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South African politician, writer, long-term political prisoner, and father of President Thabo Mbeki, was born in Nqamakwe in the Transkei on 8 July 1910. His father Skelewu Mbeki and mother Johanna were devout Methodists, members of a modestly well-to-do Mfengu elite. Govan’s father was a government-appointed headman; he also farmed and ran an ox-wagon transport business.

In 1932 Mbeki left Healdtown school to attend Fort Hare (then the only university in southern Africa admitting African students) where he completed his schooling, attaining a teaching diploma and a bachelor’s degree. The Fort Hare years shaped Mbeki profoundly: they politicized him deeply, and equipped him with the formal skills that fueled his output as journalist and author.

Mbeki’s socialist beliefs were kindled by two men, Eddie Roux, a Communist Party member, whom Mbeki met in 1933; and Max Yergan, an African American on the Fort Hare faculty, radicalized by a 1934 ...


Shane Graham

justice on the South African Constitutional Court, attorney and legal scholar, author, cultural critic, and human rights activist, was born 30 January 1935 in Johannesburg. The older of two sons born to Emil “Solly” Sachs, a trade union leader, and Ray Ginsberg, his full name was Albert Louis Sachs. Both of his parents were associated with the Communist Party in the 1920s; as Sachs wrote in his 1966 book The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs he grew up in a political home a home of books of ideas and of stimulating people His parents separated when he was young his father stayed in Johannesburg while Albie and his mother moved to Cape Town where she worked as secretary to Moses Kotane a leader of both the Communist Party and the African National Congress ANC Sachs attended South African College Schools an exclusive institution in Cape Town from which he ...


Kate Tuttle

Born to educated parents in Johannesburg, South Africa, as a child Miriam Tlali was encouraged to study and write. But as a black South African she found her educational opportunities limited. After attending local elementary schools and studying art in high school, she won a scholarship to the University of Witwatersrand, but her hopes of studying medicine were dashed by the university’s quotas for black students, which would allow her to study only administration. Tlali later pursued pre-medical training at Roma University in Lesotho but ran out of money after a year and never finished her medical training.

Back in Johannesburg, Tlali drew on her experiences working as a bookkeeper in a furniture store to write her autobiographical first novel, Muriel at Metropolitan. Written in 1969, the book was not published in South Africa until 1975 partly because of its subtle but scathing portrayal of white insensitivity ...


Born in Philippolis, Jan van der Post was raised on a working ranch and educated at Grey College in Bloemfontein, South Africa. In 1925, with two other South African writers, Roy Campbell and William Plomer, he helped start the magazine Voorslag, which was strongly opposed to the South African Apartheid government. Due to his involvement with the periodical, van der Post was forced to leave South Africa and so traveled to Japan, where he wrote his first novel, In a Province (1934), an early indictment of South African racism. Van der Post served with the British Army during World War II and spent three years (1943–1946) in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. He based his books The Seed and the Sower (1963; filmed as Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence in 1983), The Night of the New Moon (1970), and Portrait of ...