Govan Mbeki 2001


Govan Archibald Mvuyelwa Mbeki was born on the 9th of July 1910, in the Transkei. He was described variously as a scholar, disciplined cadre, builder, teacher and selfless and devoted leader. He received his early education through mission schools, and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree at the then University College of Fort Hare. He completed his degree in Politics and Psychology together with a Teaching Diploma in 1936. It was during his time at university that he met other African struggle leaders. His teaching career was short-lived, due to his political activities amongst the students and the local community, as well as the role he played in organising workers and trade unions.

In 1954, he joined the editorial board of the New Age newspaper, the only national publication serving the liberation movement. This newspaper, along with its editors and writers, was eventually banned by the then Minister of Justice, John Vorster. He built and sustained a tradition of excellent political journalism and theoretical writing. His book, The Peasants Revolt, which he wrote and smuggled out of prison while awaiting trial, was a major historical study of peasant struggles in Pondoland and Sekhukhuneland.

As a leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party, in 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, along with his co-defendants, Nelson Mandela, Raymond Mhlaba, Walter Sisulu and other ANC leaders, following the Rivonia Trial for terrorism and treason. During his prison sentence, on June 26th 1980, the Secretary General of the ANC, Alfred Nzo, announced the conferring of the time-honoured title of Isithwalandwe on Govan Mbeki. He was released from custody on November 5th 1987. He went on to become Deputy President of South Africa’s post-apartheid Senate from 1994 until 1997 and the National Council of Provinces (its successor) from 1997 to 1999.

Govan Mbeki received an honorary doctorate from the former University of Port Elizabeth in 2001, in recognition of his distinguished service during the struggle, his leadership role in organisations such as the ANC, and the power of his writings. He passed away in September of the same year in Port Elizabeth.