Charlotte Maxeke was amazing. Here’s why

This week we celebrate the 150th anniversary of a South African feminist icon and all round bad-ass, Charlotte Maxeke, who inspires us to do and be more. 

Watch our video tribute here.

Charlotte Makgomo Mannya Maxeke was born in 1871 and despite the oppressive times she lived through, she managed to become the first South African black woman to obtain a B.Sc degree. She travelled to the UK and US with her choir, and, after being abandoned in the US by her choir director, won a bursary to study at the prestigious Wilberforce University, graduating in 1903. 

Maxeke returned to SA with a passion for education that she would carry for the rest of her life. With her husband Marshall Maxeke, she established a school in Everton, Katlehong. It still exists today. 

Decades before the famous 1956 women’s anti-pass march, which we commemorate every Women’s Day, Maxeke led the country’s first anti-pass campaign. More than 700 women marched to the Bloemfontein City Council and burned their passes in 1913, led by the Bantu Women’s League, which she founded. 

At a celebration in the Eastern Cape yesterday, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of her enormous willpower, and how she rose above the challenges that the time she lived in threw at her.

Her legacy involved empowering oneself through education – then using those tools to empower others. Today many women walk in Maxeke’s footsteps, occupying boardrooms, teaching in lecture rooms and formulating policies. ✊🏾 

Let’s continue living her legacy. As she put it: “This work is not for yourselves – kill that spirit of self, and do not live above your people but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you.”

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 8 April 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates