African Associational Life and Journalism in Central Johannesburg of the 1910s

Monday, 11 June, 2012 - 15:00

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This paper was subsequently published in the Wits Press book The People's Paper

Many writers, from Eddie Roux to Tim Couzens to Les Switzer, have bewailed the absence of Abantu-Bantu from the shelves of libraries and from scholarship; this shocking neglect of black intellectual life has often been dismissed as a tragedy—few have bothered to do anything about it. The text below comprises chapter 11 of a book to be published by Wits University Press in September as The People’s Paper: A Centenary History & Anthology of Abantu-Batho.  Its complexity, evident in the multi-lingual nature of the paper and its long obscurity, is glimpsed in the titles of chapters from Part One:

  • “Only the Bolder Spirits”: Politics, Racism, Solidarity, and War in Abantu-Batho;
  • “They Must Go to the Bantu Batho”: Economics and Education, Religion and Gender, Love and Leisure in the People’s Paper;
  • Pixley Seme and Abantu-Batho;
  • Queen Labotsibeni and Abantu-Batho;
  • “We of Abantu-Batho”: Robert Grendon’s Brief and Controversial Editorship;
  • The Swazi Royalty and the Founding of Abantu-Batho in a Regional Context;
  • Abantu-Batho and the Xhosa Poets;
  • African Royalty, Popular History, and Abantu-Batho;
  • “Johannesburg in Flames”: The 1918 Shilling Campaign, Abantu-Batho, and Early African Nationalism in South Africa;
  • Garveyism, Abantu Batho & the Radicalisation of the ANC during the 1920s;
  • An African Newspaper in Central Johannesburg;
  • Assessing the Decline and Legacy of Abantu-Bantu.

Part Two consists of a 200-page anthology drawn from each year of the paper’s life. The reason for bringing it back to life is the constant lament by scholars of its absence. I present below only a cog in our still very incomplete understanding of the life and times of the newspaper and its world, focusing on a little-known club. The empirical data on the life of this club is still very limited, which cramps our ability to draw firm theoretical conclusions, but it is a large advance on what we knew before.


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