In keeping with our heritage month, September – the day, Sept. 24th, (and mi mom’s bday month), I thought it only fair to celebrate and remind you of these very special South Africans as every single one of them have played their part in expanding our horizons, inspiring us, assisted in defining the South African individual and above all, showed us our common humanity!
Although the list of names you’ll find below don’t even begin to cover every single one of the greats out there, I’ve taken the time to explore each of whom have struck summin’ in me personally.
In no particular order…
Solomon ‘Sol’ Plaatjie (1876 – 1932)
Activist, Journo and author of Mhudi, this man….this man wrote the first ever novel by a black South African in 1919 but it was only published in 1930. I first learnt of him when I was in Grade 4 I think it was, and it would be his talent for language that led him to a career in journalism and writing. And with him being one of the founding members of the ANC, he had a major role in establishing Nkosi Sikilel l’Afrika as the national anthem of freedom.
Nkosi Johnson (1989 – 2001)
Being the longest surviving child born with the AIDS virus in the country, he, in his short life, became an activist as well as a symbol of hope for sufferers due to an emotional speech he made at the World Aids Conference in July of 2000 in Durban.
Jan Smuts (1870 – 1950)
I know the street name, as I’ll assume most do, in JHB, but I’m not sure how many of us have given an additional thought to who he really is. We’ve generally accepted that he must’ve been quite important to have such a looong drive named after him, right?
OK, Boer General, Lawyer, Guerrilla Leader, Allied Field Marshall, statesman and philosopher, Jan Smuts, wrote the Covenant of United Nations and assisted in the founding of the League of Nations.
Not sure what these are exactly, thanks heavens for Google.
Steve Biko (1946 – 1977)
Student leader, who later founded the Black Consciousness Movement that empowered the majority of the urban black population. He later died in police custody after a 24 day long period of being beaten and interrogated. This Black Consciousness leader, activist preached Black solidarity to ‘break the chains of oppression’.
Chris Barnard (1922 – 2001)
Pioneering a system of post-operative intensive care which decreased the role of mortality, we all know Chris Barnard as the Surgeon who performed the first human transplant in the world – back in 1967! He went on to be the first to also perform a ‘piggyback’ transplant in 1971, and the first heart-lung transplant…Legendary!
Shaka Zulu (circa 1787 – 1828)
Having assumed the throne of the Zulu Kingdom as a military strategist, Shaka Zulu soon had the Zulus re-organised into a military clan, forging them into an unchallenged force among kingdoms within the Southern African region. Congratulate.
Miriam Makeba (1932 – 2008)
OK, first South African to win a Grammy award, hello! Singer and human rights activist, she was exiled for 30 years from South Africa and in that period, twice addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Saartjie Baartman (1789 – 1816)
Khoisan girl, displayed to be gawked at around Britain, she later became widely known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’ in Europe. She was perhaps misled into going in the first place and ended up humiliated by being forced to entertain people with her unusually large physical features.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931 – still alive)
Of the Anglican Church of Cape Town, activist, head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and second South African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, (and this by no means is the end of it) he boldly engaged in a nationwide defiance campaign under Apartheid. He is vocal in his defence of human rights and uses his high profile to speak on behalf of the oppressed.
Walter Sisulu (1912 – 2003)
Anti-apartheid activist, he was jailed for life in 1963, along with Nelson Mandela and later became deputy president of the African National Congress after his release in 1989 and remains the cornerstone of the struggle.
Nelson Mandela (1918 – still alive)
Lawyer, boxer, freedom fighter, political prisoner and ‘Father of the Nation’, now ‘Father of the World’, he founded the ANC’s armed wing, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ in 1961 and led South Africa into an Apartheid-free era in 1994. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
This year, his birthday, July 18th, marked the first official ‘Mandela Day’ where people around the world are encouraged to commit 67 minutes of their time doing good in order to make a difference to the world around them, whilst the 46664 Concert remains one of the biggest drivers and contributors in the fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide.
So whether you celebrate it in the city, in the bush or by the coast – Happy Heritage Day!