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Sefako Mapogo Makgatho (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Sefako Mapogo Makgatho (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the national democratic struggle for freedom and for his outstanding contribution to the struggle against colonialism on the African continent and the struggle for a non-racial system and a universal education for all South African children.
Profile of Sefako Mapogo Makgatho

Sefako Mapogo Makgatho was born in 1861 at Ga-Mphahlele, in the Pietersburg District in the Northern Transvaal, now Limpopo. Makgatho was a gallant fighter who led the South African Native National Congress from 1917 to 1924.

A renowned teacher, he was also a Methodist lay preacher, journalist, estate agent, unionist and a celebrated political leader. Makgatho was the son of Chief Kgorutlhe Josiah Makgatho under the paramountcy of the legendary Kgosi Sekhukhune of the baPedi kingdom that fought fearlessly against the Transvaal boers.

Makgatho attended school in Pretoria, and later went to study Education and Theology in Middlesex, England. He was a teacher for 11 years at the Kilnerton Training Institute in Pretoria, a school that produced prominent South Africans such as Joe Nhlanhla, Miriam Makeba, Lillian Ngoyi, Nthato Motlana and others. A dedicated activist and human-rights campaigner, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Transvaal African Teachers’ Association (TATA) in 1906.

Sefako Makgatho also established one of the earliest black political organisations, the African Political Union, which later changed its name to the Transvaal Native Congress (TNC).

Makgatho was president of this organisation from 1906 until 1908. The TNC later joined the South African Native National Congress when it was formed in 1912 in Bloemfontein, becoming its Transvaal branch.

Makgatho was active in the African National Congress (ANC) since its inception in 1912 and was elected president of the organisation from 1917 to 1924. He was also a keen media activist, and helped establish the newspaper, The Native Advocate, co-owned with Advocate Alfred Mangena. It folded after two years due to a lack of funds. He also founded The Good Shepherd, a journal for the TATA.

Makgatho’s determination, bravery and courage so impressed former President Nelson Mandela that he named his son, Makgatho, after him.

As president of the ANC, Makgatho revitalised the organisation, taking it beyond deputations to active protest action. He mobilised the African urban working class, making the ANC militant and responsive.

The organisation began to abandon the strategy of sending delegations to London, assuming some radicalism by adopting new methods, riding on the wave of the impact made through the joint activism with labour, as shown by numerous strikes, as well as action against the pass laws.

The leadership threw its support behind the African municipal workers during the Bucket Strike of 1918 and also endorsed the militant strike by mineworkers in 1920.

Makgatho laid the seeds for the Congress Alliance and Tripartite Alliance. He was willing to seek alliances with white radical movements such as the International Socialist League, to advance the struggle for freedom.

It was also during his presidency of the ANC that the Industrial Commercial Workers Union (ICU) was established in 1919. When communists were expelled from the ICU in 1924, they found sanctuary in the ANC.

Another outstanding achievement of Makgatho’s presidency was the finalisation of the ANC’s constitution in 1919. This created a framework within which to operate as well as procedures for the membership to follow.

The constitution was aimed at addressing a number of issues, primary among them, being the unity of the African people in the four republics.

Sefako Mapogo Makgatho died on 23 May 1951 in Riverside, Pretoria, at the age of 90.