Charlotte Maxeke (1874-1939) was a South African religious leader, social worker and political activist. She fought against the Apartheid system in South Africa (a system of segregation and discrimination based on race) and for women’s rights, and is often honoured as South Africa’s ‘Mother of Black Freedom’.
LIFE AND ACTIVISM:
Charlotte Maxeke showed herself to be clever and hand-working from a very young age. She attended the Edward Memorial School in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and finished her secondary education in record time, achieving the highest grades possible.
Maxeke was an important part of protesting the ‘pass laws’ at the start of the 20th century, which made up part of South Africa’s segregation laws known as Apartheid. These pass laws kept people of different ethnicities separated from each other by requiring them to carry passports when outside of their designated areas. This law was particularly bad for black women in South Africa who had to travel long distances in order to reach their workplaces.
As a result of her involvement in the anti-pass law protests, Maxeke founded the Bantu Women’s League in 1913, which became part of the African National Congress Women’s League in 1920. As leader of the Bantu Women’s League, she led a delegation to the South African Prime Minister at the time, Louis Botha, to discuss the law that required women to carry passes. The organisation also campaigned on issues such as voting rights for black women.
This political action went on to inspire future protests from the African National Congress (ANC), such as the later anti-pass campaigns of the 1950s.
Maxeke’s activism was not just political, she also did much to improve the economic situation of black people in South Africa, participating in protests relating to low wages at Witwatersrand, and joined the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union in 1920. In 1928 she set up an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg to help improve the job prospects of young Africans.
South Africa celebrates the life of this remarkable woman. She contributed so much to South African political activism, and improved the lives of countless individuals.
The General Hospital in Johannesburg was renamed The Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Maitland Street in Bloemfontein was renamed Charlotte Maxeke Street in honour of her contribution to South Africa. The South African navy has three submarines named after three of the most powerful women in South African history – SAS Manthatisi, named after a female warrior chief of the Batlokwa tribe, SAS Modjaji, named after the South African rain queen, and SAS Charlotte Maxeke.
She is also remembered in national festivals as a cherished national figure.