150 Years of Charlotte Maxeke

The 7th April 2021 marks a historic remembrance of South Africa’s great woman, Mother of Black Freedom, Charlotte Makgomo Mannya-Maxeke, who would be celebrating a 150 years. Her history and legacy is included as part our country’s Resistance and Liberation Heritage of the National Heritage Council (NHC) and the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.

The main celebration which was announced by Minister Nathi Mthethwa, the NHC and the Charlotte Mannya Maxeke Institute (CMMI) in 2020, took place at her birthplace in Blinkwater near Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape this year (7 April 2021). Other activities to reignite her ideals of women helping each other to achieve their dreams and self upliftment will take place throughout the year.

This celebration of the 150th birthday of Charlotte Maxeke has a historic significance to her legacy that is centerpiece to the narrative of the emancipation of women in South Africa and to a certain extent in Africa. This is the reason why her history found its way into the Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route. The Route is a programme of the NHC which is led by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. The programme seeks to preserve the heritage of South Africa’s liberation struggle through the memory of historic places, events and people who shaped the democracy we enjoy today.

In Gauteng, the home of Charlotte Maxeke in Kliptown, now a local heritage site, is undergoing a feasibility study to explore the best possible heritage alternatives that will preserve its history while also making it functionally valuable to the community. A school that she established in Evaton with her husband in 1908 (Wilberforce College), is also one of the historic landmarks that signifies her dedication to education for her community. Research on the history of the Wilberforce College is currently underway and will contribute to the liberation heritage landmarks.

The NHC would like to preserve the heritage of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke (1871 – 1919) as a pioneering South African woman who was passionate about inclusivity, education and evangelism. She was a leader who grasped every opportunity presented to her and accomplished many notable firsts during her lifetime:
• The first black South African woman to achieve a BSC degree in 1901.
• The first woman to participate in the King’s Courts under King Sabata Dalindyebo of AbaThembu.
• Establishing a school in Evaton with her husband in 1908 (Wilberforce Institute).
• The only woman who attended and contributed to the first African National Congress (ANC) conference in 1912.
• Co-initiator, organiser and the first President of the Bantu Women’s League founded in 1918 (it would later become the ANC Women’s League)

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