Back to top

Barbara Masekela (1941 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Barbara Masekela (1941 - ) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the eradication of apartheid and contributing to the development of the new South African values.

Profile of Barbara Masekela

Barbara Masekela was born on 18 July 1941 in Johannesburg. She completed her primary education at St. Michael's Anglican School in Alexandra township. Later she attended Inanda Girls Seminary between 1956 and1960, where she was exposed to leading lights of theAfrican National Congress (ANC) such as Chief Albert Luthuli and MB Yengwa, who were some of the distinguished invited speakers to the girls’ college.

Here, she also came into contact with Johnny Makatini, a leading ANC activist who recruited her into the ANC and became her mentor.After matriculation, Barbara worked in a textile factory in Johannesburg and through a family friend found employment in the subscription department of New Age. Her supervisor was Wolfie Kodesh and here she was introduced to activists of the ANC Youth League, the South African Communist Party and the ANC. In 1962, she attended Roma University in Lesotho and subsequently left South Africa in 1963 to go to Ghana.

Masekela is a long-serving ANC activist, cultural worker and diplomat. During her 27 years in exile, she served the ANC in Zambia, Ghana, Britain and the United States of America (USA).

She left New York to work full-time for the ANC in 1982. Here, she was charged with establishing the ANC Department of Arts and Culture, which proceeded to debate and develop policy, including the strengthening of the Cultural, Sports and Diplomatic Boycott to exclude the apartheid regime; to manage the Amandla Cultural Ensemble as well as other developmental and promotional cultural ANC projects, including post-apartheid cultural policies.

As part of the cultural collective of the ANC, Masekela organised various anti-apartheid conferences and cultural festivals, including the "Culture in Another South Africa" festival, which took place at the end of 1987, in Amsterdam. The festival entailed a series of exhibitions and performances in Amsterdam's major theatres, presented by 200 South African photographers, fashion designers, actors and musicians. It was a significant example of the uninterrupted line of unity among South Africans at home and abroad and included the call for the release of political prisoners, some of whom had been sentenced to death by the apartheid regime.

In 1990, after the unbanning of the ANC, Masekela moved to the ANC’s fund-raising department and later became Nelson Mandela’s chief of staff, until 1995. She served as a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, from 1991 to 1994.

In 1995, she became South Africa’s official ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and servedas the democratic South Africa’s first ambassador to France from 1995 to 1998. Masekela was appointed as ambassador to the USA from2003 to 2007.

Masekela served as deputy chairperson of the SABC from 1999 to 2003 and chaired the Board Subcommittee on Programming and Language. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Barbara Masekela has overcome the gender limitations of her era to become a robust intellectual with a fiercely independent mind and uncompromising position against the apartheid system. She has proved to be quite an outstanding manager, organiser, campaigner and diplomat.

Barbara Masekela is also a poet and is presently writing her memoirs.