FAMOUS RESIDENTS OF SOWETO
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is most famous for having served 27 years in prison as a struggle activist who resisted and fought against the oppression of Black people under the apartheid. The apartheid system was part of an era when non-White citizens were segregate from White citizens and did not have equal rights.
Mandela was a civil rights activist and leader of the struggle movement who later became President of South Africa for two terms. Mandela was an iconic man who represented the hopes and aspirations of all Black South Africans in a dark and oppressive era. The way Mandela embraced unity and diversity on his release from prison and as President of the country will forever be regarded as his abiding legacy.
Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in a town called Mvezo. His birth name was Rolihlahla but he was nicknamed Nelson by a teacher in school. He was a member of Thimbu royalty and his father was Chief of the city of Mvezo. He attended school and college at the College of Fort Hare and University of Witwatersrand. He obtained a law degree at Wits and met some of his fellow activists that would later lead the struggle movement.
Mandela became leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and tried to lead the movement according to the non-violent philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi. When this did not work, Mandela established an armed branch of the ANC and initiated the bombing of certain buildings. The intention was only to damage buildings and no one was meant to get hurt.
He was classified as a terrorist by the apartheid government and relentlessly pursued until he was caught and sent to prison. He spent the majority of his prison sentence on Robben Island and suffered terribly, along with his fellow ANC cadres.
Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990 and again took up active leadership of the ANC. He continued to campaign for the end of apartheid and Black oppression and his dedication to the cause resulted in the first independent elections that were held 1994. For the first time in South African history, Black citizens were allowed to cast their vote.
The ANC won the 1994 elections and as head of the organisation, Mandela became President of South Africa. One would expect a man who had suffered so much at the hands of White leadership and severe racial discrimination to be bitter and revengeful but instead he lead with true integrity believing that all South Africans had the right live a free and equally-just life.
Mandela had six children and twenty grandchildren. He passed away on 5 December 2013, leaving behind a momentous legacy. Mandela received over 695 awards for his civil rights and humanitarian efforts but the most notable was the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Nelson Mandela believed that education is the most powerful weapon that one can use to change the world and that there is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. Mandela would have been immensely proud to see the bravery and courage of the young children like Hector and Hastings who died in the Soweto student uprising immortalised in the memorial landmarks and museum in Soweto.
Oliver Reginald Tambo
Oliver Tambo was the leader of the African National Congress and lived in exile for thirty years. He died in 1993 before he could witness the liberation of the Black citizens of South Africa.
Tambo was made of the same cloth as Nelson Mandela. He was thoughtful, wise and warm-hearted and much-loved by his people. He had a nurturing style of leadership and a genuine respect for all people from all walks of life. His vision for the leadership of South Africa was one of inclusion and unity.
He was the founder member and secretary of the ANC Youth League which was established in 1944, and the general secretary of the ANC from 1952; the President of the ANC from 1977 to 1990; and National Chairperson until his death.
Tambo’s politics and leadership were shaped by his traditional rural roots and the knowledge he acquired through education. He sought to empower his struggle cadres and encouraged them to find creative, preferably non-violent approaches to bringing about change.
This great leader stood firm on the necessity for a multi-party democracy after liberation in which there would be freedom of speech, of assembly, of association, of language and religion. This was the alternative to the one-party state model adopted by so many independent and failing African countries.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Desmond Mpilo Tutu (born 1931) is an iconic figure in South African history who is a well-known social rights activist and the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town and Bishop of the Church of the Province of southern Africa. He was a fierce opponent of apartheid in the 1980s and has campaigned tirelessly on a number of human rights issues. Now retired, he is still a key spokesman for the rights and freedoms of all South Africans.
Tutu has been involved in campaigns to fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986; the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987; the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999; the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He has also compiled several books of his speeches and sayings.
Growing up Tutu wanted to become a doctor but his family could not afford the tuition and training, so he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher. He resigned from his teaching post during the time the Bantu Education Act was enforced, in protest of the poor educational prospects for Blacks. Tutu went on to study theology and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1961.
He moved into a house that has since become known as Tutu House, on the same street where Nelson Mandela lived. Tutu and his family lived in this same house for many years, long after South African gained its independence and Blacks were free to live where they chose.
Tutu took on the position of Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches. In this role he was able to his work against apartheid with support of nearly all the churches. Through his writings and lectures at home and abroad, Tutu consistently advocated reconciliation between all parties involved in apartheid. Tutu’s opposition to apartheid was vigorous and unequivocal, and he was outspoken both in South Africa and abroad.
Tutu was also instrumental in the development and changes to South Africa’s constitution and, when South Africa gained its independence and the apartheid system was abolished, Tutu headed up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nelson Mandela noted that Tutu had made an “immeasurable contribution to our nation”, described him as “sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour; Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless”.
Tutu famously coined the phrase Rainbow Nation that is now widely used as a metaphor to describe the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country.
Although Tutu is retired, he is a stalwart of the ANC party and one of their biggest critics in these tumultuous political times. He has been vocal in his condemnation of corruption, the ineffectiveness of the ANC-led government to deal with poverty, and the outbreaks of xenophobic violence in South Africa.
Teboho MacDonald Mashinini
Teboho “Tsietsi” MacDonald Mashinini (1957-1990) lived in Central Western Jabavu. He was the primary student leader of the Soweto Uprising that began in Soweto and spread across South Africa in June 1976.
Tsietsi was a bright, popular and successful student at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto where he was the head of the debate team and president of the Methodist Youth Guild. He planned a mass demonstration by students to protest a move by the apartheid government to make Afrikaans a mandatory language of education. His planned protest march led to the Soweto Uprising that lasted three days during with several hundred people were killed, of which the majority were Black school-going children.
Under threat of prosecution, Tsietsi fled South Africa and lived in exile – first in London and later in various African countries. He died under mysterious circumstances and his body was repatriated to South Africa where he was laid to rest in Avalon Cemetery. His grave bears the epitaph “Black Power”.
There is a statue of Teboho Mashinini by Johannes Phokela in the grounds of his old school that was unveiled in May 2010.
Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa
The current Deputy President of South Africa is a politician, businessman, activist and trade union leader. Ramaphosa (born 1952) grew up in Soweto but was sent to a rural boarding school to complete his college education.
Ramaphosa has led an active life in both politics and business, and was Nelson Mandela’s preferred choice as future president. He is a skilful negotiator and strategist, and built up the biggest and most powerful trade union in South Africa – the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
He played a crucial role, together with Roelf Meyer in the National Party, during the negotiations to bring about a peaceful end to apartheid and steer the country towards its first democratic elections in April 1994.
Ramaphosa is known to be one of the richest people in South Africa with an estimated net worth of $450 million
Mosima Gabriel “Tokyo” Sexwale
Sexwale (born 1953) is a formidable businessman, politician, anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner. He was given the nickname Tokyo because of his childhood love of karate. He was born in Orlando West and was part of the generation of young men and women who fought against apartheid rule and oppression.
As a young man, he joined the African National Congress’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“spear of the nation”). In 1975, Sexwale went into exile, undergoing military officers’ training in the Soviet Union, where he specialised in military engineering.
When he returned to South Africa in 1976, Sexwale was captured after a skirmish with the South African security forces and, along with 11 others, was charged and later convicted of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government after an almost two-year-long trial in the Supreme Court of South Africa in Pretoria. Sexwale was sent to the Robben Island maximum-security prison to serve an 18-year sentence.
While incarcerated at Robben Island, he studied for a BCom degree at the University of South Africa. He spent 13 years in prison and was finally released in 1990. When Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, he made Sexwale Premier of Gauteng province.
Sexwale left politics for business and made an extreme fortune as a major oil and diamond mining magnate. He still had aspirations of becoming President of the country and made an unsuccessful bid in 2007, losing out to Thabo Mbeki. In 2009, he was appointed as Minister of Human Settlements by President Zuma.
In 2009, Zuma appointed Sexwale as Minister of Human Settlements, but it was no secret that Sexwale still had presidential aspirations. Relations soured with Zuma and in 2013 Sexwale found himself out in the cold in a cabinet re-shuffle.