The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

Today we recognise the existing issue of slavery all over the world and remember those that played a pivotal role in the eradication of slavery in the Cape.

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which is recognised on the 2nd December of every year, recalls the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of Others (resolution 317 (IV) of 2 December 1949).

This day focuses on the eradication of contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. Today, 21 million women, men and children are trapped in slavery all over the world.

Although this day is centred on contemporary forms of eradicating slavery we should also remember those who played a vital role in the abolition of slavery in the Cape during the 17th and 18th century.

Louis van Mauritius, a Cape slave and later a slave rebellion leader, grew up in the brutal world of slavery. Originally from Mauritius, he had been transported to the Cape when he was a young boy. While in his early 20s, he was owned by the proprietor of a wine store on the foreshore where he socialised with diverse populations of sailors and soldiers from throughout the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. It was through these encounters that he heard of the momentous events taking place in this era of revolutions and war, which included the slave uprising in Haiti.

Hearing about the struggles for freedom in Ireland, France and Haiti, van Mauritius was inspired to lead over 300 slaves and Khoena (Khoi) servants in a march on Cape Town to demand their freedom. He disguised himself as a Spanish sea captain and was able, with fellow leaders, to convince farmers to release their slaves into the hands of the ‘military’ party.

His rebellion was swiftly crushed as the Cape Governor was aware of the revolt and ordered military forces to lie in wait for the rebels at Salt River. The participants were trapped and quickly scattered in the face of superior forces. The rebellion was over in two days.

The marchers were pursued, captured, interned, interrogated and 51 were put on trial. Four of the five leaders, including Louis van Mauritius, were sentenced to hang.

Even though the slave rebellion was unsuccessful and resulted in the demise of van Mauritius the slave world did transform in the years that followed. In the subsequent years more and more Cape slaves demanded rights within the colony rather than running away. Although slavery at the Cape continued until 1834, the actions of distant abolitionists was eventually to bring chattel slavery to an end in the 1830s.

The Slavery Abolition Bill passed by the British parliament in 1833 was enforced. To make them fit for freedom, the emancipated slaves were compelled to serve their previous masters as apprentices for four years.

About 39,000 slaves were freed on December 1st 1838, Emancipation Day, when slave apprenticeships were finally terminated.




Louis van Mauritius, a slave rebellion leader as he stands in the Long March to Freedom. To read more on him, visit: Louis van Mauritius

WE COMMEMORATE THE 1 December every year in commemoration of EMANCIPATION DAY, the day all slaves were free men in South Africa, 1 December 1838. Here is a simple timeline on the development of slavery in the colonies.


Chamber Representatives of the Netherlands Parliament grant a founding charter to the Dutch East India Company to establish an Indian trading empire in the East.


The Dutch East India Company started a refreshment station at the Cape for its VOC shipping fleet on their way to East and/or on their return trips from Batavia


Abraham van Batavia, the first slave, arrives at the Cape. Before the first shipment of slaves in 1658, a hand full off slaves had already arrived in the Cape with their ‘owners’. By 1658 there were 11 slaves, 8 women and 3 men at the Cape. One of these, Abraham, was a stowaway who, in 1653, arrived from the East aboard the ship Malacca, claiming to have run away from his master, Cornelis Lichthart of Batavia. Abraham was set to work at the Cape.


A slaving voyage is undertaken from the Cape via Mauritius to Madagascar.


Farms granted to Dutch free burghers (ex-Company soldiers).

The first shipload of slaves are brought to the Cape, from Angola on-board the ship, the Amersfoort.


Slaves helped built the Castle – Fort Good Hope.


Foundations laid for the Company Slave Lodge.


Free burghers petition for slave trade to be opened to free enterprise.


Slaves at the Cape outnumber free people for the first time


Government directive restricting male slaves being brought from the East.


Dutch East India Company ends assisted immigration from Europe and retains the institution of slavery as the main labour system for the Cape.


Free burghers petition again for slave trade to be opened to free enterprise.


France occupies Mauritius.


Slave post established Lourenco Marques by Dutch.


Evidence that runaway slaves have been living at the mountainous Hangklip for extensive periods, between Gordons Bay and Kleinmond/Hermanus.


Maputo slave post abandoned due to mutiny.


The Moravian Church started their first mission station at Baviaans-kloof, now known as Genadendal in the Swellendam district.

1745 – 46

Free burghers petition again for slave trade to be opened to free enterprise.


Governor Rijk Tulbagh codifies slave law.


The governor, Tulbagh, consolidated the numerous VOC slave regulations into a single placaaten, the Cape Slave Code

A census taken of the Cape colony at the time showed the two populations, both slaves and settlers to be roughly equal to about 6000 each.


Abolition of importation of male slaves from Asia.


Free burghers petition again for slave trade to be opened to free enterprise.


Free burghers petition again for slave trade to be opened to free enterprise.

Government directive abolishing the importation of male slaves from Asia repeated.


Government directive abolishing the importation of male slaves from Asia repeated again.


Slave trade opened to free enterprise.


The Moravian Missionary Society re-established their first mission station, Genadendal in the Swellendam district.


The British takes over control of the Cape and remain in charge throughout the 19th century.


The British outlaws torture and some of the most brutal forms of capital punishments.

A pamphlet advertising slaves, 28 September 1801
Source: National Library of South Africa


Dutch temporarily re-occupy the Cape of Good Hope (Short three years, see Batavian Republic).


Britain occupies the Cape again.

Company slaves are released from the Slave Lodge under rule of the then Governor, the Earl of Caledon.

Mission station at Groene-kloof [Mamre] near Malmesbury. This former military outpost on the farm, Louwplaas was offered by the British government to the Moravian Missionary Society for the establishment of a mission station. There are more than 5 000 people living at Mamre today.


Britain passes Abolition of Slave Trade Act, outlawing the Trans-Indian Oceanic slave trade. It was now illegal to be a slave trader buying or selling slaves, but it was still legal to own slaves.

Prohibition on the importation of overseas slaves resulted in increasing the exchange value of Cape born Creole slaves.


Britain enforces the Abolition of Slave Trade Act, ending the external slave trade. Slaves can now be traded only within the colony.

The Koeberg slave rebellion in the Swartland near Malmesbury, led by Louis of Mauritius, is defeated at Salt River. Resulted in the capturing of 300 farm slaves as dissidents.


The London Missionary Society was invited by the leader of the local Khoi i.e. the Attaquas tribe to establish a mission station.  Thus the mission station, Zuurbraak was established at the foot of Tradouw Pass.

The London Missionary Society sponsored  missionary, Rev Charles Pacalt who established this small mission station a few miles south of George. Pacaltsdorp, presently a vibrant ‘Cape Coloured’ town outside George in the Southern Cape.


Het Gesticht, the fourth oldest church building in South Africa and erected in 1813 by the inhabitants of Paarl as a meeting house for non-Christian slaves and heathen in the town. The Paarl Missionary Society took over the administration of Het Gesticht. It has been proclaimed a National Monument, and serves nowadays as a museum for the South African Mission Foundation.

Fiscal Dennyson codifies the Cape Slave Law.


Last slaves imported, illegally.


The British House of Commons discusses the conditions of slaves at the Cape of Good Hope by appointing a parliamentary commission of enquiry due to relentless pressure of the Anti-Slavery Abolitionists lobby.


Appointment of two Crown Commissioners, visiting the Cape of Good Hope – including the various mission settlements – to investigate slavery at the Cape.

A second slave uprising at the farm, Hou-den-Bek, led by Galant van die Kaap, is defeated in the Koue Bokkeveld, near Ceres.


Guardian of Slaves appointed.

The Colonial Office intervened by forcing local colonial assemblies to bring the local amelioration legislation such Ordinance 19 of 1826  promulgated at the Cape, into line  with the Trinidad Order aimed at the sugar plantation slave owners. Thus the British introduced ameliorisation laws  in order to improve the living conditions of slaves as well as a a series of practical  ameliorisation measures to make punishments less cruel, and the Office of the Protector of Slaves is established with Assistant Slave Protectors in rural towns and villages away from Cape Town.

Collapse of the Cape wine industry.

A certificate from the Slave Registry Office, 1827 Source: Iziko Museum, Cape Town


Coloured Persons qualified for the municipal franchise of Cape Town, and a Malay property owner was elected as Wardmaster.


Ordinance 50 of 1828 liberated Khoisan into the category on par with Free Blacks and placed all Free Black persons i.e. both Hottentots and Vrye Swartes on equal legal footing with White colonists within the judiciary system.

The two Rhenish missionaries, J G Leipoldt and T. von Wurmb jointly bought a farm Rietmond on the Tratra River in the Cedarberg District.  The Rhenish Missionary Society started several industries, including the well-known shoe making factory at the Wupperthal mission station.


Slave owners have to start keeping a record of punishments.

Revised provisions of Ordinance 19 by the British Parliament  resulted in the renamed Office of the Protector of Slaves.


Stellenbosch slave owners rioted by refusing to accept this order to keep registers  of slave punishments.


More than 2000 slave owners assembled in Cape Town to hold a protest meeting demonstrating against this government order which was adopted without proper consultation.


The Rhenish Mission Society ensured that a mission chapel was built and completed in 1833. As a result the Headquarters of the Rhenish Mission Society relocated from Steinthal near Tulbach to Worcester.


Emancipation Decree issued in London.


Slavery is abolished in British colonies on 01 December, liberated slaves now falls into the category of Free Blacks, although the ‘freed’ slaves are forced to serve an extended four year apprenticeship to make them ‘fit for freedom’.

The Cape farmers faced prolonged weather conditions of drought.

The Berlin Missionary Society established a mission at Bethanie.


Ordinance No. 1 of 1835 introduced the terms of apprenticeship at the Cape, including the appointment of special magistrates.


Start of the Great Trek by 12 000 frontier farmers, who demonstrated their unhappiness about the government’s policy to release slaves from the control of  Free Burghers as slaveholders.

Non-Whites were finally accorded similar treatment like White colonists in their interaction with the public institutions of the local authorities.


End of slave “apprenticeship”. About 39 000 slaves are freed on Emancipation Day, 1 December 1838. Only 1,2 million pounds paid out against the original estimated compensation amount of 3 milion pounds which were initially set aside by the British government in compensation monies for the  about  1 300 affected slaveholding farmers at the Cape Good Hope.

On the day of the actual release of slave apprentices, there was a three day rainy period which was followed by an extremely wet winter season which led to wide scale flooding across the Cape Colony;


The Moravian Missionary Society acquired the farm, Vogelstruyskraal near Cape Agulhas in the Caledon District. The newly established mission station was named Elim. Today, the town of Elim has a population of 2000 inhabitants.


Masters and Servants Ordinance regularising and criminalizing labour relationships between employer and employee in favour of the former slave masters based on the past CAPE SLAVE CODES originally issued by the VOC as Placaaten of India.

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

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.


Robben Island: A world Heritage Site

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

Robben Island (Dutch for ‘Seal Island’) was listed because it was recognised as an area of outstanding natural, historical and cultural value. It has come to symbolise, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also for the entire world, the triumph of humanity over enormous hardship and adversity.

King Maqoma at the Long March to Freedom at Fountains Valley Pretoria. He was banished to Robben Island twice.

When the Dutch arrived to settle the Cape in the 17th century they soon began to put the island to use as a prison, a role it continued to play until 1991. Three generations of political prisoners occupied it in the second half of the 20th century. Among its early permanent inhabitants were political leaders from various Dutch colonies, including Indonesia. However in the 1840s, Robben Island was also chosen for a hospital because it was both secure (isolating dangerous cases) and healthy (providing a good environment for cure). The island was thus used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station.

The first prisoner on the island is believed to have been Autshumato in the mid-17th century. He was banished to the island in 1658 because he was taking back cattle the people believed to have been unfairly confiscated by European settlers. Autshumato was also one of the only prisoners to have escaped successfully. Makanda Nxele, a Regent of the amaRharhabe was also sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island after a failed uprising at Grahamstown in 1819 during the fifth of the Xhosa Wars. He drowned on the shores of Table Bay after escaping the prison. King of the Ngqika Xhosa, Maqoma was banished to the island twice together with his wife Katyi for 21 years. Maqoma’s grave is on Robben Island to this day. These chiefs and Kings are part of the Long March to Freedom procession at Fountains Valley in Pretoria.

During the Apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran the Island and its prison was to isolate opponents of Apartheid and to crush their morale. However, those imprisoned on the Island succeeded on a psychological and political level in turning a prison ‘hell-hole’ into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation.



The Griffiths Mxenge Tragedy:

Today marks 36 years since Human Rights attorney, African National Congress (ANC) and African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) member and political activist, Griffiths Mxenge was brutally murdered.

Griffiths Mxenge was born on 27 February 1935 in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape. He was the eldest son of Johnson Pinti and Hannah Nowise Mxenge, who were farmers from Rayi in the Eastern Cape.

While attending high school Mxenge became increasingly interested in politics and decided to join the ANCYL.  Although Mxenge was involved in various protests throughout these years, he completed his LLB at the University of Natal in 1970 and married his childhood sweetheart, Victoria Nonyamezelo Ntebe. After obtaining his degree, Mxenge became a prominent human rights lawyer and a political activist in the Eastern Cape during the late 1970s and the early 1980s. He fought against the Apartheid regime and was recognised as one of the famous attorneys who defended numerous Africans who were arrested, charged and imprisoned, based on unjust laws.

Due to Mxenge’s campaign against the Apartheid regime and his impact in court, the threatened racist regime ‘ordered’ his assassination to remove him as a threat forever.

He was brutally murdered on the evening of 19 November 1981. He was abducted, stabbed and hammered to death. His mutilated body was found next to Durban’s Umlazi stadium. Victoria Mxenge had to identify her husband’s body and concluded from the onset that her husband’s death was politically motivated.

Although in exile at the time, ANC president Oliver Tambo sent condolences to the Mxenge family and also supported Victoria’s Mxenge’s view that her husband’s death was politically motivated. He stated that:

“On the night of 19 November in the South African city of Durban, agents of the Pretoria regime brutally assassinated Griffiths Mxenge. Using knives, the murderers were not content just to take away the life of this outstanding patriot. In unbridled savagery, they extensively mutilated his face and cut off his ears… The massacre of our people in Matola in January, the murder of Joe Gqabi in Salisbury in July and now the assassination of Griffiths Mxenge are a sign of the desperation of the enemy who increasingly finds himself unable to stop the forward march of the people, the ANC and the popular army, Umkhonto we Sizwe.”

Despite the anger surrounding Mxenge’s death, 15 000 mourners, which included United Democratic Front patron Albertina Sisulu and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, attended the funeral in King William’s Town to honour his memory.

The funeral was a peaceful affair where Mxenge’s body was laid to rest.  It was only when Mxenge’s coffin, which was covered in ANC colours, was lowered into the ground that things took a turn for the worse. A Transkei security policeman by the name of Detective-Constable Albert Gungqwana Tafile was found secretly tape-recording the funeral which led to the crowd attacking the policeman. Although Archbishop Desmond Tutu tried to protect the policeman, the crowd attacked him and left him dying behind a makeshift VIP platform at the funeral.

The violence at Mxenge’s funeral was a powerful historical event as it exposed the drastic split between the Apartheid regime and the majority of Africans. As history student Jacob Manenzhe argued in his Masters thesis:

“The policeman, never mind being Black, was a servant of the State, and was therefore regarded as a puppet and a spy for his master, while Griffith’s coffin was a symbol of the oppressed Blacks.”

Mxenge’s murder remains one of the most notorious political assassinations in South Africa. Amnesty was granted to Mxenges killers, identified as a death squad operating from Vlakplaas, west of Pretoria, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 despite severe objections by his family


Obituary for Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge (1935 – 1981).

Jacob Manenzhe, THE POLITICISATION OF FUNERALS IN SOUTH AFRICA  DURING THE 20th CENTURY (1900 – 1994). Masters Thesis. University of Pretoria. January 2007.

Statement by Oliver Tambo on the murder of Griffiths Mxenge.

Commemorating the life of musical activist Mama Africa:

Yesterday marked nine years since Miriam Makeba passed away.

More fondly known as Mama Africa, Makeba was a legendary singer who became an iconic voice in 1950s Sophiatown and a staunch opponent to Apartheid South Africa, internationally recognised as a cultural ambassador against the racist regime.

Born in Prospect Township, east of Johannesburg, South Africa on 4 March 1932, Zenzile Miriam Makeba was the daughter of a Swazi woman, Christina, and a Xhosa man, Caswell. She was the youngest of five children, including three sisters and one brother.

To generate extra income, Makeba’s mother Christina brewed and sold her own beer, an illegal activity that led to police raids and a six-month jail sentence. Makeba was only a few weeks old when her mother was sent to prison. She later moved and lived with her grandparents, in an environment where church was highly valued. It was at church where Makeba was exposed to and found her love of singing.

Makeba started singing professionally in 1954. In her first show as a professional singer, Makeba joined her cousin and his friends in their group, the Cuban Brothers, a South African all-male close harmony group, with whom she sang covers of popular American songs.

After performing at church, community and fundraising events with them, Makeba soon gained recognition as a talented singer. Due to Makeba’s popularity, the Manhattan Brothers, a famous local singing group, asked her to join their jazz band. Although they were able to tour the neighbouring countries of Southern and Northern Rhodesia in 1954, the group faced constant harassment by police at numerous checkpoints due to their race.

Round about the following year Makeba joined a women’s quartet called Skylarks, a women’s quartet that combined jazz and traditional African melodies.

Makeba started recording her own songs during these years, unfortunately at a time when the government began censoring music that was thought to be against the government. It was also around this time Makeba started performing African jazz in front of a white audience, an opportunity that led to her being offered an overseas performance in 1959. Before she left South Africa, Makeba recorded a song called Goodbye Mother, Goodbye Father, and to my little baby goodbye, until we meet again, a song that effectively marked the beginning of her years in exile.

Makeba became a popular singer in England. While recoding some of her music, she met American singer and songwriter Harry Belafonte, who played a pivotal role in the development of her career. He helped Makeba obtain a United States (U.S.) visa which led her to move to New York. While there, Makeba released two albums, in 1960 and 1963. Both albums made the billboard 200 in the U.S.

Despite having a successful career in the U.S., Makeba used her fame to start sharing her concerns about Apartheid. In 1963 Makeba took a stand at the United Nations (U.N.) to testify against Apartheid and asked the U.N. to try and free South Africa’s wrongfully jailed leaders. The South African government responded by revoking Makeba’s citizenship and passport. Unaware of her invalid citizenship and passport, Makeba tried to re-enter the country for her mother’s funeral, only to find she could not enter her home country South Africa. Makeba lived in exile for the next 30 years.

It was in the 1965 album titled An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, that Makeba first expressed her views on the Apartheid regime. This album spoke about the oppression of black South Africans and also informed listeners of Apartheid atrocities. One of the songs included in this album was Beware, Verwoerd!, a popular song amongst black South Africans talking about the founder of Apartheid, Hendrik Frensch (H.F.) Verwoerd. Although the song was not popular amongst white South Africans, it did inspire black South Africans to defy unjust Apartheid laws. Following the popularity of the subversive song, the South African government arrested anyone they caught singing it. Two years after Beware Verwoerd!, Makeba released another popular hit, the internationally renowned Pata Pata.

In 1983 Makeba released another successful album titled Mama Africa, as she was publicly recognised as ‘Mama Africa’ during this time. This album contained the song Sophiatown is Gone, which focused on the 1950s forced removals in Sophiatown, a suburb just outside Melville in Johannesburg. Many black South Africans who were forcibly removed from Sophiatown found solace in Makeba’s song, which drew the world’s attention to the inhumane treatment of ordinary South Africans by the Apartheid government.

Although Makeba fought for the rights of black South Africans during her exile, she also became involved in fighting for Civil Rights in America as black pop culture and arts became increasingly popular in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s. Singers such as Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Miriam Makeba performed in New York and various neighbouring cities to fight for civil rights.

Makeba also married Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968. Although they shared the same views on civil rights, Makeba’s records and tours were cancelled in the U.S. due to her marriage to the prominent member of the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organisation in the U.S.

In 1968 Makeba and Stokely moved to Guinea, Africa, to fight for civil rights from there. Although both continued to fight for civil rights, Makeba and Stokely divorced in Guinea after separating in 1978. After the divorce, Makeba was still an active figure in the struggle movement, both in South Africa and America. In recognition of her efforts, she was awarded the Dag Hammerkjold Peace Prize by the Diplomatic Academy for Peace in 1968.

It was only in 1990 that Makeba was allowed to return to South Africa. Although hesitant at first, she returned to South Africa after 31 years of exile, following Mandela urging her to do so. In 1991 she worked with other South African artists to produce and release the album Eyes on Tomorrow. This album focused on the future of South Africa and gave hope to South Africans for a new tomorrow.

Makeba played a vital role in the struggle for freedom in both the anti-Apartheid movement and the Civil Rights movement. Her career as a singer helped her reach audiences and inform them of the atrocities of the Apartheid regime. Her cultural activism is being honoured in our #LongMarchtoFreedom, where she is celebrated as a struggle icon and local artist turned international celebrity during the darkest periods of South Africa’s racist regime.


Imvo Zabantsundu: A brief history

Today marks 133 years since the first black owned newspaper Imvo Zabantsundu (‘The Native Opinion of South Africa’) published their first report.

Prior to the establishment of Imvo Zabantsundu, the only other African language newspapers printed were missionary journals that encouraged the advancement of literacy and Christianity. Some of these newspapers, such as Ikhwezi (The Morning Star) and Indaba reported in both English and Xhosa, but only provided spiritual enlightenment and evaded any political news.

Another newspaper which was also bilingual then was Isigidimi samaXhosa (The Kaffir Express). The racial slur evident in the title of this newspaper was used to refer to the Xhosa language during this time, which was also present in various Xhosa language manuals and dictionaries of the 19th century period. Although similar to Ikhwezi and Indaba, Isigidimi samaXhosa played a vital role in the establishment of Imvo Zabantsundu. The editor of the former newspaper soon grew tired of the news reported and wanted to report what was really happening in South Africa during that time.

As no politics was discussed in the missionary newspapers, a man by the name of John Tengo Jabavu decided to start his own newspaper. This newspaper would later be known as Imvo Zabantsundu.

Born in 1859 in Healdtown, John Tengo Jabavu was a talented writer and teacher who became increasingly interested in African politics. He wanted to provide a forum where like-minded individuals would share their opinions on the policies made by the government. Although Jabavu was known for writing remarkable articles in the Cape Mercury and the Cape Argus newspaper, he was soon asked by Dr James Stewart to become the editor of Isigidimi samaXhosa. Despite taking on the role of editor at Isigidimi samaXhosa, Jabavu became increasingly interested in politics during the general elections of 1882-1883. Jabavu first tried sharing his opinions in Isigidimi samaXhosa, but was later discouraged to do so by Dr Stewart simply because the missionary journals of that time were dedicated to spreading the Christian gospel. Since the newspaper did not have a clear political position, Jabavu started his own newspaper.

Although Jabavu lacked the funds to start the newspaper, he was fortunate to find two investors, Mr Richard Rose-Innes and Mr James Weir, both from King Williamstown.

By 3 November 1884, the first issue of Imvo Zabantsundu was published. Although this newspaper was known as the first black-owned newspaper during this era, it also became popular because it helped Africans to express themselves without any fear of prejudice and discrimination. It was through this newspaper that Africans were able to share their political views ranging from pass laws, laws governing urban locations and the sale of liquor. Imvo Zabantsundu also became a source of literature for Africans as it addressed the literary aspirations of its readers and also reflected their lives and the country in which they lived.

This is evident when the newspaper published poems in the original dialect and did not translate them into English. By retaining the traditional style in the poems published in Imvo Zabantsundu, the newspaper became more appealing to the African reader as it did not force them to conform to the Western style of reading, which was in English. By providing a safe space to enjoy the Xhosa language the newspaper inspired many writers to write books in their vernacular as there was a limited amount of original books written at the time.

Imvo Zabantsundu was a popular newspaper that extended as far as Natal and Lesotho. This newspaper was unique as it did not aim to promote a religious agenda but instead wanted to encourage Africans to share their political views without feeling restricted. This newspaper also became a conduit for many writers interested in poetry or fiction. It was a powerful newspaper that inspired many Africans to take pride in their culture and informed many of the political and social issues of that time.



Koliswa Moropa (2010) African voices in Imvo Zabantsundu: Literary pieces from the past, South African Journal of African Languages, 30:2, 135-144


Haile Selassie: A Glamorous and Decorated Emperor

Haile Selassie was crowned the Emperor of Ethiopia on this day, 2 November 1930.

He was born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, the son of the noted general Ras Mokonnen and the grandnephew of Emperor Menelik II. Selassie became Ethiopia’s 225th and last emperor in 1974 after he was deposed by a military coup. A brilliant student, he became a favourite of Menelik, who made him a provincial governor at 14. As a Coptic Christian, Tafari opposed Menelik’s grandson and successor, Lij Yasu, who became a Muslim convert, and in 1916 compelled his deposition and established Menelik’s daughter Zauditu as empress. Tafari was regent from 1916 to 1930 and after the empress’ mysterious death, he became emperor (1930-1974) and took the name of Haile Selassie (‘Might of the Trinity’), claiming to be a direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As a result of this, many believed he was the promised messiah hence the emergence of the Rastafarian movement.

Emperor Haile Selassie at the Long March To Freedom, Fountains Valley Resort in Pretoria.

Selassie was a highly decorated emperor as is seen in his flamboyant style of dress and the many badges that he wore. It comes as no surprise that his coronation on 2 November 1930 was a very glamorous affair. It was attended by royals and dignitaries from all over the world. One newspaper report suggested that the celebration may have incurred a cost in excess of $3,000,000 in today’s terms. Many of those in attendance received lavish gifts and in one instance, the Christian emperor even sent a gold-encased bible to an American bishop who had not attended the coronation, but who had dedicated a prayer to the emperor on the day of the coronation.

As the Commander of the armed forces he held the highest military order in Ethiopia which was that of the Sealed Marshall. After the end of World War II he ceased to wear any sort of Ethiopian ceremonial attire and although he would deviate without any particular reason he wore military attire in the main as he believed in militant resistance to colonisation and oppression. He would dress glamorously during official occasions with his many military badges, military swords, ribbons and a plummeted hat in accordance with his many Ethiopian orders. These included the Order of Solomon, Order of the Holy Trinity, Order of Menelik II, Order of the Star of Ethiopia. Grand Cordon, The Most Exalted Order of the Queen of Sheba Knight Grand Cross, The Imperial Order of the Holy Trinity Knight Grand Cross, The Imperial Order of Emperor Menelik II Negus (Knight Grand Cross), The Imperial Order of the Star of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie Medal of War, Eritrean Medal of Haile Selassie I among scores of others.

His sculpture at the Long March to Freedom procession at Fountains Valley is just as decorated as he was, courtesy of artist Izidro Duarte who worked hard to ensure that the statue represented the emperor as accurately as possible.

Follow these links to learn more about Selassie’s many medals and honours-


Veteran radio broadcaster, former Metro FM DJ and musician Glen Lewis recently graced us with his presence at Fountains Valley Resort in Pretoria to shoot his soon to be released music video for his upcoming single, Healing.

Glen Lewis poses with Walter and Albertina Sisulu during a break

Lewis said that he chose to shoot his video at the Long March To Freedom procession because he felt that the icons represented the road to healing and were a symbol of the need and possibility of healing in our nation. He thought the site would also provide unique visuals which are relevant to the theme of his song. The video is also of significance as it helps to inform the public of the existence of the Long March To Freedom as it educates the youth and the world as a whole.

Lewis also expressed his love for the statues of Steve Biko and Solomon Mahlangu. He however, spent most of the shooting at the back with the Kings and chiefs who were the pioneers of the struggle for freedom. He promised to spread the word about the National Heritage Monument and we hope that you spread the word too!

We will definitely share the link to the video as soon as it is released.

The roots of ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’

Ever wonder where our national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika comes from? Journalist Daluxolo Moloantoa reached back to the late 19th century to find out…

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika Composer Enoch Sontonga, copyright City of Johannesburg Library, via The Heritage Portal

DID YOU KNOW: The song became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems.