When a group of young political activists met in 1944 to launch the African National Congress Youth League, it included the nucleus of a remarkable generation of leaders who forged the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa for the next half century: Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Jordan Ngubane, Ellen Kuzwayo, Albertina Smith, A. P. Mda, Dan Tloome, and David Bopape. It was Anton Lembede, however whom they chose as their first president.
Lembede, who had just begun practicing law in Johannesburg, was known for his sharp intellect, fiery personality, and unwavering commitment to the struggle at hand. The son of farm laborers from the district of Georgedale, Natal, Lembede had worked tirelessly to put himself through school and college, and then to qualify for the bachelor of laws degree. When he began law practice in 1943, he had also earned the respect of his fellows, not only for his intellectual achievements (which were many), but also for his dedication to the cause of freedom in South Africa. “I am,” he explained, “Africa’s own child.”
His untimely death in 1947 at the age of 33 sent a wave of grief through the Congress Youth, who had looked to him for moral as well as political leadership. With the publication of Freedom In Our Lifetime, the editors acknowledge Lembede’s early contribution to the freedom movement, in particular his passionate and eloquent articulation of the African-centered philosophy he called “Africanism.”