A great giant who strode the globe like a colossus has fallen. The gentle voice whose measure voice of reason shook the throne of tyrants has been silenced. Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people. Nelson Mandela at Oliver Tambos’ funeral, 1993.

Today marks the last day of the Year of OR Tambo. 2017 marked the centenary celebration of Oliver Reginald Tambo, the longest serving president of the African National Congress who steered the anti-Apartheid struggle through thirty years of exile. He was also a Lawyer, Co-founder of the ANC Youth League, Secretary General and Deputy President of the ANC and Head of the ANC’s Mission in Exile.

Born on the 27th of October 1917, it has for long been a tradition to celebrate his legacy on the day of his birth. Just short of a year ago, in recognition of October as ‘Oliver Tambo Month’, President Jacob Zuma called on the ANC to “use the next 12 months leading to [his] centenary… to draw the best lessons from his life and to understand his rare qualities.” As a result, the year 2017 was declared the year of Oliver Tambo, a call to remember and give the deserved recognition to this hero who sacrificed three decades of his life for the freedom of South Africa.

OR Tambo at the forefront of the Long March To Freedom at Fountains Valley Resort.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Tambo was sent abroad by the organisation to lead the military resistance and seek support for the struggle against apartheid.  As acting president from 1967 to 1969 and president from 1969- 1991, he managed the growing number of ANC exiles and the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) military camps (the armed wing of the ANC).

While abroad, he also raised funds for the organisation and set up ANC offices in different countries. Tambo explained the struggle against apartheid to the world, mobilising support for the struggle like had never been done before in the history of the organisation. As a result, he got a lot of support from both Eastern and Western Europe even though the two regions had opposing ideas. He was able to keep the ANC together and ensure that it remained a formidable force on the political arena even though he was in exile for most of his time as president. After the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, Tambo and his family returned to a soon to be free South Africa.

His dedication to the struggle and hard work eventually led to Tambos’ health deteriorating, he refused to take time to rest in spite of suffering from bouts of illness. He sadly died in 1993, a year before democracy finally came in South Africa.

Communities across South Africa are celebrating the year of O.R Tambo. As part of the celebrations of Oliver Tambo’s centenary, the South African Reserve Bank, along with South African Mint and the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation launched the Oliver Tambo centenary coins. On the 27th of October 2017, former president Thabo Mbeki will also be delivering the OR Tambo memorial lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in honour of his priceless contribution to the struggle for freedom.

The Oliver Tambo International Airport unveiled a 2.5 metre statue of O.R Tambo on the 19th of October 2017 in honour of the struggle icon. A sculpture of Oliver Tambo also stands at the forefront of The Long March To Freedom procession at Fountains Valley in Pretoria alongside stalwarts, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. This indeed is a befitting and timely tribute to such a giant in the struggle for freedom.




Helen Joseph

Today marks 25 years since Helen Joseph passed away on the 25th of December 2017.

An anti-Apartheid activist of note, Helen Joseph was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, banned in 1957. She was the first person to be placed under house arrest, a sign that she was a real threat to the Apartheid regime.  Her last banning order was lifted when she was in her 80th year. Joseph played key roles in the Congress of Democrats, Federation of South African Woman, UDF and the ANC throughout her political career.

Born Helen Beatrice May Fennell in Sussex, England, in 1905, she graduated from King’s College, University of London in 1927 and taught for three years in India, then came to South Africa in 1931 where she met and married Billie Joseph.

The 9th August 1956 was one of the most important moments of her illustrious political career, when, with the FEDSAW leaders, she spear headed a march of 20,000 women to Pretoria’s Union Buildings to protest against the pass laws. August 8 has, since then, been commemorated as South African Women’s Day.

Joseph wrote three books: If This Be Treason; Tomorrow’s Sun, in which she documented her 8,000 mile search for people banished to remote regions; and her autobiography, Side by Side. Helen showed that what a dictatorial and corrupt regime fears most is not force and firing power, but the witness of people of dignity and integrity.

She had no natural children, but took into her care, as her own, the children of those who were sent to prison or into exile: Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s Zinzi and Zenani; Bram and Molly Fischer’s Ilsa; Eli and Violet Wienberg’s Sheila.

In the early 1960s Helen started a tradition of remembering all those in exile, in prison and those that have died in the struggle, every Christmas day at noon. Even during the years of house arrest and bans, this commemoration continued. It is therefore quite strange and sad that she died on one of her favorite days.


Helen Joseph (April 8, 1905 – December 25, 1992).’  http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/people.php?id=65-251-71



Happy birthday Steve Biko!

  Steve Biko  was born on the 18th of December 1946 in Tarkastad in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) on 18 December 1946, the third child of Mzingaye Biko and Nokuzola Macethe Duna.

A radical opponent of the Apartheid regime, his death was a blow to the anti-Apartheid movement as he had become the voice of the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1960s when the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress had been banned.

In August 1977 Biko was arrested together with his associate Peter Jones for being outside his district after hours and because the police had ”reason to believe” he was distributing inflammatory pamphlets. Biko had also violated his banning order as he had travelled to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape, his home area. They were arrested under Section 6 of the 1967 Terrorism Act that allowed indefinite detention without trial for the purposes of interrogation in solitary confinement. He was held, naked and with little food, in a Port Elizabeth police station from August 19 to September 6 1977.

Sometime before the morning of September 7, he suffered a head injury that would eventually be cited as the cause of his death five days later. Bikos’ was the 45th known death connected with detention by the security police since 1963.

Steve Biko at the Long March To Freedom in Fountains Valley Pretoria

In February 1999, Steve Biko’s family welcomed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s decision not to grant amnesty to the policemen involved in the death of Biko. The committee dismissed the application by the four former Port Elizabeth security policemen for amnesty for Biko’s death in custody. The TRC committee found that the policemen, did not qualify for amnesty because their actions in Biko’s death could not be associated with a political objective. The committee was also not satisfied that the men made a full disclosure of the facts.

The panel also officially declared the next of kin of Mr Biko as victims (of gross human rights violations) in relation to his killing and therefore entitled to appropriate reparation.   The committee concluded that the attack on Biko appeared to have been actuated by ill-will or spite towards him. However in 2008, AZAPO (Azanian Peoples Organisation) accused the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of not doing enough to uncover the truth behind Biko’s death. The organisation believes South Africa set a bad example to the world by not bringing perpetrators to book.

On the 40th anniversary of his death in September 2017, there were renewed calls for the inquest to be re-opened in the light of the Ahmed Timol Inquest of July 2017 which was seen by some as a precedent that needed to be followed.


  1. Hoffenberg. ‘The Steve Biko Inquest.’ The British Medical Journal . Vol. 1, No. 6105 (Jan. 14, 1978)








The 1949 ANC Programme of Action

Today marks exactly 68 years since the ANC adopted the Programme of Action.

In 1943, during World War II, young members of the ANC, critical of what they considered the passivity of the ANC, formed their own organization, the Congress Youth League (CYL). Overcoming the opposition of ANC president Alfred Xuma, the CYL succeeded in 1949 in electing James Moroka to the presidency, seating three CYL members (Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela ) on the party’s national executive body, and in persuading the congress formally to adopt the Program of Action. The Youth League put pressure on the ANC leadership to adopt the Programme which included mass resistance tactics such as boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and non-co-operation. It also stressed the need to organize African Workers into unions.

Anton Lembede. Founding President of the ANC Youth League.

This was to be a more radical approach to resistance, as they shunned the traditional moderate stance of ANC leaders like Xuma who believed in appealing to the conscience and common sense of the oppressive regime. This shift was especially necessary after 1948 when the National Party (NP) was voted into power by the white electorate and began implementing strict apartheid measures. The Programme of Action laid the foundation for a new era of active resistance in the form of the Defiance Campaign of 1952, anti-pass campaigns and acts of civil disobedience.


‘African National Congress Youth League.’ (ANCYL) https://www.nelsonmandela.org/omalley/index.php/site/q/03lv03445/04lv03446/05lv03450.htm

‘The Congress Youth League and the Programme of Action.’ http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-12098.html





The Africans’ Claim

On the 16th of December 1943, the Africans’ Claim was presented at the annual ANC Conference in Bloemfontein.

Africans’ Claims in South Africa is the title of a document drawn up by a committee of 28 members and sympathizers of the African National Congress (ANC) and on 16 December 1943 unanimously accepted at the ANC’s annual Conference. It was created in response to the Atlantic Charter passed two years earlier, in which former President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill set out the objectives of the Allies during the Second World War and their ideas of the world order after its end formulated. The central points of Africans’ claims were the demands for universal suffrage and for an end to racial segregation in South Africa. This document charted the path to racial equality in South Africa that they hoped would follow the conclusion of the Second World War.

Alfred Bitini Xuma, who became President of the ANC in 1940, inherited an organization in disarray and set out to rebuild the ANC against great opposition. Under his leadership, the ANC constitution was revised and the organization became more efficient and centralized, thus attracting a wider following. Xuma was central to the adoption of the Africans’ Claims document at a time when the ANC was increasingly becoming politicized and there were increasing calls for a departure from petitions and conciliatory methods. The conclusion of the document read;

In short, we demand the repeal of any and all laws as well as the
abandonment of any policy and all practices that discriminate against the
African in any way whatsoever on the basis of race, creed or colour in the Union
of South Africa.

The full text of the document can be found on the ANC website.


‘Africans` Claims in South Africa.’ http://www.anc.org.za/content/africans-claims-south-africa

‘Dr. Alfred Bitini (A.B.) Xuma (1893 – 1962).’ http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/people.php?id=65-251-13F

International Human Rights Day

On Friday 10 December 1948 The United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The day was from then recognized and celebrated as International Human Rights Day.

When the General Assembly adopted the Declaration, with 48 states in favor and eight abstentions, it was proclaimed as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, towards which individuals and societies should “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.” Countries across the world celebrate this day every year.

It is in line with this that our heroes at the Long March to Freedom strove to see to it that all South Africans enjoy their rights in a free nation.

Watch this video to learn more;





‘The hour of youth has struck!’: Anton Lembede and The Formation of the ANC Youth League

Today Anton Lembede would have celebrated his 70th birthday this year, had he not died so young at 33. We honour this founding member and first president of the ANC Youth League in the #LongMarchToFreedom. Visit him and other Young Lions, #Tambo, #Mandela and #Sisulu at #FountainsValley, Pretoria.

‘The hour of youth has struck!.’ So proclaimed a flyer issued by the Provisional Executive Committee of the newly formed ANC Youth League, advertising the organisation’s first conference to be held in September 1944.

The Youth League had launched six months earlier, at Johannesburg’s Bantu Social Centre in March 1944 but it was at the September conference that Anton Lembede was elected from among his equally dynamic peers to become first president of the ANC’s youth wing.

Outstanding because of his intellect, qualifications and passion, the dynamic leader invented and was greatly driven by the ideal ‘Africanism.’ He had a deep and almost fanatical love for Africa and would, on occasion remark that, ‘I live for the freedom of my people, and I shall die for Africa’s freedom’. It is no surprise that the motto of the Youth League was ‘Africa’s’ cause must triumph!’

According to Lembede’s close friend and housemate Ashby P. Mda, the first person to mention or suggest the founding of a Youth League was actually Manasseh T. Moerane. However, Moerane was not to take a leading role in the formation of the League and subsequently has not been noted in popular histories of the ANCYL.

Both founding members, Lembede and Mda had become close friends in 1943 and had to share accommodation as a result of their low wages. Their time together was spent engaging in intellectual discussions which gave birth to the ideals that were to shape the organisation and future generations to this day.

Mda acknowledged that Lembede ‘took his word in many things’ and was very respectful and loving toward him. He never wanted to clash openly with him, but in private they had intense arguments. He would attack others publicly but was to Mda ‘as soft as a newly wedded maiden’. This gave others the impression that Mda was steering Lembede from behind the scenes, but in fact they clashed in privately on many issues of principle.

Bronze statue of Anton Lembede at Fountains Valley Resort in Pretoria

In the 1930s the ANC, under the leadership of Alfred Bitini Xuma, had been revived but its methods remained cautious and respectful towards the white elite. Every resolution of the ANC started with statements like, ‘We pray the Minister… We humbly request…’  Annoyed by this pacifism, this group of young intellectuals became agitated and demanded a shift towards a more militant style of politics. Jordan Ngubane, a youth leader regarded as a philosopher, together with Lembede and Mda drafted the League Manifesto, although Lembedes’ ideas are said to have dominated the document.

 Although Xuma was worried that the manifesto was disrespectful as it was scathingly critical of the senior ANC, he still gave the youth support. The document pointed out that the formation of the Youth League was based on criticisms against the ANC which was seen as elitist and ‘not an efficiently organised bloc’, lacking a ‘constructive programme to enforce the repeal of all oppressive legislation’. The Youth League aimed at imparting to the ANC a national character rooted in African nationalism and African self-determination.

Many older ANC leaders dismissed the League as irresponsible and cheeky, partly because Lembede was extremely passionate and dogmatic about his beliefs. However, his influence was shown when the moderate Xuma lost the presidency in 1949 to James Moroka who was more supportive of the Programme of Action presented by Lembede in the same year.

Sadly, Lembede died prematurely on the 30th of July 1947 at the age of 33. Mda took over leadership and formed a working committee consisting of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. These, as history has shown went on to further prove that indeed the hour of youth had struck.


Glaser Clive. The ANC Youth League. Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2012.

Karis Thomas and G.M Carter. From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964. Vol 2. California: Hoover Institution Press, 1979.

Statement during the Anton Lembede Memorial Lecture at the University of Fort Hare. 10 October 2002. http://www.ancyl.org.za/search.php?search=Anton+Lembede+&submit=search&sa=

Gerhart, Gail M. Interview with Mda, A.P. 01 January 1970. http://www.aluka.org/action/showMetadata?doi=10.5555/AL.SFF.DOCUMENT.gerhart0016

Queen Labotsibeni: Stateswoman, Revolutionary and Pioneer

On the 5th of December 1925, Queen Labotsibeni passed away.

Born in 1858 at eLuhlekweni northern Swaziland, Labotsibeni was a Princess of the Mdhluli section of the Swazi Nation. She was the wife of Ngwenyama Mbandeni and mother of Bhunu Heli Mahlikhlo Ngwane III and grandmother of King Sobhuza II. She was proclaimed the Ndhlovukazi (Queen) after the death of her husband in 1889 and ruled for 36 years, first as the Queen mother and then as the Queen Regent as Sobhuza was too young to rule.

Queen Labotsibeni at the Long March to Freedom in Pretoria.

Labotsibeni’s ascension to the throne was rather atypical as Swati traditional laws did not allow a woman in her situation to rule. Second, her clan, Mdluli, was not next in line to rule Swaziland. In spite of this, she was chosen because of “her outstanding intelligence, ability and character and experience.” Also known as Gwamile (meaning the indomitable one) she was acknowledged by many representatives of Britain as one of the cleverest rulers in Africa, a shrewd diplomat who bravely led and defended Swaziland.

During her reign she tried to regain tracts of land that her husband had lost to European settlers by raising 40 000 pounds to buy it back, however she was not successful. Her campaign coincided with protests against South Africa’s 1913 Natives’ Land Act. In solidarity, Labotsibeni contributed to the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) 1914 delegation to Britain to protest the act. In 1921 she and Crown Prince Sobhuza, later King Sobhuza II, financed and co-founded the Abantu-Batho newspaper, the mouthpiece of the SANNC. A strong African nationalist, the Regent had registered the infant Prince Sobhuza as a member of the ANC at its inception in 1912.

A rainmaker and one of the richest women in South Africa, she was not known to wear European clothes although the Queen of England is said to have sent her many. This was perhaps a sign of her Africanism and being grounded in tradition. She died in Swaziland at the age of 80.

We remember this great woman and icon of the struggle for freedom today at the Long March To Freedom.


Christison, G. 2007. African Jerusalem: The Vision of Robert Grendon. PhD Thesis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, pp.773 and 774.

Ginindza, T. 1996. Labotsibeni/Gwamile Mdluli: The Power Behind the Swazi Throne, 1875-1925, Annals, New York Academy of Sciences, pp.135-158.

Mkhonza, S. 2012. Queen Labotsibeni and Abantu-Batho. In: Limb, P. ed. 2012. The People’s Paper: A Centenary History and Anthology of Abantu-Batho. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Mokoatsi.Thapelo ‘Pioneers: Swazi Queen labotsibeni’ http://www.thejournalist.org.za/pioneers/pioneers-swazi-queen-labotsibeni\

Skota Mweli. T. D. The African Yearly Register: Being an illustrated national biographical dictionary (who’s who) of Black folks in Africa  (c.1930)


The granting of independence to Ciskei

On the fourth of December 1981, Ciskei was granted independence.

Ciskei which means “on this side of the Kei River’ was granted independence by the South African government in 1981, following a referendum conducted by Lennox Sebe, leader of the Ciskei National Independence Party (CNIP).

Under South Africa’s policy of Apartheid, land was set aside for black peoples in self-governing territories. The homelands system lay at the heart of the National Party (NP) government’s policy of territorial and political separation based on race. The Bantu Authorities Act was passed in the early 1950s, increasing the powers of traditional authorities in preparation for self-governance, and in 1959, the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act provided the legislative basis for the future homelands. The government argued that Africans could develop as a nation better if they were settled in their tribal home lands.

(20 Feb 1980) Homeland leader Chief Lennox Sebe rejected a South African plan for “independence” for his Ciskeian people on Wednesday, (13 February), unless they were allowed to keep South African citizenship in this clip;

Ciskei was designated as one of two homelands or “Bantustans” for Xhosa speaking people.  Ngqika (Rharhabe) Xhosa people were resettled in the Ciskei, and Gcaleka Xhosa were settled in the  Transkei, the other Xhosa homeland.       It was the largest un-segmented Bantustan, in south Eastern Cape Province (currently the Eastern Cape) with a succession of capitals during its existence. Originally, Zwelitsha served as the capital with the view that Alice would become the long-term national capital. However, it was Bisho  (now spelled Bhisho) that became the capital until Ciskei’s reintegration into South Africa.

After the granting of independence, Sebe was elected “President for Life” of the new “state.” The Sebe regime rapidly became notable as one of the most repressive of the Bantustan governments. It is believed by some that Sebe never enjoyed any degree of popular support. However, some residents of the Ciskei during his time did support his traditional type of rule and recall how he used to slaughter a beast at the end of every month. He is also credited for building and developing Bisho. It was not until 1989 that open opposition to his government gained momentum. On the 15th of December 1993 the South African Parliament voted to restore citizenship to residents of the so called independent states. As the political situation in South Africa improved in 1990, residents of Ciskei began to agitate for similar reforms. The South African Homelands or Bantustans ceased to exist on 27 April 1994, and were re-incorporated into the new nine provinces of a democratic South Africa.


‘Bantustans’ http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=65-259-7

‘The Homelands.’ http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/homelands



Surviving on Robben Island

On the 1st of December 1999, UNESCO listed Robben Island as a World Heritage site.

Under Apartheid Robben Island was the prison in which most black male political prisoners who opposed the apartheid regime were incarcerated from 1962 to 1991. However, as far back as the 1650s, African chiefs like Autshumato, Makhanda and Maqoma had been imprisoned on the Island for as long as 21 years and more.

Imprisonment warranted strategies that would ensure that prisoners survived the confinement, restriction and isolation. Chiefs such as Autshumato and Maqoma resorted to escape as the only way to free themselves from these conditions. During the Apartheid era, when security had been upgraded and escape had become more difficult, prisoners used several ways to make their lives in prison bearable.

Nelson Mandela at the Long March To Freedom in Pretoria. He was imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years.

In the winter of 1964, Nelson Mandela arrived on Robben Island where he would spend 18 of his 27 prison years. Confined to a small cell, the floor his bed, a bucket for a toilet, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. He could write and receive one letter every six months.  George Bizos, Mandelas’ lawyer and long-time friend recalled how Mandela used his boldness and charm to relate with the guards in such a way that he gained their respect and better treatment. He recalled how on his first visit to Mandela, he seemed to set the pace at which he and the warders moved, which was unusual for a prisoner to do. Mandela went on to say “George, I’m sorry, I have not introduced you to my guard of honour.” He then proceeded to introduce each one of the warders by name.  The warders were stunned but went on to respectfully shake Bizos’ hand.

Various former Robben Island prisoners speak of their experiences in this video;

Mandela later stated in his biography that the most important person to a prisoner was the prison warden who was the most immediate person to go to when one needed an extra blanket or any assistance. Having friendly wardens was also vital for the purposes of communication with fellow prisoners in different sections so as to continue with the work of the ANC. Unlike Mandela however, some prisoners felt that the survival of their ideals depended on them maintaining a distance from the wardens who represented the Apartheid regime.  Govan Mbeki for example distanced himself from members of the Prisons Service and spoke only when it was necessary. Mbeki also did not watch television as he viewed Western films as products of capitalism.

Sport was also an integral part of social life. At first the men played covertly in their cells using balls made of paper, cardboard and rags. One bold prisoner in the 1960s, is said to have stood up and requested that they be allowed to play soccer and was as a result punished for it. In 1965, after sustained lobbying, the authorities allowed prisoners to play outside on Saturdays. The teams built their own goals and threw off their prison uniforms to put on team colours.

The National Heritage Monument honours these survivors. Many former Robben Island prisoners stand at the Long March To Freedom in Pretoria, a celebration of conquest over adversity.


Interview with George Bizos http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/mandela/prison/bizos.html

Robben Island – The Dark Years” INTERVIEW EXCERPT. From Chapter 66 of Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

Fran Lisa Buntman. Robben Island and prisoner resistance to Apartheid. Cambridge University Press, 2003.