Pixley ka Isaka Seme and the Politics of Black Emancipation

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Pixley ka Isaka Seme is an ambiguous historical figure who has been praised for the outstanding speech that he delivered in 1906 as a student at Columbia University, and condemned for his lacklustre presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1930 to 1937, which nearly killed the ANC. Because of this mixed and ambiguous record, Seme’s contribution to the struggle for black emancipation and to black political thought has not received the attention it deserves. In most instances, Seme’s emancipatory political vision is referred to when addressing the genealogy of Thabo Mbeki’s call for the African Renaissance. Even those scholars who have written on Seme’s various contributions to black political thought have compared him rather unfavourably to his contemporaries and other thinkers. Others have dismissed his advocacy for a regenerated Africa, judging it to be born of naivety. His marginalisation is most evident in the recent scholarship on decoloniality, which tends to focus on political figures and thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko while neglecting their predecessors, such as Seme. In this article, I re-examine Seme’s role as both a leading intellectual and political leader in the struggle for black emancipation and the redemption of the African continent and its people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-150
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of African Renaissance Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019


  • Africa
  • African Renaissance
  • ANC
  • black emancipation
  • land
  • regeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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