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"From Cattle-herding to Editor's Chair": The Unfinished Autobiography & Writings of Richard Victor Selope Thema. Edited by Allan Cobley

 

 

 

 

Richard Victor Selope Thema (1886-1955) was one of the most influential black figures in South Africa in the twentieth century - yet he is largely forgotten today. This edited and annotated edition of his unpublished autobiography and selected other writings asserts his claim to a place in the pantheon of heroes of the black liberation struggle in South Africa.

‘RV’ – as he was known to his friends - was a leading member of the ANC for almost forty years from 1912, serving for many years on its National Executive. He was also a founder member of the All-African Convention, an elected member of the Natives Representative Council (1937-1950), and was in constant demand to serve on deputations and committees as one of the leading spokespersons for Africans of his generation. Thema was also widely recognised as the leading black journalist and intellectual of his time. Many of his early writings appeared in the ANC newspaper, Abantu-Batho, but he cemented his national reputation as founding editor of Bantu World, a position he held for twenty years (1932-1952). Under his leadership, Bantu World became the leading organ of the black middle class in South Africa, and a generation of black writers launched their careers in its pages under his tutelage. It is still published today as Sowetan.

In his writings Thema was a tireless advocate of African rights and an implacable enemy of segregation. An ‘Africanist’ before that term was popularised by the Congress Youth League in the 1940s and 1950s, he can be considered an intellectual fore-father of both the Youth League and of the Pan-Africanists of the 1950s.