“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.
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.
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.
Friend of Nelson Mandela, Tambo is revered for keeping the political party, African National Congress (ANC), alive during the stronghold of apartheid. A student of law, science and education, political activism became evident in his college years. In 1944, he co-founded the Youth League ANC with Mandela and years later, in 1952, they started the first black law firm in South Africa. The ANC’s nonviolent approach changed direction in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre, a demonstration that turned violent when police opened fire on hundreds of protesters, killing and wounding more than 200 people. The party was banned by the government days after the incident and Tambo, along with other party members, were exiled.
A significant yet solitary pillar in the South African Parliament, Helen Suzman is recognized for her advocacy of human rights. Born of Jewish immigrants, Helen started her education at a convent and sought further schooling at Witwatersrand University. She suspended her education at age 19 to marry Dr. Moses Suzman and had two daughters (Frances and Patricia). She returned and finished her education in Economics. She worked as a statistician and lecturer until 1953, winning a seat in Parliament as a member of the United Party (UP) and thus, beginning her political journey.