified in 1956 he became the first African barrister to be admitted to the Transvaal Supreme Court, but he was effectively prevented from practising his profession by a Native Affairs Department directive debarring him from taking chambers with his white colleagues in the centre of Johannesburg and ordering him to find an office in an African township. Duma contested the order, which conflicted with a Supreme Court rule that the offices of a barrister must be within reach of the court, but the issue was largely academic. By this time he had decided to devote his life to the liberation of his people, and his decision was effectively reinforced Wilell he was arrested in December 1956 in the notorious treason trial. 11( was one of the small batch of accused who were persecuted to the very end of the trial, and his acquittal was only handed down in April 1961.

In the interim much water had flowed under the bridge. Neither the trial nor his banning orders stopped him from carrying out his political tasks in the service of the ANC, of which he was elected secretary general at its 46th annual conference in Durban in 1958. He was continually harassed, arrested on trivial charges and once brutally assaulted by the police, but his spirit remained undaunted and his cheerrful smile and good humour in all circumstances made him one of he most accessible and popular of ANC leaders. He was at the organisational centre of every campaign, every stay-at-home, every mass demonstration of the 1950`s and early 1960`s which brought the ANC its mass membership and placed it securely at the head of the liberation movement. Jailed for five months during the 1960 state of emergency, he was no sooner released than he was busy at the task of reorganisation, and was one of the leaders of the multi-party committee which laid the foundations for the all-in African conference at Maritzburg in 1961 which marked the reappearance on a public platform of Nelson Mandela after years of banning and restriction, Duma Nokwe`s political work was not confined to organisational and committee activity. A stream of articles flowed from his pen, and he wrote statement after statement setting out the ANC`s policy on various issues, national and international. The police persecution intensified. He was repeatedly arrested and charged, his home was raided and he was placed under house arrest. Facing a long period of imprisonment under the Unlawful Organisations Act for promoting the aims of the banned ANC, Nokwe was ordered by the underground leadership to leave the country and crossed into Bechuanaland in January 1963, together with Moses Kotane.[3]

Duma Nokwe`s work in exile in the spheres of diplomacy and propaganda helped to win for the ANC the recognition and respect of the international community, and he was a well-known figure at meetings of the OAU and the UN and the many conferences on South Africa called by various anti-apartheid organisations. He was also one of the indefatigable team who presented the voice of the ANC over the radio by courtesy of friendly countries, helping to win for the movement a widening audience in the heart of apartheid South Aftrica itself. Slowly, however, his health began to deteriorate, and his death in Lusaka on January 12, 1978, at the early age of 50 was the climax of many years of struggle to overcome the effects of serious illness.


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