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South African singer Miriam Makeba dies at the age of 76 after a 30 minute performance for Roberto Saviano in the Italian town of Caserta. Nicknamed ‘Mama Africa‘ or the ‘Empress of African Song’, Makeba’s music transcended South African borders and entered the global stage. Makeba built her reputation in the music industry in the 1950s singing for the Cuban Brothers and the Manhattan Brothers and the Skylarks. In 1959 Makeba starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa which placed the apartheid government under the international spotlight. As consequence she was subjected to harassment by the apartheid government. Her passport was revoked and withdrawn while she was outside the country leading to her stay in exile in London. When her mother died in 1960 she could not return to her funeral because her passport had been revoked.

In 1963 Makeba testified before the United Nations (UN) of how the apartheid government had stripped her of her citizenship. After speaking out against apartheid in the United Nations her music was banned by the state broadcasters in South Africa. Makeba lived in numerous countries such as the United States of America, France, Guinea and Belgium. Makeba toured various parts of the world in the 1970s and 1980s and continued to speak out against apartheid in various forums. At the end of apartheid she returned to South Africa and continued with her singing career. In 2005, Makeba announced her retirement from the mainstream music industry but she continued to make appearances and to do smaller performances. Makeba died on 9 November 2008 while performing in a concert organized for Roberto Saviano, an Italian writer threatened with death by the Mafia after he exposed their underground dealings.


Alan Cowell,( 2008), ‘Miriam Makeba, 76, Singer and Activist, Dies’ from the New York Times, 10 November [online], Available at, [Accessed 26 October 2010]

Celean Jacobson, (2008), ‘South African singer Miriam Makeba dies’ from the UK Independent, 10 November [online], Available at, [Accessed 26 October 2010]

Anon, (2008), ‘South African icon Miriam Makeba dies’ from the BBC, 10 November [online], Available at [Accessed 26 October 2010]

Anon, ‘Miriam Makeba dies in Italy’ from the Mail and Guardian, 10 November [online], Available at [Accessed 26 October 2010]


In 1952 black South Africans, slaves in the land of their birth, rose up to peacefully throw off their shackles – with fatal results. Following is a context of the Mayibuye Uprising of November 8 1952.

Getting rid of the Shackles, by Johlene Mary

THE MAYIBUYE uprising in 1952 occurred not as an isolated event but as a result of the culmination of oppressive activities against the African people of South Africa, through the legislated encroachment upon the property rights and citizenship of Africans, by the colonial or Union authorities.

These oppressive measures can be seen in the litany of wars that were fought and the mass of laws passed to bolster what would become apartheid. The discovery of diamonds in 1870 saw the British Imperial government embarking on a process of expansion, which resulted in the ‘Wars of Dispossession’ with many chiefdoms being overpowered: Hlubi 1873; Gcaleka and Pedi 1877; Ngita, Thema, Mpondo, Griqua, Rolong 1878; Zulu 1879; Sotho l880; Ndebele 1893.

The Glen Grey Act orchestrated by Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Hofmeyer resulted, in a progressive system of dispossession of the African majority in South Africa. This Act resulted in the establishment of the local administration under which Africans would be forced to concentrate on local matters. The establishment of the council system under this Act resulted in the provision of infrastructure and important services such as education being shifted to the inhabitants of the reserves, imposing a labour tax of 10 shillings on any African male who had not worked outside his district for at least three months in the year. The authors of the Glen Grey Act expected that poverty and starvation would force Africans from the reserves to seek employment in the white farms and mines.

In 1911 Sol Plaatje stated ‘Boers are now ousting the Englishman from the public scene and when they finished are with them, they will make a law declaring it a crime for a Native to live in South Africa unless he worked as servant in the employ of a Boer and from this it will be just one to step to complete slavery’.

During the years 1911 – 1913 the Union passed various acts which had disastrous consequences for blacks in South Africa. The Native Labour Regulation Act 1911 resulted in movement control and wage control of the African that essentially entrenched migrant labour and an average standard wage. The 1913 Native Land Act was born out of the idea that squatting on the farms resulted in an aggravated shortage of labour. It claimed that the presence of the settled African on the farms that led an independent life resulted in social contact between them and the whites, which was regarded as highly undesirable. These two Acts laid the basis for a race-based system of oppression and exploitation and led to various passive petitions to the King of Britain that were all unsuccessful. 1817 saw the Bucket strike followed in 1918-1919 by African and Coloured Dock workers’ strikes.

Both of these however were very passive. In 1921 the Stallard Commission established by the Hertzog/Smuts coalition government recommended that the Government consider that ‘the history of the races, especially having regard to South African history, showed that the coming together of black and white is undesirable’. The commission felt that Africans ‘should only be allowed to enter urban areas, which were essentially the white man’s creation, when he is willing to enter and attend to the needs of the white man and he should depart therefrom if he ceases to attend to those needs’. The commission also recommended firstly, influx control regulations; secondly the tightening of the pass laws; thirdly, the labour bureaux system of the 1950s; fourthly the ‘Dompas‘ which became the monitoring instrument which the every African over the age of 15 years had to carry, as mechanisms to achieve these aims.

The Poll Tax Act of 1925 was imposed on all African males between the ages of 18-65 years. Development services for the African were paid from the poll tax of (pound) one per head. One fifth was set aside of the African education and four fifths to develop the African areas.

In 1943 the Smuts government issued a White Paper in which it set out its scheme to rehabilitate the reserves. Among the major features of the rehabilitation and betterment scheme was the culling of stock to the carrying capacity of the communal pasturage and the removal from residential areas of those who had no arable allotments and placing them in various’ labour settlements.

The mass removal of people from areas they had occupied for half a century and more affected an estimated three million people. The land distribution in the various reserves became critical as millions of Africans were trapped between the grinding poverty of the reserves and the hammer of the laws that forced them put out of the urban and rural white areas.

Migrant labour became a way of life for the vast majority of able-bodied men. Before the formation of the Union in 1910 the need to unite in order to fight effectively against the determined attacks on the political rights of the Africans by the alliance of Britons and Boers had become apparent.

In 1950 the African, Indian, Coloured and white democrats realized that the fight against all the oppressive laws could not be fought by one section only. It was a total fight that required the mobilization of all the people. Also in that year the Suppression of Communism Act was passed and the next year the Bantu Authorities Act resurrected the chieftainships, which had been destroyed after the Wars of Dispossession.

The fifties saw the ANC going into action in the urban townships to organize workers and in the Bantustans to organize peasants in a peasant-led struggle against the racially inspired monster of Apartheid. People were mobilized to join trade unions. Scores of meetings took place in townships under the cover of darkness. It was a task carried out patiently and consistently.

On June 26,1850 a call was made to stay home. Exactly a year later the African National Congress, the Indian Congress, South African Coloured People’s Organisation and the White Democrats launched a joint campaign. A planning council was established and the Defiance Campaign started on June 26 1952.

As part of the Defiance Campaign in Kimberley Dr Arthur Letele organized a group of volunteers to defy the segregation laws by sitting on the ‘Europeans Only’ benches at the Kimberley Station. They were arrested and fined £3 or ten days imprisonment. They all opted for the latter.

In Kimberley on November 8 1952, years before the Sharpeville massacre, another massacre took place. A dozen people were buried in a mass funeral on November 12 1952, at the West End Graveyard. They were innocent casualties who had been coming home from work: At dawn the following morning the police detained Dr Arthur Letele, Sam Phakedi, Pepys Madibane, Olehile Sehume, Alexander Nkoane, Daniel Chabalala and David Mpiwa who were regarded as the ringleaders.

Dr Letele, John Rholeng, Khabi Khabele, Mosata, Mabemba, Qwetha Hulana and several others marshalled the African National Congress at the time. The Defiance campaign saw 8326 people volunteering to defy unjust laws and facing court imprisonment. The benefits of the campaign saw it giving African National Congress membership on the ground an opportunity to be practically involved in the struggle against oppression.

The people shed the fear of jail as they realized the way to freedom passed through jail. The campaign inculcated the idea of the spirit of sacrifice of personal interest for the public good. Out of the campaign came a disciplined volunteer corps of men and women who gave freely of their time and energy without any remuneration in order to build the African National Congress and Alliance.

The Defiance Campaign put an end to deputations pleading with the government to grant rights which it had deliberately, as a matter of calculated policy, taken away from the oppressed and exploited majority. Forty-two years later all South Africans, irrespective of race, creed or colour, would be able to go to the polls to elect their own Government and break down the edifice of apartheid.

Robben Island Mayibuye Archives


accessed on :

Vuyisile Mini a trade unionist and Mkhonto we Sizwe (MK) activist was hanged for his role in the MK and anti-apartheid resistance. As a member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), he was responsible for the organisation of metal workers at a time when the government had increased its repressive measures against Black trade unions. He became the first African National Congress (ANC) member to be executed by the government. Prior to his execution, the police tried to turn him against his colleagues in the struggle. His response was:

“They asked me if I was prepared to give evidence against Mkwayi whom they had now arrested. I said `No, I was not.’ They said there was a good chance for them to save me from the gallows if I was prepared to assist them. I refused to assist. When they asked would I make the Amandla Ngawethu [‘Power is ours’] salute when I walked the last few paces to the gallows, I said, `Yes’.”

Vuyisile Mini was hanged together with Wilson Khayinga and Zinakile Mkaba.



The South African National Assembly passes the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy (CTOP) Act. The law allows women to terminate pregnancies on request within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. It also provides for abortion under specified circumstances within the thirteenth week through to the twentieth week, and under very limited circumstances beyond that point. However, despite this liberal law and a relatively high rate of contraceptive use, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions continue to be public health and social problems in South Africa. The Act, a critical milestone for gender equality, secured all South African women (including minors) the right to make decisions about reproduction and according to their individual beliefs. Muslim and Christian organisations participated in this abortion debate making formal submissions in opposition to the Act.


Kalley, J. A. et al (1999). Southern African Political History: A Chronology of Key Political Events from Independence to Mid-1997, Greenwood: London, p. 552.


Born: 26th September 1936 Bizana, South Africa
Known For :
Ex Wife of Nelson Mandella of South Africa and a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee. She was a leading member of the anti apartheid movement during the white minority ruling government before and while her husband was in prison. Due to some of her speeches where she endorsed the practice of necklacing in the struggle to end apartheid, there are mixed emotions in both South Africa and worldwide.

: Biko, Stephen Bantu

Born: 18 December 1946, Tylden, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape), South Africa

Died: 12 September 1977, Pretoria, South Africa

In summary: A Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, South Africa’s most influential and radical student leader in the 1970s and a law student at the time of his death. He became a martyr of the Freedom Struggle and posed one of the strongest challenges to the apartheid structure in the country.

Born in Tylden in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) on December 18, 1946, Stephen Bantu Biko’s early life was modest. His main pre-occupation was the pursuit of academic excellence, which was in line with his father’s expectations. His father encouraged all his children to pursue an education as the only possible route to upward social movement and independence. Biko started his education around 1952 (the exact date varies from source to source) against the background of the Bantu Education Act – an Act introduced to stifle Black education. Essentially, the Act was designed to provide Blacks with sufficient education which would not allow “a future without back-breaking labour.” Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, who authored the Bill, said “There is no place for him [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour.”


Exposed to this type of education since primary school where he attended several schools, such as Brownlee Primary, Charles Morgan Higher Primary, Lovedale Institute (which was eventually closed due to student protest) and finally, St Francis (A Catholic boarding School outside Durban), his political orientation emerged. While Biko was a student at Lovedale, his brother was arrested and jailed for 9 months during a government crackdown for being a suspected member of POQO (later APLA), the military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). Biko was also brought under interrogation by police and was subsequently expelled from the school after only attending for three months. This event gave Biko a “strong resentment toward white authority,” which he would harbour for years to come and this was to shape his political career.

From his expulsion from school incident, Biko’s career was characterised by political activism which culminated in him engaging in educating and making Black people conscious of their plight under an oppressive system. Throughout his career he became more distinguished as a political agitator than as a student. His untiring commitment to Black Consciousness is the main legacy he has bequeathed to later generations in South Africa’s struggle for freedom.

After matriculating from St Francis he enrolled at the University of Natal. It was here that Biko’s political activism began to blossom and grow. He devoted much of his time to the cause of Black emancipation. At university his desire to study medicine was hampered by his constant involvement in political activities and organisations such as NUSAS. He became so immersed in politics that his performance declined to levels that compelled university authorities to deregister him. This happened at a time when he had also grown critical of the generally anti-black structure of NUSAS. Since NUSAS’s power base was centred at the major white universities, it was virtually impossible for Black students to achieve positions of leadership. In fact, a NUSAS leader, Clive Nettleton, accused the organisation of “preaching the ideal of non-racism” while some members were “unable to live out their ideals.” Thus, in 1968 Biko established a new all-black and pro-black organisation namely the South African Students Organisation (SASO). He was elected as its first President in July 1969. One year later he was appointed Publicity Secretary of the organisation.

SASO adopted a new pro-black and radical doctrine that became known as Black Consciousness which by Biko’s own definition was the “cultural and political revival of an oppressed people.”

A nation weeps. Mourners gather to pay their last respects as Steve Biko’s body lies in state in his home before the funeral, attended by 20,000 mourners at King William’s Town, November 1977. Photo: Bailey’s African History Archives)

By 1971, the Black Consciousness Movement had grown into a formidable force throughout the country. In an attempt to reform SASO (which originally comprised students) and incorporate the adult element Biko established the Black People’s Convention (BPC) as well as Black Community Programmes (BCP).

The development of the BCM clearly threatened the settler machinery. It was only a matter of time before Steve Biko was banned by the government. In 1973 he was formally banned and confined to the magisterial district of King William’s Town, his birth place. Among other things, the banning entailed prohibiting him from teaching or making public addresses (or speaking to more than one person at a time), preventing him from entering educational institutions and reporting to the local police station once every week. For breaking these provisions a “banee” would be stigmatised as a criminal. In spite of being banned, Biko continued to advance the work of Black Consciousness. For instance, he established an Eastern Cape branch of BCP and through BCP he organised literacy and dressmaking classes and health education programmes. Quite significantly, he set up a health clinic outside King William’s Town for poor rural Blacks who battled to access city hospitals.

The banning and detention of several SASO and BPC leaders under the Terrorism Act threatened to cripple the Black Consciousness Movement. However, the accused used the seventeen-month trial that followed as a platform to state the case of Black Consciousness. Although they were found guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment for revolutionary conspiracy they were later acquitted. Their convictions further strengthened the Black Consciousness movement. The repression instituted under the Terrorism Act caused Blacks to lose sympathy with moderate revolutionary policies, leading to more militancy and hope for emancipation. During the Soweto riots of June 1976 there were violent clashes between high school students (protesting the use of Afrikaans as the medium of academic instruction) and police marking the beginning of widespread urban unrest, which threatened law and order.

The wave of strikes during and after Soweto demonstrated, to a large extent, the influence Biko exerted on South African socio-political life. Although he did not directly take part in the Soweto riots, the influence of Black Consciousness ideas spurred students to fight an unjust system particularly after they were compelled to accept Afrikaans as a language for use in schools. In the wake of the urban revolt of 1976 and with the prospects of national revolution becoming increasingly real, security police detained Biko, the outspoken student leader, on August 18th. At this time Biko had begun studying law by mail through the University of South Africa/UNISA. He was thirty years old and was reportedly extremely fit when arrested. He was taken to Port Elizabeth but was later transferred to Pretoria where he died in detention under mysterious circumstances in 1977.

Thirteen Western nations sent diplomats to his funeral on 25 September. Nevertheless, police actions prevented thousands of mourners from reaching the funeral venue from Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other areas on the grounds that this would lead to lawlessness. Police armed with FN rifles and machine guns erected and manned a number of roadblocks to prevent thousands of mourners from all over the country to converge on the town for the funeral of Steve Biko. Mourners from the Transvaal were barred from attending the funeral when permits were refused for buses. One of the speakers, Dr. Nthato Motlana, who flew from Johannesburg after he was blocked off when attempting to travel by road, said at the funeral that he had watched with disgust as black police hauled mourners off the buses in Soweto and assaulted them with truncheons. The physician said he had treated 30 of the mourners, some for fractured skulls, and allegedly witnessed a number of young women being raped.

Later in the day, Steve Biko was buried in a muddy plot beside the railroad tracks after a marathon funeral that was as much a protest rally against the white minority government’s racial policies as it was a commemoration of the country’s foremost young black leader. Several thousand black mourners punched the air with clenched fists and shouted “Power!” as Biko’s coffin was lowered into the grave. The crowd of more than ten thousand listened to successive speakers warning the government that Biko’s death would push Blacks further towards violence in their quest for racial equality.

Due to local and international outcry his death prompted an inquest which at first did not adequately reveal the circumstances surrounding his death. Police alleged that he died from a hunger strike and independent sources said he was brutally murdered by police. Although his death was attributed to “a prison accident,” evidence presented during the 15-day inquest into Biko’s death revealed otherwise. During his detention in a Port Elizabeth police cell he had been chained to a grill at night and left to lie in urine-soaked blankets. He had been stripped naked and kept in leg-irons for 48 hours in his cell. A blow in a scuffle with security police led to him suffering brain damage by the time he was driven naked and manacled in the back of a police van to Pretoria, where, on 12 September 1977 he died.

Two years later a South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) disciplinary committee found there was no prima facie case against the two doctors who had treated Biko shortly before his death. Dissatisfied doctors, seeking another inquiry into the role of the medical authorities who had treated Biko shortly before his death, presented a petition to the SAMDC in February 1982, but this was rejected on the grounds that no new evidence had come to light. Biko’s death caught the attention of the international community, which increased the pressure on the South African government to abolish its detention policies and called for an international probe on the cause of his death. Even close allies of South Africa, Britain and the United States of America, expressed deep concern about the death of Biko. They also joined the increasing demand for an international probe.

It took eight years and intense pressure before the South African Medical Council took disciplinary action. On 30 January, 1985, the Pretoria Supreme Court ordered the SAMDC to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the two doctors who treated Steve Biko during the five days before he died. Judge President of the Transvaal, Justice W G Boshoff, said in a landmark judgment that there was prima facie evidence of improper or disgraceful conduct on the part of the “Biko” doctors in a professional respect. This serves to illustrate that so many years after Biko’s death his influence lived on.

He is survived by his two sons.


  • Bernstein, H. (unknown), No. 46-Steve Biko [online]. South African History Online
  • Mufson, S. (1990), Fighting Years: Black Resistance and the Struggle for a New South Africa, Boston: Beacon Press
  • Ndlovu S. M. (1978), The Soweto Uprisings: Counter-memories of June 1976
  • Woods Donald, Biko, New York: Paddington Press.


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Date: 5 September, 1984

South Africa’s Prime Minister since 1978, P.W. Botha, was unanimously elected by eighty-eight members of the Electoral College to the office of first executive president. This was a newly created position after the new constitution came into force in 1984. The constitution further created three houses of parliament, namely the House of Assembly for Whites, the House of Representatives for Coloureds, and House of Delegates for Indians with the president presiding over them. Botha held the position until he resigned in 1989. Blacks were not happy with these new developments, they viewed the new constitution as a means to enhance apartheid.


Kalley, J.A.; Schoeman, E. & Andor, L.E. (eds)(1999). Southern African Political History: a chronology of key political events from independence to mid-1997, Westport: Greenwood