Charlotte Maxeke, ‘Mother of Black Freedom

In segregated South Africa, Charlotte Mannya Maxeke dedicated her life to the struggle for women's rights and education for all. Her pioneering role is only now being rediscovered and more widely reported once again.

When did Charlotte Maxeke live? She was born April 7, 1871, or possibly 1874, and given the names Mannya Makgomo. Not just the year but also her birthplace is a bone of contention, being recorded as either Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, or Ramokgopa in the Polokwane district in Limpopo Province. Charlotte Maxeke died on October 16, 1939, and her eulogy reportedly ended with the words, "she was everyone's friend and no-one's enemy".

What was Charlotte Maxeke renowned for? She was renowned for many things: her singing voice, her work for the church and her devotion to women's rights, her magnificent oratory style. Also, she was the first black African woman to go to university and gain a degree. She made it her personal mission to share her knowledge and enable children to learn, building a school in Evaton, south of Johannesburg.

What was the pioneering role of Charlotte Maxeke? Maxeke was an early and very active member of the ANC, one of its first female members and – something that history remarkably failed to record – the only woman present at the launch of the ANC in 1912. At a time when the ANC only granted membership to men, Charlotte Maxeke lobbied for their admission to the organization. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at the launch of the Maxeke Memory Project in October 2015, said she was such a great orator that one of the ANC's earliest presidents, Reverend Mahabane, joined the ANC after hearing her speak. Maxeke, for her part, in 1918 launched the Bantu Women's League that would later become the ANC Women's League.
5 Nov 2019 English Germany History · Education

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