Biographies of Famous South Africans. Meet some of the people that helped inspire a nation to greater heights. Some are tragedies, some are the stuff of legends.
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Those who have expanded our horizons.
The stuff of legends.

Nelson Mandela

1918 - 2013
Freedom fighter, boxer, lawyer, political prisoner, president and 'Father of the Nation'. He founded the ANC's armed wing 'Umkhonto we Sizwe' in 1961 and led his country into the post-Apartheid era in 1994. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Chris Barnard

1922 - 2001
Surgeon who performed the first human heart transplant in the world, in 1967. He was also the first to do a "piggyback" transplant in 1971, and the first to do a heart-lung transplant. He pioneered a system of post-operative intensive care that markedly decreased patient mortality.
Desmond Tutu

1931 - ?
Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Cape Town, head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and activist. He boldly engaged in a nationwide defiance campaign under Apartheid. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

"Sailor" Malan

1910 - 1963
The outstanding fighter pilot of the Second World War, and by the end of 1941 was the top scorer with 32 kills, plus 2 unconfirmed - a record which he held for three years. He developed the "Ten Rules for Air Fighting", which remains still today the classic tenets for successful air fighting.
Steve Biko

1946 - 1977
Activist and black consciousness leader who preached Black solidarity to “break the chains of oppression”. He died in police custody after being beaten and interrogated for 24 days.

1932 -
Singer and human rights activist was exiled for 30 years from her home country and is the first South African to win a Grammy award. She twice addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations and is a winner of the 1986 Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize.

Jan Smuts

1870 - 1950
Lawyer, Boer general, guerrilla leader, Allied Field Marshall, statesman and philosopher. He helped found the League of Nations and wrote the Covenant of the United Nations. He also originated the concept of 'Holism'
Albert Luthuli

1898 - 1967
Mission teacher who became a leader of the ANC. He believed in non-violence and defied the Verwoerdian administration with protest actions such as passbook-burning. He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize.

1975 - ?
Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actress, dancer and animal activist had a major role in a hard-hitting anti-rape campaign in South Africa and  frequently acts as an unofficial, but highly effective ambassador for her home country.

Enoch Sontonga
circa 1873 - 1905
Composer and teacher who created the song "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", which became the anthem of three countries and generations of Africans.
Olive Schreiner
1855 - 1920
The first South African novelist of consequence, and one of the most significant feminist theorists of the twentieth century. Her most famous works were "Story of an African Farm" and "Women and Labour".
Nadine Gordimer
1923 - ?
Novelist, essayist, screenwriter, political activist and champion of the disenfranchised won the Booker Prize in 1974 for 'The Conservationist' and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.

Those who have inspired us. Those who have defined us.
Those who have shown us our common humanity.

Saartjie Baartman

1789 - 1816
The 'Hottentot Venus', as she was called in Europe, was a Khoisan girl who was misled and humiliated in her short and tragic life, only to have further indignity bestowed on her after death. 
Herman Charles Bosman

1909 - 1955
Irreverent and controversial master of the short story, once a death row inmate, who broke new boundaries with his satirical portrayal of backveld Afrikaners and the more seedy characters found in metropolitan Johannesburg.
Alison Botha

1970 - ?
Rape survivor who was left for dead after suffering a horrifying attack that shocked a nation. Today she is an international speaker on rape and a successful author.

J. M. Coetzee

1940 - ?
This Professor of Literature and author became the first writer to win two Booker prizes. He won the first in 1983, for the "Life and Times of Michael K." and the second in 1999 for "Disgrace". In 2003 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Bram Fischer

1908 - 1975
Rhodes Scholar, lawyer and anti-Apartheid revolutionary who defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial and died serving a life sentence for treason. 
Athol Fugard

1932 - ?
One of the country's premier playwrights whose works, many which were previously banned, deal with contemporary South Africa and the psychological and physical barriers confronted in trying to overcome Apartheid.

Emily Hobhouse

1860 - 1926
Humanitarian activist who exposed the horrors of concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War. Her ashes are buried at the foot of the Women's Memorial monument in Bloemfontein.
Jan Hofmeyr

1895 - 1948
Child prodigy, Professor, prominent United Party politician and intermittent Prime Minister, whose liberal sympathies and opposition to the removal of the African franchise in 1936 made him a target of the Nationalists.
Mike Horn

1966 - ?
Adventurer and extreme sport enthusiast that has set several world records and firsts, among them the solo, unpowered circumnavigation of the globe.

Nkosi Johnson

1989 - 2001
Aids activist who was the longest surviving child born with the virus in the country. He became a symbol for sufferers after an emotional speech he made at the World Aids Conference. 
Hugh Masekela

1939 - ?
Renowned trumpeter and musical innovator who has popularised his particular brand of African music accross the globe for over four decades.
'Baby Jake' Matlala

1962 - 2013
Four-time world flyweight boxing champion who was the shortest man in boxing and retired successfully defending his crown, at the age of 40.

Precious McKenzie

1936 - ?
South Africa has a hero who remains unsung in his country of birth. Precious Mckenzie had to overcome numerous trials during his lifetime to become the sportsman who some herald as one of the all-time greats.

Alan Paton

1903 - 1988

Former principal and famous author of Cry, the Beloved Country who tirelessly campaigned for a better South Africa during its dark years.
Sol Plaatje

1876 - 1932
Journalist, author and activist who wrote Mhudi, the first novel by a black South African. He was also a founding member of the ANC and had a major role in establishing Nkosi Sikilel i'Afrika as the anthem of freedom.

Gary Player

5 - ?
Golfing legend and philanthropist who has won 160-plus tournaments worldwide, including 9 Grand Slam tournaments. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
Walter Sisulu

1912 -
Activist and patriot who was jailed for life in 1963, along with Nelson Mandela. He became deputy president of the ANC after his release in 1989 and has been the cornerstone of the "old guard" in the struggle.
Zanele Situ

1979 - ?
Javelin and discus athlete who became the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal at the paraplegic games.

Josiah Thugwane

1971 - ?
Hijack survivor, marathon runner and the first black South African to win a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Shaka Zulu

circa 1787 - 1828
Military strategist who assumed the throne of the Zulu Kingdom. After he reorganized the Zulu into a military clan, he soon forged them into a force unchallenged in Southern African kingdoms.    

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