Reference Entry

Mbeki, Govan Archibald Munyelwa 1910–2001 South African political activist.

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Mbeki, Govan Archibald Munyelwa 1910–2001 South African political activist.

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Govan Archibald Munyelwa Mbeka was a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC), which led the fight against Apartheid, the system of racial separation that was once law in South Afrcia. Mbeki was also a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP).Mbeki was born in South Africa’s Transkei region, now part of Eastern Cape Province. He went to a mission school and later attended the University of Fort Hare on a scholarship, gaining his bachelor of arts degree in 1937. While he was in college he joined the ANC. After graduation Mbeki taught at Adams College but was dismissed for political activity. He then managed a cooperative store and edited the Territorial Magazine from 1938 to 1944 . In 1943 he was elected to the United Transkeian General Council, or Bunga. That year Mbeki helped the ANC prepare a document called African Claims, which was a response to the Atlantic Charter, the declaration of human rights issued during World War II (1939–1945) by the United States and Great Britain. It became the basis for the ANC Freedom Charter of 1955. Obliged to return to teaching when his store was destroyed by a tornado, Mbeki was again dismissed for political activity. In 1955 he became the Port Elizabeth editor of New Age, a left-wing paper, making no secret of his sympathy for left-wing views, which were influenced by the economic and political ideas of Socialism and communism.Mbeki became deeply involved in ANC politics in Port Elizabeth and made it the center of ANC activity in the country. He put into action the “M” Plan, developed by fellow ANC member Nelson Mandela, for creating a system of small ANC groups around the country in preparation for the need to work underground or in secret. Mbeki helped organize the 1955 Congress of the People and in 1956 became the national ANC chairman. He joined the South African Communist Party in 1961. In 1960 and 1961 Mbeki was twice arrested and imprisoned under what the government called preventive measures. While under house arrest in 1963, he went underground to join Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC. He was arrested in July 1963 when the police raided the ANC farm outside Johannesburg that was the organization’s secret headquarters. Mbeki stood trial with Mandela and others for treason, charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. In 1964 Mbeki was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. The same year, his book The Peasants’ Revolt was published in Great Britain and banned in South Africa. In 1977, while Mbeki remained imprisoned on Robben Island, the University of Amsterdam named him an honorary doctor of social sciences for The Peasants’ Revolt.The South African government released Mbeki from prison in November 1987, hoping he would show “moderation,” but he at once announced that he continued to be a member of both the ANC and the SACP. The government restricted him to Port Elizabeth. That restriction was lifted in November 1989, and after the ban on the ANC ended in February 1990 Mbeki resumed his place on its executive committee. In May 1994, when South Africa’s first free elections were held, the ANC became the dominant party in the government, and Mbeki was elected deputy president of the senate. Thabo Mbeki, his son, was elected deputy president of South Africa and in 1999 succeeded Mandela as president of the country. Govan Mbeki retired from politics in 1999 and died two years later.

Reference Entry.  593 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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