Charlotte Mannya Maxeke – By Advocate Modidima Mannya

Anyone who has had the opportunity to read Zubeida Jaffer’s book, Beauty of the Heart, the Life and Times of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke and Dr. Thozama April’s Doctoral thesis titled: Theorising Women: The Intellectual Contributions of Charlotte Maxeke to the Struggle for Liberation in South Africa may have felt they woke up on another planet.  I read the book and the thesis over and over again and at a point my emotions ranged from extreme excitement to absolute anger.

The works resolved two issues for me in the end and calmed me down.

The first is the proper characterisation of this matriarch. Over time an impression was created that her true fame was about being the first Black woman to obtain a BSc degree. This is the citation most used for her. True as it is, in a sense it is rather watered down citation of who she was. The works referred to above help to give a far more in-depth exposure of who she was.

The second is the claim often made seeking to attach her to the African National Congress which has for all intents and purposes claimed her as their own. I would have no issue whatsoever with this claim if it was based on true and objective facts. But it does not appear to be based on true and objective facts.

Having regard to the fact that extensive research work has been done about her and archival material put together about her, there cannot be any justification whatsoever to continue peddling a distorted record of her. Some of the prevalent ongoing distortions include the suggestion that she was a member of the SANC and by extension a member of the ANC. The further suggestion is that she was the founder of the ANCWL, the basis of the citation for her being awarded the highest honour of the ANC, Isithwalandwe. She is also projected as having been no more than a gender activist and an educated black woman. But as the research into her life and work shows, she was far more than this. In fact, it there was ever an opportunity for the ANC (its predecessor) to have had a female President, she would have been the best the ANC would ever have.

But the objective facts tell a completely different story. It tells of the story of a prolific black leader of the people who worked with all organisations of different persuasions. It tells of a prolific activist, a Pan Africanist of note, a powerful and influential figure revered across the board even by her own oppressors. It tells of a servant leader, a social worker and activist and a brave woman in the face of adversity.

She was never as a matter of fact a member of the SANC and the ANCWL. She could not have been an SANC/ANC member when women were only allowed to be members in 1943, three years after her death. The ANCWL was only formed in 1943, three years after her death.

There cannot be doubt that she may have been desirous to be a member of the SANC and associated herself with their views. However it was the very SANC which rejected her propositions for women to participate in the SANC. It is also a distortion of facts that the ANCWL is the successor to Bantu Women’s League. As research shows, the BWL was a wholly independent organisation. It was the decision of SANC that women form their own independent organisation which they did. The fact that when the ANCWL was formed some of the leaders of the BWL joined the ANCWL is no basis to claim succession.

As the research into her life shows, she was an overall pioneer, an incisive leader. Very little is often said of her role as a Christian mother and her correct interpretation of what Christians should be and do.

As the history of this country is written to be taught in schools to our children and future generations, the distortions of the past must not form part of the narrative.  Let the truth be told as it is in the true character of this matriarch.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Journalist, For more information about Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, see


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