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Nelson Mandela Guide: Freedom Fighters

Selected Books Against Apartheid

Selected South Africans Who Campaigned Against Apartheid

Excerpts taken from The Dictionary of African Biography (CU Users).

Peter Abrahams
Poet, journalist, essayist, and novelist; Abrahams’s first autobiography, Tell Freedom: Memories of Africa (1954), not only chronicles his personal life but also examines the horrors of apartheid.

Steve Biko
Antiapartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). The philosophy of Black Consciousness developed from Biko’s conviction that liberation from apartheid would come only from Black people themselves, and not through the leadership of whites, whether liberal or not.

Ruth First
Journalist, intellectual, and activist. In 1949 First married Joe Slovo, a lawyer, labor organizer, and fellow Communist Party member. After the 1950 Suppression of Communism Act banned the party, First played a central role in the 1953 formation of the underground South African Communist Party (SACP) and promoted closer links between the SACP and the ANC, including the founding of the Congress of Democrats as a radical white organization to work with the ANC in the Congress Alliance.

Athol Fugard
Dramatist and antiapartheid activist, Fugard insisted on living and working in South Africa, challenging apartheid with plays rooted in local history and exploiting—as he declared—its “specifics.” This was in spite of problems with censorship, the police, and the government.

Nadine Gordimer
Novelist, short story writer, essayist, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature; by the 1970s Gordimer was describing herself not as a liberal but as “a white South African radical.” Her growing sense of engagement became manifest in her nonfiction—essays and speeches published in a variety of settings.

Chris Hani
Was a member of South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, known as MK), the armed wing of the ANC in exile. Hani returned to South Africa following the February 1990 unbanning of the ANC, and in 1991 he was elected secretary of the SACP. He was lionized, particularly by young people in both rural and urban areas. He also posed a major threat to the white far right. When Janusz Walus, a member of the Conservative Party (CP), shot [and killed] Hani.

Bessie Head
Noted writer, Head dabbled briefly in politics and was strongly attracted to Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and the Pan-Africanist Congress.It is difficult to assess the impact of Bessie Head’s work, in part because critical interest developed relatively late and only began to expand in the mid-1990s, even then mostly focusing on the trilogy When Rain Clouds Gather/Maru/A Question of Power.

Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli
Teacher, Zulu chief, political leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was born in Rhodesia around 1898 of South African (Zulu) parentage. By 1945 Luthuli officially joined the African National Congress (ANC) Natal chapter. However, his vast political experience as a chief and as an active follower of congress affairs belied his junior status in the ANC, and he quickly ascended to the ANC Natal Executive Committee.

Miriam Zenzi Makeba (Mama Africa)
Makeba was mainly known as singer and activist. In 1963 she addressed the United Nations Special Committee on Apartheid (see address). From this point on, the political role that Makeba played as spokesperson and ambassador for the antiapartheid movement was as important to her public profile as her singing career. See 1969 Interview.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Antiapartheid activist and second wife of Nelson Mandela. She was one among many women who participated in the struggle against apartheid, exhibiting powerful leadership skills and articulating sophisticated critiques of the state and its political and social mechanisms of oppression.

Nelson Mandela
Former president of South Africa (1994–1999), African National Congress (ANC) leader, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela was groomed for a local leadership role by the paramount regent, Jongintaba. Mandela’s given name was Rolihlahla (“troublemaker”) and his clan name Madiba (“reconciler”) would remain a “praise name” and term of affection in years to come. He deftly combined African nationalism with secular ideas drawn from liberalism and social democracy; if raised a Christian, then he was not particularly religious, and after an early flirtation with a narrow form of Black Nationalism, he adopted the broad, inclusive form of African nationalism of the radicalizing ANC that increasingly welcomed all races. See 1961 interview.

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela
South African jazz trumpeter and a leader in the fusion of African and Western popular music. In 1985 he wrote “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” which became an anthem for those seeking Mandela’s release. The trumpeter also contributed music to the antiapartheid musical Sarafina!, which premiered in South Africa in 1987. See performance.

Govan Archibald Mvuyelelwa Mbeki
Politician, writer, long-term political prisoner, was a leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) and also of the National High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC formed in December 1961.

Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu
An antiapartheid activist and wife of African National Congress (ANC) leader Walter Sisulu, Albertina rose to prominence on her own accord and was given the appellation MaSisulu, a mother of the nation. She was present at the historic adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown in 1955. The Freedom Charter had been compiled after months of campaigning and collecting the grievances of ordinary people.

Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu
African National Congress (ANC) leader. In 1940, at the prompting of labor unionist Alfred Mbele, Sisulu joined the ANC after hearing a speech by its modernizing president, Xuma, who encouraged Sisulu to mobilize youth for the ANC. In 1941, he met and began to mentor the young Nelson Mandela, influencing him to join the ANC.

Joe Slovo
A leading South African communist and antiapartheid activist, was treated by the apartheid regime as its key enemy. At the same time he had a heroic image among the oppressed Black majority as a White person totally dedicated to liberation.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe     
South African activist and leader of the Pan Africanist Congress at the time of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960. In 1947 he became involved with the nascent Youth League of the African National congress (ANC). He was elected president of the Students’ Representative Council in 1949.

Oliver Reginald Tambo
Best known as an African National Congress (ANC) leader. In 1946 Tambo was elected to the ANC’s Transvaal Executive and in 1948 the National Executive. The League’s militant African nationalism was encapsulated in a bold Program of Action the ANC adopted in 1949, overturning the old guard under Xuma and ushering in the leadership of Tambo, Mandela, and Sisulu.

Desmond MpiloTutu
South African cleric, antiapartheid activist, and Nobel Peace laureate. Tutu advocated economic sanctions against South Africa as a non-violent way to bring the government to its senses..

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