Our debt to Charlotte Maxeke: 150 years after her birth, she's still our mother

Charlotte Maxeke - born 150 years ago this month - is celebrated as a mother figure of the struggle, sometimes at the expense of her radical religious and intellectual contributions rooted in an ”Ethiopianist” vision of black independence, writes Panashe Chigumadzi in the first of two articles on Maxeke

18 April 2021 - 00:00 By Panashe Chigumadzi

From the Chris Hani Road highway into Soweto, not too far from Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, you can see Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke's grave in the Nancefield Cemetery. Maxeke (née Mannya) died in poverty and relative obscurity in 1939, but her grave site is now something of a small monument - a black granite tomb and headstone framed by four pillars and topped by a roof - befitting a struggle heroine often called the "mother of black freedom". It was declared a national heritage site in 2010.

After Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Lilian Ngoyi, Maxeke (1871-1939) is among SA's most famous black female political figures. And yet, if you ask the ordinary South African what exactly makes Maxeke a "mother of the nation", they might struggle to answer. Most get only as far as referring you to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, named for her in 2008...

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