Promised land

Founder, 2006
Photograph of Pixley Seme, an ANC founder and president
175cm x 62cm


'Founder' is a life-size reproduction of an old photograph of Pixley kaIsaka Seme (1881 - 1951), one of the founders of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912, and ANC president from 1930 - 1937. He embodies some of the complexities of the ANC itself, both in the symbolism of this photograph, where his regal stance and top-hat and cane make him look the quintessential capitalist of the earlier part of last century, and in his life. In this exhibition he is also a ghost, and a reflection, as if in a full-length mirror; like Banquo, he is the spectre at the feast.

Seme took the name 'Pixley' from the American missionary Reverend S.C. Pixley who helped him to study in the United States, where he attended Columbia University in New York. His life included both personal and political accomplishment, and apparent corruption and disrepute which saw him struck from the Roll of Attorneys in 1932 (later reinstated in 1942).

There is a scarcity of material about Pixley Seme's leadership of the ANC, which, according to the late scholar Richard Reve, might be at least partly explained by the fact that "his conservative influence, after the militant promise he had shown initially, almost spelt the demise of that organisation. So lack-lustre and turgid was his Presidency between 1930 and 1937, that Seme was at one stage accused of 'culpable inertia'. By the time he was ousted from office the Congress was all but dead." (Richard Reve, 'The Early Years', from the site below).

These facts and more in the excellent articles by Richard Reve and Tim Couzens on the ANC website, at: