Gool-Tabata J.

Biographical Summary

Jane Gool was born in Cape Town on 19 March 1902 into the family of Yusuf and Wageda Gool. She was the sixth of nine children. Her father was an immigrant from India, who settled in South Africa after spending some time in Mauritius. He was a successful merchant, but also man with a broad outlook who had strong sympathies for the anti-imperialist struggle in India. He became a prominent figure who hosted various foreign dignitaries at his large house in Buitencingle Street where Jane was born. He also took Mahatma Ghandi into his home for a while after one of his terms of imprisonment, when Jane was still a young child. Her mother was a Cape Town muslim with a strong religious background. Jane was thus reared in a strict muslim tradition while at the same time being exposed to much broader ideas

Her eldest brother A.H. Gool (BG as he was more popularly known) played an important role in her upbringing. He had been sent to study, firstly in Cairo and then at Guys Hospital in London where he qualified, after which he returned to become the second Black doctor in South Africa. By Jane’s own account he had become imbued with the heights of British culture and learning, so much so that she and others in the family laughingly called him the Black Englishman, but not in disrespect.. He was deeply concerned about the education of his younger sisters and also assisted her other well-known brother, Goolam to complete his education in England. He attempted to introduce the best of European culture into the home. Thus it was that Jane, her brothers and sisters learnt to appreciate classical music and it was in family readings, conducted by her brother himself, that Jane was first exposed to the best of English literature. This, incidentally, was an activity in which her uneducated mother took a very keen interest.

At his insistence Jane and her sisters were removed from a mission school because he considered the education that they were receiving there to be narrow and inferior. They were transferred to a newly opened school which was later to become Trafalgar. But according to Jane it was no better – a small school in a two-roomed house with an inadequate teaching staff. When they complained of this to their brother he had no hesitation in engaging trained tutors to assist them. Nevertheless conditions improved at Trafalgar. The school grew and acquired new buildings, more and better teachers. Jane and her sister Zobeida were members of the second group of matriculants in its history

Their brother BG was now keen for the girls to acquire a university education and it was at this point that Jane and her sister made a very unusual decision for the times. Instead of the University of Cape Town, they chose to study at the Native College of Fort Hare as it was then known . Jane has cited various reasons for this decision – they were already imbued with the ideas of nationalism and could not brook the thought of the racial prejudice and social isolation that they would suffer in the overwhelmingly white institution that UCT was at the time. Then, they also wanted to break free from “parental control” as she put it and the deeply religious environment that her mother had created in the family home. An incident that has some bearing on their decision is worth relating. Jane, with members of her family had attended a performance in the City Hall of a choir of Fort Hare students, brought to Cape Town by Professor Jabavu, who was a highly respected man at the time. Thereafter they insisted to their parents that this famous man and the student choir be invited home for tea. The impression that these students made upon them on this occasion reinforced their decision to go to Fort Hare and it is there, in 1922 that they went. It is evident that racialism was foreign to this remarkable family


Knowing what she was to become later it is perhaps unexpected that Jane did not become politically involved at Fort Hare. In her own words she was a “political zero”. But there is no doubt that the experience had an important influence on her later life. She learnt directly what it was to subsist on an inadequate diet of mealie pap and a portion of boiled meat twice a week. More importantly she came into contact with those from whose ranks would emerge the leadership of the oppressed African majority. She says “I met the African intellectual … I met the African … I began to understand them and learn to know that they were no different to anybody else.”

Jane and her sister returned to Cape Town in 1926. Neither had graduated as yet, Jane in particular, because Fort Hare lacked the academic staff to take her to graduate level in economics, her sister for a similar reason. The two then took employment, Jane as a teacher at a primary school, and they engaged private tutors to complete their studies. Jane finally graduated in 1931.

It was shortly after her return from Fort Hare that Jane’s political career began. It was 1928/29, the time of the great depression typified by the spectacular Wall Street Crash, and South Africa was by no means untouched. Long unemployment queues were a common sight and the general condition of economic deprivation gave rise to a questioning of ideas. Cape Town, the gateway to Africa, was by the same token the door between South Africa and the rest of the world. Through this door, amongst others, there came economic and political refugees of the first world war, immigrants and visitors, inescapably caught up with ideas born of the socialist revolution in Europe – ideas which questioned the legitimacy of the capitalist ideology , which had little with which to defend itself at the time. In its own little corner of the world, nonetheless, the socio-political heart of South Africa, Cape Town was a veritable ideological melting pot.

It was in this milieu bodies such as the Communist Party and the Lenin Club achieved viability and it was to meetings of the latter that Jane and her brother Goolam were attracted to listen to lectures given by intellectual figures such as Benjamin Farrington, noted for his work on Greek Science, and Frederick Bodmer, similarly noted in the field of language. A short time before a young man had arrived in Cape Town seeking a vision of life beyond the insularity of rural existence on a farm near the town of Bailey in the Transkei where he born and bred. I.B. Tabata met up with with Goolam Gool who introduced him to these discussions and debates, which naturally led on to his acqaintance with Jane. This was the beginning of a lifelong partnership and political collaboration between the two. But this noteworthy partnership was to be preceded by the pioneering association of the three – “the three musketeers”, as they later became known. Jane, Tabby and Goolam became members of the Lenin Club where their political ideas were shaped.

In the early thirties the Lenin Club was impelled to develop an approach to the inevitable political struggle in South Africa as a basis for its own intervention. A difference in outlook arose amongst the membership.

This resulted in two theses being produced which were submitted to Leon Trotsky for criticism. The view supported by Jane, Tabby and Goolam posed the joint resolution of the national question and the land question as an essential task in the struggle for a socialist revolution. The opposing view saw the struggle as primarily a proletarian one from the outset.

In Trotsky’s criticism of the two theses, the group to which Jane, Tabby and Goolam belonged felt their views essentially vindicated.

But the Lenin Club split despite a call from Trotsky and the International Secretariat of the Fourth International for its members to maintain their unity. Along with figures such as Yudel Burlak, Clare Goodlatte, Dora and J.G Taylor, the three became involved in the establishment of a new body – the Spartacist Club out of which arose the Workers Party of South Africa. Its programme remained essentially the same as the original thesis produced in the Lenin Club but it was strengthened in accordance with Trotsky’s criticisms. Here it should be noted that both Jane and Tabby have attested that Clare Goodlatte in particular, of whom little is known, played a major role in their political education.

It was a time for theory to be translated into practice. The white members of the party were barred by their very skin colour from playing an active organisational role amongst the black population. This task fell mainly on the backs of the trio but they would not be alone for long. The organisational thrust of the WPSA took place on two fronts. The first opportunity was presented by the introduction of the notorious Hertzog Bills in 1935. These bills, made law in 1936, brought far reaching new restrictions on access of the black population to the land, their total disenfranchisement and the creation of the dummy Native Representation Council (NRC). When the people rallied to oppose these drastic new measures in an historic conference in 1935, Jane, Tabby and Goolam were present to campaign vigorously for the total rejection these new bills, a boycott of the NRC and the building of the national unity of the oppressed. Tabata has related that the very presence of Jane and Goolam brought about an intense debate on how this body was to be named. Thus, instead of being called the the All Native Convention it became the All African Convention.

Though they could not prevent the sell-out by the leadership of the AAC in 1936, they continued their campaign and their efforts bore fruit in the re-establishment of the AAC as a permanent body in 1943 on the basis of a new, radical and uncompromising political programme.

While IB Tabata was campaigning to build the AAC in the Transkei with the assistance of figures such as Nathaniel Honono and Leo Sihlali, in Cape Town things were moving apace. At the initiative of Goolam Gool the New Era Fellowship was launched as a discussion group to attract new intellectuals to the movement. Jane, joined by political figures such as Ben Kies, Willem Van Schoor, R.O. Dudley and Alie Fataar, became active in the Teachers League of South Africa (TLSA). She played a major role in injecting progressive new ideas into the conservative body that it was at the time.

With the first moves of the ruling class to disenfranchise the coloured population, Jane and her comrades became actively involved in the creation of the Anti-CAD in 1943. Their efforts in mobilising the resistance of the people through this vehicle saw the first dummy Colured Affairs Council boycotted out of existence. It was a time that the names of Goolam Gool and Jane Gool became household words in Cape Town.

With enough cadres to carry the work forward in the Cape, Jane, Tabby and Goolam devoted more of their time to carry the ideas of their movement into other parts of the country. Their efforts reached a peak with the unification of the AAC and the Anti-CAD in the Non-European Unity Movement in 1943. This was the first organisation to raise the demand for the full franchise as a basis for unity and struggle. It was the first organisation to raise the policy of Non-Collaboration with the oppressor which found its expression in the weapon of the boycott – a weapon that the oppressed would learn to wield with devastating effect. The minimum 10 Point Programme of the Unity Movement and its policy of Non-Collaboration set standards of struggle below which every other political organisation of the oppressed remained at the peril of their rejection by the populace.

It can be said without fear of contradiction, that without the acceptance of these demands as a basis of struggle by the oppressed population, their recent victory of the universal franchise, inadequate as it may be, would not have been possible. Herein is to be seen the historic contribution of Jane Gool, IB Tabata and their comrades. It is not yet fully appreciated but it can be said with equal confidence that in the future history books of our country it shall not be denied.

It may be argued that, despite its potent and superior political programme, the Unity Movement failed to mobilise the population organisationally when it really mattered. In assessing the reasons for this failure cognisance must be taken of the fact that in the predominantly nationalist phase of the struggle the Workers Party had no other choice but to employ the leadership powers of the black petit-bourgeois intelligentsia. The members of this class suffered the same socio-political deprivations as the labouring masses with whom they had every reason to unite in a common struggle. In this era the emerging working class was not yet ready to take up the struggle on its own behalf. The working class movement only came into prominence at the beginning of the 70’s, despite all efforts of other political groupings through the years before. Even as the Unity Movement failed so did all other radical political tendencies up to this day where we find the working class still entrapped in economism under the aegis of a nationalist petit-bourgeois leadership.

Jane and her comrades foresaw the betrayal of the black petit-bourgeois intelligentsia. It impelled them to move for the creation of the African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA) in 1961. This represented another historic step in that the APDUSA was the first organisation to raise the independent demands of the workers and landless peasants to a position of paramountcy in the ongoing political struggle. APDUSA was created to prepare the population for active engagement with the ruling class enemy. Its activities and rapid strides hardly went unnoticed by the ruling class and Jane amongst others, suffered a political ban in 1961. While still under the legal strictures of this ban Jane left the country in 1963, being sent by the organisation together with IB Tabata and N.Honono to raise support for the struggle in Africa and to prepare the way for the training of freedom fighters who were being organised by the APDUSA. They left in a spirit of optimism based on the initial openings won by IB Tabata in a secret foray beforehand. But it was not to be. They now found their efforts thwarted at every step by the imperialist controlled leadership of the OAU. Yet they never relented. In 1971 they were given approval to bring recruits out of the country for training. It was too late. While in the sixties there were hundreds of recruits ready and eager to leave, now after the vicious repression of the sixties, the national infrastructure of the organisation at home had been broken and it was possible to recruit only a small number of cadres. Their ability to do so in those difficult conditions nevertheless made a strong impression on the more progressive elements in the OAU who were now ready to finally grant recognition to the Unity Movement of South Africa as it was now known. It was Kenneth Kaunda who opposed this and he succeeded on the basis that the OAU was constitutionally bound to decision-making on the basis of total unanimity.

It should be noted that despite the failures of the UMSA to gain official political credence, Jane and Tabby gained the personal respect of senior political figures across the African continent. They eventually settled in a comfortable home purchased by the organisation as its headquarters in Harare. Here they received the personal support of senior officials of the ruling ZANU-PF party which also offered them full citzienship of Zimbabwe. At this house they received many visits from members of virtually every organisation engaged in the political struggle in South Africa, paying homage to their contribution and still seeking the advice of their political opinion.

It is universally said by those who have suffered it, that exile is a difficult and painful experience. In the face of the adversity that the UMSA experienced, it is therefore not surprising that it suffered a grievous loss of cadres abroad. But Jane and Tabby never wavered in their purpose. Against all odds they doggedly sought to maintain their links with the struggle at home. In this period they produced some of the most telling literature which retains its relevance in the present times. Herein they assessed the developments in South Africa on an ongoing basis, with the purpose of giving the necessary ideological guidance to those actively engaged in the struggle at home. They set in motion a plan to smuggle this literature into the country on a large scale. How successful they were cannot yet be measured but their efforts contributed in no small measure to the reconstruction of the APDUSA in the eighties. They received the young working class cadres sent by the organisation regularly during the eighties to meet with them in Zimbabwe, with pride in the knowledge that what they strived for has not been lost

IB Tabata died in exile in October 1990. There is no telling how great a loss this was to Jane. She returned to South Africa for the burial of her lifelong comrade and partner and stayed a short while. She was already 88 years old and had the option of living out her remaining years in the comfort of her home in Harare with the knowledge that there would always be friends at hand to attend to her needs. But being the fighter that she was, this was an option that Jane could not contemplate in any seriousness. She returned permanently in 1992 to a humble home in Gatesville Cape Town situated, quite coincidentally, two streets away from Yusuf Gool Boulevard, named after her illustrious father. Hers was the need to be close to the struggle still raging in the society which gave her birth. In 1993 she was elected President of the UMSA. It was a small honour in view of the fact that already in 1990 she had warned that, as an organisation the UMSA could not be expected to play a major role in the new political era that was on the horizon. It was nevertheless a measure of great pride to her. She remained confident in the belief that there can be no fundamental solution to the problems of South African society without the organisational and ideological programme of the UMSA being completed to its fullest extent.

In her life time Jane Gool-Tabata became renowned as an unrelenting and uncompromising fighter. Her intolerance of any tendency to water down the ideas and principles for which she stood, made her a particularly fearsome opponent in political debate. Jane did not consider herself to be a writer but she is known for her thought-provoking papers on the international situation which she was regularly selected to present to conferences of the Unity Movement and the APDUSA. She actively collaborated in the writings of her husband IB Tabata and while in exile she produced two works viz “The Crimes of Bantu Education” and “The Dispossessed Peasantry in South Africa”. Unfortunately the latter was never published.

In her achievements Jane unwittingly became symbolised by many as a pioneer in the struggle against sexual prejudice. But she never considered her role in those terms. She was first and foremost a scientific socialist dedicated to the struggle for the liberation of the human race as a whole. She devoted over sixty years of her life to this cause with an intensity that is seldom to be witnessed. She died and was buried on 6 May 1996 but her great contribution has not simply passed into history. It lives in the body of the collective movement for revolutionary progress in South Africa.