Publication Year: 2013
This biography by noted historian Colin Bundy goes beyond the narrative details of his long life: it analyzes his thinking, expressed in his writings over fifty years. Bundy helps establish what is distinctive about Mbeki: as African nationalist and as committed Marxist — and more than any other leader of the liberation movement — he sought to link theory and practice, ideas and action.
Drawing on exclusive interviews Bundy did with Mbeki, careful analysis of his writings, and the range of scholarship about his life, this biography is personal, reflective, thoroughly researched, and eminently readable.
Published by: Ohio University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Introduction: Intellectual activist - or activist intellectual?
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Govan Mbeki was born on 8 July 1910. The Union of South Africa was barely six weeks old: a new state, delivered by compromise and negotiations at a constitutional conference. Political power was vested firmly in white hands: a limited black franchise operated only in the Cape Province. The Prime Minister was Louis Botha, recently a Boer guerrilla general and now an adroit politician...
1. Home comforts and family histories
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When Govan Mbeki spoke about his childhood, his face softened and he conveyed a sense of comfort, warmth and stability. The family house – in Nyili village, Mpukane ward, in the Nqamakwe magistracy – was ‘a solid house, very well built’ and the furniture was handsomely carpentered, ‘some of the most beautiful furniture I ever saw’. He spoke with a...
2. Healdtown and Fort Hare
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Pulled from the front, pushed from behind:
In January 1927 Govan Mbeki left his family home for Healdtown, the school founded by the Methodist missionary John Ayliff in 1855. The Healdtown Institution was successively a base for training Wesleyan evangelists, a teachers’ training college and...
3. Permanent persuader: Mbeki in the Transkei, 1940-1952
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In 1937, having graduated from Fort Hare, Govan Mbeki applied for a teaching post at the Taylor Street Secondary School in Durban. The school had been founded in 1921 to educate the children of the ‘Married Quarters’, housing set aside just north of the city centre for the families of African Christian converts...
4. Township politics: Ladysmith and Port Elizabeth, 1952-1960
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Politically, Govan Mbeki’s years in the Transkei ended in anti-climax, with the loss of his main base in the Transkei Organised Bodies. Financially, the struggle to keep the trading store profitable was sapped by other, even less successful ventures. Domestically, a troubled marriage reached breaking point. In 1952...
5. Mbeki as journalist and author, 1955–1963
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This chapter moves from political education classes in township kitchens to political education through the printed word. Mbeki worked for New Age: he ran the office, wrote articles and took photographs, and mailed copy to Cape Town where the paper was printed. He lived in New Brighton, from 1956 or 1957...
6. The road to Rivonia
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Between March 1960 and July 1963 – from Sharpeville to the Rivonia raid – Govan’s life changed decisively. Detained under the State of Emergency, he played a key role in the decision to turn to armed struggle (and was party to long-running controversy over its form); he was a founder member of Umkhonto weSizwe...
7. Cold comfort: The Robben Island years
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Govan Mbeki spent 23 years and four months in prison – more than a quarter of his long life. His incarceration lasted for 8,522 days: days mapped on the unremitting coordinates of the prison timetable; activities at every waking hour specified by a grid of rules and regulations, strictly applied by one’s captors...
8. Release, retirement –and a modest revolutionary?
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Govan Mbeki’s release from prison was not straightforward in its planning, execution or consequences. All the Rivonia triallists had previously rejected conditional offers of release, Govan as recently as 1985. By 1987, however, Nelson Mandela was meeting government ministers and securocrats – early...
To My Grandfather
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Page Count: 168
Illustrations: about 4 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Ohio Short Histories of Africa
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth