Rhodes University honours journalist and gallant freedom fighter, Thenjiwe Mtintso

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Thenjiwe Mtintso [Image credit: DIRCO]
Thenjiwe Mtintso [Image credit: DIRCO]

In its October postgraduate graduation, Rhodes University will bestow an honour of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) on journalist and anti-apartheid activist, Thenjiwe Mtintso. Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sizwe Mabizela said the honour was in recognition and celebration of Mtintso’s long and sustained contribution as a dedicated freedom fighter and a committed gender activist.

“Our nation owes her an unpayable debt of gratitude and appreciation for all the sacrifices she has made throughout her life as a dedicated human rights and gender activist. She gave a voice to the many who had been rendered voiceless by the iniquitous and oppressive system of apartheid. I am delighted that the Rhodes University community has seen it fit to honour her sustained and significant contributions by the award of an Honorary Doctorate and warmly congratulate her on this richly deserved recognition and notable achievement,” said Professor Mabizela.

High Commissioner Thenjiwe Mtintso was born on 7 November 1949 in SowetoJohannesburg, where she grew up. Her mother, Hanna Mtintso, was a domestic worker, and her father, Gana Makabeni, was a trade unionist and a member of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). Due to financial constraints, she was forced to leave school and work full-time in various factories to finance her part-time studies at secondary school. She matriculated at Damelin College and studied for a BSc degree at the University of Fort Hare.

Being born to an activist father, it was not surprising that at university, she became a member of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) and Black Consciousness Movement. Her activism in student politics led to her being detained several times by the security police in the 1970s and her eventual expulsion from the University of Fort Hare.

After being expelled for political activities, she moved to King Williams Town and worked as a field worker for the Border Council of Churches in their Dependence Conference program, looking after families of political prisoners and ex-political prisoners themselves. She was also a reporter for the Daily Dispatch, a liberal newspaper edited by anti-apartheid campaigner Donald Woods. During the 1970s, she was subjected to ban, detentions, solitary confinement, and severe torture by the South African police. After Biko was murdered while in police custody, she went into exile in 1978.

While in exile, she joined the ANC and its military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK). She underwent military training and rose through the ranks to become a commander of MK. She was sent for further training in Cuba at the Fé del Valle School. After receiving military training, she worked in Lesotho with the Regional Political-Military Council, which coordinated the ANC’s political and military activities in that country. She later served as head of the Regional Political-Military Council in Botswana (1986–1989) and as the ANC’s first chief representative to Uganda (1989–1991).

Mtintso remained in exile until 1992 when she returned to South Africa and enrolled for her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Sociology at the University of Witwatersrand. She was appointed to the Transitional Executive Committee and thus became an active participant in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations. After the first democratic elections in April 1994, she became an ANC Member of Parliament.

She was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee in 1994, 1997, and 2002. In March 1997, Mtintso was appointed the first chair of South Africa’s Commission on Gender Equality. In 2001 she and her other gender activists formed Gender Links and she became its first chairperson. She resigned a year later after being elected as the ANC Deputy Secretary-General in December. Mtintso also served as a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Meanwhile, she also enrolled for a Masters in Public Management Development degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1998.

She served as South Africa’s ambassador to Cuba (2003–2008), Italy (2009–2012), Romania (2014–2016), and Spain (2019–2022). In addition, Mtintso was South Africa’s high commissioner to Malawi from 2016 to 2019. In 2022, she was appointed South Africa’s High Commissioner to Namibia. 

Mtintso has been active in various gender and women’s structures throughout her life. She has engaged in gender training, especially for women in politics in Africa. She has written articles published in various local and international publications on women, patriarchy, gender relations and defence. She has presented papers and participated in various national and international workshops, seminars and conferences on women, gender, democracy, and defence.

This fearless freedom fighter will be honoured on Friday, 14 October 2022 at the 1820 Settler’s Monument in Makhanda.