Editing pan-Africanism

Many know Frene Ginwala, the iconic anti-apartheid activist, as democratic South Africa’s first speaker of parliament. But few know of her time building pan-African media in Dar Es Salaam.

Frene Ginwala. Author supplied image.

On April 12, 1960, a few weeks after the Sharpeville Massacre, the South African lawyer and journalist Frene Noshir Ginwala arrived in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanganyika. In that year, British-ruled Tanganyika was already transitioning towards independence with internal self-government. This transition provided the country’s subjects with more opportunities for political activities than most other countries in Southern and East Africa could provide.

Ginwala’s important role in the anti-apartheid movement is well-known. Many obituaries written after her death on January 12, 2023, mention that she paved the way for Oliver Tambo and other South Africans to set up the ANC’s external mission after the apartheid regime banned the organization. Later on, she became the first speaker of South Africa’s first post-apartheid parliament.

What is less known is that Dar es Salaam in the early 1960s was a launching pad for Ginwala’s monthly newspaper called Spearhead, subtitled The Pan-African Review. Through her various activities in journalism and beyond, Ginwala also became an integral part of Dar es Salaam’s transformation into a global hub of radical activists, anticolonial organizations, and Cold War rivalries in the 1960s.

Spearhead 1, no. 1 (November 1961), front page. University of Fort Hare (UFH), Liberation Movements Archives (LMA), Frene Ginwala Papers (FGP), 111/127/1.

Ginwala established Spearhead just one month ahead of Tanganyika’s full independence in December of 1961 – it was published monthly between November 1961 and May 1963. In this short period, Spearhead made a gradual turn towards including more radical and partisan perspectives on its pages. In the editorial to the very first issue, Ginwala states bluntly that the newspaper’s readers will not “be interested in, nor will they be subjected to, the propaganda outbursts of so-called “freedom fighters” any more than they are likely to be taken in by the more skilled propaganda of the colonial powers.”

The newspaper’s proclaimed mission was to discuss questions pertaining to the politics of the continent and to “build bridges from Cape to Cairo, from Dar es Salaam to Accra.” In the first of three regular sections, Spearhead provided “News” from all over the continent. In its regular second and third sections, it tackled all the major political themes of the early 1960s. The segments “Views,” and the “Seminar,” discussed the best forms of democracy and trade unionism for postcolonial contexts, as well as African socialism, Pan-Africanism, and liberation struggles. The occasional section “Profiles” paid tribute to notable figures like Nelson Mandela, Tom Mboya, or Hastings Banda.

A clear Pan-African and anticolonial standpoint characterized Spearhead. This was coupled with a commitment to journalistic standards, democracy, and open debate. Spearhead found itself operating in a tight spot because it sought to become mainstream and influence political debates in a newly independent African state. Not only did it espouse a model of political journalism that provided news and commentaries, but it also provided a space for debates on themes that resonated beyond the borders of Tanganyika. In the editorial to the first issue in November 1961, Ginwala envisioned a “forum where our political, economic, social and racial problems can be discussed, and the rostrum from where the ideas of a new Africa will be expounded.”

Editing Spearhead, Ginwala could draw on a wealth of experiences and her continent-spanning network. Not long after finishing her law studies in the UK and the US, Ginwala worked as a correspondent for British media. She became involved with Ronald Segal’s Cape Town-based magazine Africa South, many of whose contributors would also come to write for Spearhead. As a representative of Africa South, Ginwala traveled to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Malaya, and India in 1959. Shortly thereafter, she represented the journal in East Africa whilst based in Dar es Salaam. Here, she also campaigned to boycott South African goods. Ginwala began raising funds to buy a share of the Tanganyikan National Times press, and to establish a new newspaper for £35,000-£50,000 but failed. Fearing her activities and her reputation of being a communist, the governments of Kenya, Uganda, and the Federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia declared her a prohibited immigrant. This made Dar es Salaam as a site even more significant for Ginwala’s plans.

In the same spirit as other Pan-African journals produced in various African “hubs of decolonization in the early 1960s,” Spearhead discussed issues of postcolonial state-building and reported on anticolonial struggles on the continent. Yet, unlike other either fully or partially state-controlled journals such as Accra’s Voice of Africa and the Spark, or Cairo’s African Renaissance (Nahdat Afriqa), Spearhead was financially and editorially independent. The numerous advertisements in each issue certainly financed part of the newspaper’s operations. The range of sponsors included Twiga Soft Drinks, a Cantonese restaurant in Dar es Salaam, and Mosaic Tiles Factories. It also included Radio Moscow and the Indian Ministry for Tourism which advertised relaxing vacations. Particularly eye-catching were the regular advertisements from West German institutions such as the Goethe Institute or the Berlin Industrial Exhibition, which promoted “African Fashion, made in West Berlin.”

Spearhead 2, no. 3 (March 1963), p. 28. UFH, LMA, FGP/111/143/1.

Spearhead collated a remarkable range of views from an alternating cast of writers. Many contributions came from high-ranking African politicians and functionaries like Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, or Ghanaian trade union leader John Tettegah, who often promoted their views on Pan-Africanism or postcolonial statehood. They were joined by scholars and journalists such as the Guardian’s Africa correspondent Clyde Sanger, South African communist Hermann Meyer Basner or Patrick McAuslan, a radical lecturer at Dar es Salaam’s newly established Law Faculty. According to Ginwala’s first editorial, Spearhead’s mixture of news and political debate aimed to “cater in the first instance for the people of what has become known as the PAFMECA area.” Letters to the editor came predominantly from Anglophone countries in East and Central Africa, although the subscription information for Spearhead was also provided to readers in Great Britain and “all other parts of Africa.”

On its mission to promote a critical public sphere, Spearhead specifically invited readers to contribute to a “free and frank exchange of views.” Following Tanganyika’s independence, Ginwala asked readers to contribute by addressing the Prime Minister as “Dear Mr. Nyerere,” and to lay out their own proposals for the government.

When the apartheid regime banned Spearhead in mid-1962, the “Readers Forum” lay awash with support messages from various politicians and organizations in and beyond Tanganyika. These included representatives from Zambia’s United National Independence Party (UNIP), the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), and the South African ANC, all of which condemned the ban.

Spearhead 1, no. 8 (July/August 1962), p. 1. UFH, LMA, FGP/111/134/1.

With time, Spearhead devoted more and more attention to liberation movements, particularly to those that received official support from the Tanganyikan government and were on friendly terms with the ANC. The September 1962 issue gave the stage to the UNIP leader Kenneth Kaunda in Northern Rhodesia for his passionate vow to fight the vision of a settler-dominated Central African Federation until it would be “dead and buried.” Three months later, Spearhead published a firm polemic by the Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in favor of the party’s activities against Portuguese colonialism. In the same issue, a Spearhead section called “Seminar” offered a sympathetic perspective on the Angolan People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and even reproduced its political program.

This does not mean that Spearhead morphed into a mouthpiece for liberation movements; most of these pieces were in line with the original editorial’s outlook. This was the agenda of providing “not just commentaries by skilled observers but interpretations by those who are themselves involved.” Given Ginwala’s own political allegiance, it is not surprising that Spearhead did not grant equidistance to all organizations in its political stance. The ANC’s rival movement received less flattering publicity. An article by Howard Lawrence considered the Pan African Congress (PAC) to be a “disorganized and floundering” political party, and she described Poqo, the military organization affiliated with it, as a “terrorist movement.”

What did Ginwala’s conception of the magazine as a “meeting ground of different ideas” then mean in practice? In the debate on the boycott of South African goods, Tanganyikan John O. Y. Malugaja argued that this was “at the expense of the economic betterment of our people.” He argued that cutting off trade relations with the apartheid regime amounted to “economic suicide.” Responding in the next issue in May/June 1962, ANC representative Tennyson Makiwane was appalled by the “disgusting things” Malugaja had said and called on Tanganyikans to “reject this gentleman’s call for the ending of the boycott against South Africa’s racist-fascists.”

At times, Ginwala also made her political stance explicit. In an unusually pointed editorial, and for the first and only time signed with her name, she sharply opposed a lengthy piece that Julius Nyerere had published in January 1963, in which he made the case for Tanganyika’s shift to a one-party system. Ginwala described this transition as the entrenchment of a “privileged élite” who lacked a coherent ideology and sought to muzzle dissent.

Ginwala was declared persona non grata in Tanganyika. She was first detained, then deported to the United Kingdom in May 1963. According to US information, the Tanganyikan government had declared her a prohibited immigrant already in September 1962.  The order mentioned her “pro-Communist activities” and her involvement in a bribery case involving high-ranking government officials. While this might have been a pretext, strangely, despite the order, authorities allowed for her re-entry into the country. US observers also noted that Spearhead had taken a “more extreme line” in early 1963 by mentioning a disagreement between Ginwala and the Minister of Justice Kaluta Amri Abedi. Abedi had disagreed with the way she edited a contribution of his. Street gossip also mentioned that she had personal conflicts or unwanted intimate relationships with Tanganyikan politicians. Nyerere himself had signed the expulsion order in May 1963, yet he was also the one to re-invite her to Dar es Salaam in 1970 to become the managing editor of the government newspaper The Standard.

However, her expulsion in 1963 sounded the death knell for Spearhead. In remembering Spearhead, former Drum editor Frank Barton praised it as a significant Pan-African newspaper that was an “editorially gutsy … one-woman show.” But it was more than that. It contributed to and reflected the transformation of Dar into an anticolonial hub where postcolonial statecraft, exile politics, and continent-wide debates both coalesced and clashed.

About the Author

Eric Burton is an assistant professor in global history at the University of Innsbruck. His work on the themes of development, socialism, and decolonization has appeared in the Journal of Global History, Cold War History, and the Journal of African Cultural Studies, among others.

Katharina Föger is a graduate student and has studied history in Lodz, Prague, and Innsbruck. She has published articles on Comintern anticolonialism and Soviet posters on African decolonization in the 1960s.

Further Reading