Heroes of the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Many stood alongside prolific world leader Nelson Mandela to weaken and later overcome the oppressive nature of apartheid in South Africa. Here are five anti-apartheid leaders that stood tall.

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” - Nelson Mandela

Across the political spectrum, no other leader has been esteemed or beloved to the degree of South African president Nelson Mandela. The man, father and activist triumphed over one of the worst human events in history: apartheid. But many stood alongside Mandela in the fight to weaken, and later overcome the oppressive nature of racial discrimination. Here are five anti-apartheid leaders that stood tall.


Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Former wife of Nelson Mandela, Minnie is prominently known in South Africa as “Mother of the Nation” and Mandela’s “voice” during his 27-year imprisonment. Born in Bizana, a village in Transkei, Winnie showed an interest in social work at an early age. She moved to Johannesburg to complete her studies and became the first black medical social worker in the country. She would later dedicate her service to ending apartheid. In 1957, Winnie met Nelson Mandela for the first time at a bus stop in Soweto and they soon married a year later.
Throughout their marriage, she experienced several struggles, raising their two daughters (Zenani and Zindzi) in the absence of Nelson. She was arrested several times, tortured in prison, and put in solitary confinement for 18 months at a Pretoria prison. She was also banished to a remote town and put on house arrest. Yet, she remained steadfast in her support for her then-husband and continued to vocalize opposition toward a racist government. In 1985, Minnie received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her work in South Africa. 


Steve Biko
A medical student and leader, Biko actively sought to empower black communities with his ideas of “black consciousness” and unity. He was pivotal in the development of several organizations, including the South African Students Organisation (SASO), the Black Peoples Convention (BPC) and the Black Community Programmes (BCP), an organization that tackled the issues of black workers.
He was later expelled from medical school, banned by the government in March 1973, and restricted to his birthplace, King Williams Town. He continued to work for the BCP, creating the Zimele Trust Fund in 1975 to help political prisoners and their families. On Aug. 18, 1977, he and a fellow colleague were stopped at a roadblock outside of King Williams Town. He was then taken into police custody where he was interrogated, arrested and severely beaten. On Sept. 11, he died of brain damage in a Pretoria prison. His brutal death branded him a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement.
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Genice Phillps
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