Three of the pioneering leaders were almost exactly of the same age: Shembe (1870 – 1935), Gandhi (1969-1948); Dube (1871-1946); apart from Dube, all of them came from elsewhere and chose Inanda for their settlement: Shembe grew up around Harrismith in the Drakensberg; Gandhi in India, the Lindleys and Mary Edwards in the eastern part of the United States.
Inanda Seminary was established in 1869, Ohlange Institute in 1903, Phoenix Settlement in 1904, Ekuphakameni in 1910.
Dube and Shembe were connected through a long-term friendship and Dube wrote Shembe’s biography (Ushembe 1936).
John Dube is much celebrated as a political leader, but he was also an important theologian. Through his contact with Isaiah Shembe, Dube acquired a deeper understanding of the aims and theology of the African Independent Churches (AICs). In fact, Dube coined the term African Independent Churches.
Dube allowed Shembe and his church to reach a wider African audience through Ilanga, which provided space for intense debates on African theology with Shembe as focus from as early as 1917. The newspaper regularly published articles about important events and activities of the Shembe church, and reported about festivals with miraculous healings.
Both Dube and Shembe essentially tried to merge Christianity with some of the rules and values of the African tradition, but with very different results.
John Dube’s grandmother Dalida was Rev. Daniel Lindley’s first convert in Natal. She became educated at Inanda Mission Seminary; it was through her that Dube was introduced to Christian values and the importance of formal education and through her influence Dube received a scholarship to the USA.
John Dube’s father, James, was the first ordained minister at Inanda Seminary, succeeding Rev. Lindley in 1873; John Dube himself was initially educated at the Inanda Mission.
Early female Shembe followers were students at Inanda Seminary; they played a crucial role in recording the history of the Shembe church.
Inanda Seminary was an important source of inspiration for the Ohlange Institute and Dube had a long-standing relationship with and interest in the Inanda Seminary, for instance giving occasional talks there, etc.
Social gatherings were organized between the boys from Ohlange Institute and the girls at Inanda Seminary from the 1930s.
A school magazine was jointly produced between Ohlange Institute and Inanda Seminary in the 1930s.
Dube and Gandhi knew and respected each other. Residents at Ohlange and Phoenix were in regular contact.
Gandhi’s Indian Opinion was an important source of inspiration for Dube’s foundation of Ilanga, which was in fact initially printed at Phoenix.
Contrary to some scholars, who deny any links between Gandhi and Shembe (and Africans more generally), Heuser (2003) proves that the two leaders not only knew, but also influenced each other. Cross-cultural links between Indians and Africans through the close proximity of their neighbourhood during this period is largely forgotten today, but extremely important to remember. The Shembe church was the only AIC in South Africa that invited and attracted Indians as members, while Africans regularly attended prayer meetings at Phoenix. It was in this climate of living together and sharing experiences and values that the concept of non-violent action was born.
The ideal of non-violence was in fact shared among Gandhi, Shembe and Dube. While Dube did not believe in confronting the government directly in acts of passive resistance Gandhi’s message took root with Shembe.
Shembe was long thought of as a non-political and conformist leader, but Gandhi’s ideas of passive resistance had in fact a deep influence on him. This culminated in 1926, when Shembe encouraged his members to resist a state-prescribed general vaccination campaign. The resistance campaign became a milestone in establishing the autonomy of the Shembe church over the authority of state institutions.
In 1928 the oldest known isibongo or praise song for Isaiah Shembe is published in Ilanga. It contains explicit references to Phoenix and veiled references to Gandhi.
Gandhi was inspired by Shembe to promote an emphasis on a simple, ascetic life-style and self-sufficiency.
Long after Gandhi’s return to India, he kept himself informed about religious developments in South Africa. The colourful dances and festivals of the Shembe were one of the few items of African cultural life covered by the Indian Opinion.
When Isaiah Shembe died in 1935, two of Gandhi’s earliest Satyagrahis, Sechand Ramgobin and Sorabjee Rustomjee, spoke at his funeral. Ramgobin, in particular, who had received his schooling at Phoenix, was a long-term trusted friend and supporter of Shembe.
Conversely, after Gandhi’s death in 1948, representatives of the Shembe church were regularly invited at Gandhi memorials and under Manilal Gandhi’s tenure at Phoenix many points of contact existed between Phoenix and Ekuphakameni.
Gandhi’s founding of the Natal Indian Congress partly inspired Dube’s contribution to the foundation of the African National Natives Congress, the fore-runner of the ANC.
During the middle of the 20th century, Inanda Seminary and the Ohlange Institute were important sources of inspiration for the Kasturba Gandhi School at Phoenix.
During the later period, Amos Shembe taught at Ohlange Institute for a short while.
The connection between the different sites is also reflected in the personal experiences and biographies of leader figures in South African society. E.g. former Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka was a student at Inanda Seminary and later a teacher at Ohlange Institute.
Compiled by Sabine Marschall in September 2009
Heuser, Andreas. 2003. Shembe, Gandhi und die Soldaten Gottes. Wurzeln der Gewaltfreiheit in Sűdafrika. Waxmann: Műnster/ New York, Műnchen/ Berlin.
Dhupelia-Mestrie, Uma. 2004. Gandhi’s Prisoner? The Life of Gandhi’s Son Manilal. Cape Town: Kwela Books.
Hughes, Heather. 1990. ‘A lighthouse for African womanhood’: Inanda Seminary, 1869-1945”. In: Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945. Edited by Cheryl Walker. David Philip and James Curry: Cape Town and London, pp.197-220
Marable, Manning. 1976. African Nationalist: The Life of John Langalibalele Dube. PhD dissertation, University of Maryland.
Papini, Robert. 1992. Rise Up and Dance and Praise God. Holy Church of Nazareth Baptists. 1992. Education Pamphlet to accompany a temporary exhibition at the Local History Museum. Produced by the Local History Museum, Durban.
Tichmann, Paul. 1998. Gandhi sites in Durban. The Local History Museums: Durban.