Pixley ka Isaka Seme on his graduation from Columbia University in 1906
Pixley ka Isaka Seme on his graduation from Columbia University in 1906

When eThekwini Municipality renamed a number of its roads a few years back, one of the city’s main arterial roads was changed from West Street to Dr Pixley KaSeme Street. The address of the Durban City Hall, a historic building and important site in terms of the liberation movement, changed as as result. The renaming of West Street was probably one of the more significant changes made and points to the important role that KaSeme played in the history of Durban, and indeed that of the country.

One of the first black men to practice law in South Africa, Pixley ka Isaka Seme is also one of the protagonists in the recently published book, The Land is Ours, written by advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. The book, which is currently being narrated on SAFM’s daily book reading, tells the story of South Africa’s first black lawyers practicing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Offering details of legal cases, as well as biographies of the various men, the book explores how KaSeme and his comrades attempted to reconcile the law with the politics of the day, which constantly sought to undermine the role of black men in South African society.

As the name suggests, the book also looks at the dispossession of land formerly owned by black people – a particularly topical discussion – beginning with how the Cape Frontier Wars led to the Xhosa-speaking people losing great tracts of their land to European colonists.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi is an advocate of the High Court. He holds the degrees of BProc, LLB (Unitra), LLM (Rhodes) and LLM (London School of Economics), and formed part of the legal team arguing in the North Gauteng High Court for the release of the state capture report.

The Land is Ours: South Africa’s First Black Lawyers and the Birth of Constitutionalism is available for purchase from www.exclusivebooks.co.za and in e-format via www.amazon.com

Image of Pixley KaSeme courtesy of www.sahistory.org.za

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