John Langalibalele Dube was born in Natal in 1871. He was the son of Rev. James Dube one of the first ordained pastors of the American Zulu Mission. John Dube's grandmother was one of the first Christians to be converted by the American Daniel Lindley. There are many contradictory views and judgements on Dube's life. Let us take a few samples:
B.W. Vilakazi, a poet and author, wrote in 1946 that Dube was "a great, if not the greatest, black man of the missionary epoch in South Africa" and earlier A.S. Vil-Nkomo had written in the same vein: Dube was "one who comes once in many centuries - No one else in his education generation has accomplished so much with such meagre economic means. He was scholar, gentleman, leader, farmer, teacher, politician, patriot and philanthropist"
There were other judgements. To the Governor of Natal in 1906 Dube was "a pronounced Ethiopian who ought to be watched" and John X. Merriman, a Cape "liberal" described Dube in 1912 as a "typical Zulu, with a powerful cruel face. Very moderate and civilised, spoke extraordinarily good English ...". A little later he commented:
"Dube in conversation gave me a glimpse of national feeling which reminded me of Gokhale. How they must hate us - not without cause." Howard Pim, another "liberal", found Dube frankly "puzzling": "I should say he was strong-willed and a great egotist; but his effect on me is curiously neutral. I am neither attracted nor repelled by him. Apparently the people who get on with him do so with the aid of a little flattery".
I.B. Tabata - in his characteristic style and fashion - referred to Dube (in his 1948 letter to Mandela) as a "principal of some secondary school in Natal" who was simply "a willing stooge in the hands of the Herrenvolk" and has 'led the Zulu back to tribalism, where they stagnate today". One can only agree with Shula Marks who comments that some of these remarks reveal more about the commentators rather than about Dube.