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Famous South Africans

Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1667)

Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1667) Born in Dutch and he was not South African, but he was the founder of Cape Town, which makes him pretty famous for adopting South Africa as his own country. Jan was an explorer and originally 'came across' South Africa in 1652. It was the foundation of Cape Town that started an influx of Dutch settlers to South Africa.

Shaka kaSenzangakhona (1787-1828)

Shaka kaSenzangakhona (1787-1828) Is also known as Shaka Zulu, one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom. He has been called a military genius for his reforms and innovations, and condemned for the brutality of his reign.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973 Was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor who is best known as the author of the classic high-fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. He was born in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province) and lived there until he moved to England at age 3 after his father’s death. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972. He even wrote a fairly well-read piece about racism in South Africa at the time.

Daniel F. Malan (1874-1959)

Daniel F. Malan (1874-1959) A member of the National Party, he was the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1948 to 1954 and instituted the segregationist policy of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) Became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, serving until 1999. Nelson Mandela was actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s; he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. In 1993, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to dismantle the country's apartheid system. In 1994, Mandela was sworn in as South Africa's first black president. In 2009, Mandela's birthday (July 18) was declared "Mandela Day" to promote global peace and celebrate the South African leader's legacy. He was 95 in age when he died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013.

F.W. de Klerk

F.W. de Klerk Was president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994, during which time he worked with Nelson Mandela to successfully end the country's apartheid system of racial segregation. In 1991, de Klerk passed legislation that repealed discriminatory laws in the country. Two years later, de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their anti-apartheid activism. In 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial elections; Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president, and de Klerk became his first deputy.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu Is a South African Anglican cleric who is known for his role in the opposition to apartheid in South Africa. In 1978 Desmond Tutu was appointed general secretary of the South African Council of Churches and became a leading spokesperson for the rights of black South Africans. He became the first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town and is one of the most recognised figures in religion worldwide. During the 1980s he played an important role in drawing national and international attention to the iniquities of apartheid, and in 1984 he won the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts and he also won the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2005.

P.W. Botha (1916-2006)

P.W. Botha (1916-2006) Was a South African prime minister and president who maintained the racial caste system of apartheid. He rose to prominence in the right-wing National Party, which instituted the strict racial segregation system of apartheid. After he became the country's prime minister in 1978, he authorized deadly force against anti-apartheid activists, including members of the ANC. He stepped down from power in 1989.

Winnie Mandela (1936-2018)

Winnie Mandela Was the controversial wife of Nelson Mandela who spent her life in changing governmental roles. She raised Mandela’s children while he was serving his sentence in prison. In 1993, Winnie became president of the African National Congress Women's League, and in 1994, she was elected to Parliament, a position she retained beyond 1999, but resigned in 2003, after a financial scandal.

Albert Luthuli (1898-1967)

Albert Luthuli (1898-1967 Was South African 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. For his selfless work, he was awarded the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize.

Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu (1918-2011)

Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu (1918-2011) Was a political activist and nurse and one of the most important leaders of anti-Apartheid resistance in South Africa. She is often referred to as the `Mother of the Nation’. She acted on her ideal of human rights throughout her life, assisted by her husband and fellow activist, the late Walter Sisulu (1912-2003). In 1963, she was held in detention for information after the sensational Rivonia Raid for 90 days.

Helen Suzman (1917-2009)

Helen Suzman (1917-2009) A founder of the Progressive Federal Party which opposed apartheid ruling, human rights activist and an anti-apartheid member of South Africa's Parliament for 36 years.

Oliver Tambo (1917-1993)

Oliver Tambo (1917-1993) Was the acting president of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African anti-apartheid political party. Together with Nelson Mandela, Tambo opened the first black law firm in the country. Tambo served primarily in exile, and in 1990 he returned to South Africa to hand over party leadership to Nelson Mandela. In his remembrance, the South African government named one of the biggest international airports in Africa after him, O. R. Tambo International Airport.

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi (1911-1980)

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi (1911-1980) Was an anti-apartheid activist, Treason Trialist and President of the African National Congress (ANC) Women's League. She led a march of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against pass laws on August 9, 1956. This day is still celebrated as South Africa's Women's Day, it’s a public holiday.

Walter Sisulu (1912 – 2003)

Walter Sisulu (1912 – 2003) An activist and patriot who was jailed for life in 1963, along with Nelson Mandela and 9 other activists. He became deputy president of the African National Congress after his release in 1989 and has been the cornerstone of the "old guard" in the struggle.

Steve Biko (1946-1977)

Steve Biko (1946-1977) Led the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. After being arrested many times for his anti-apartheid work, he died in 1977, from injuries sustained while in police custody.

John Vorster (1915-1983)

John Vorster (1915-1983 Served as prime minister and president of South Africa. He was forced to resign from the presidency in 1979 because of a political scandal.

Gary Player

Gary Player Is a South African golfer who won the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA championship during his career. He entered the U.S. PGA circuit in 1957

Miriam Makeba (1932-2008)

Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) Also known as "Mama Africa," was a popular South African singer who introduced Xhosa and Zulu songs to Western audiences. She is best known for the songs "Pata Pata," "The Click Song" and "Malaika". With the help of Harry Belafonte, Makeba settled in the United States, where she embarked on a successful singing and recording career. In 1965, she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording. In the mid-1980s she renewed her popularity after she met Paul Simon and joined Simon's history-making Graceland tour. She continued making music and working as a civil rights activist until her death in 2008.

Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner Is a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist and a science writer. After receiving his Doctorate of Philosophy from Exeter College, he worked for 25 years at the Medical Research Council Unit in Cambridge. Brenner's many contributions to molecular biology led to his being co-awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002.

Hector Pieterson (1963 – 16 June 1976)

Hector Pieterson (1963 – 16 June 1976) Became the subject of an iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa when a news photograph by Sam Nzima of the dying Hector being carried by another student while his sister ran next to them, was published around the world. He was killed at the age of 13 when the police opened fire students protesting against Bantu Education on. For years, 16 June stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Today, it is designated National Youth Day, a public holiday in South Africa to honour young people and bring attention to their needs. On 16 June 2002 the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum was opened near the place he was shot in Orlando West, Soweto to honour Hector and those who died around the country in the 1976 uprising.

Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki Is a South African politician best known for serving as president for two-terms after Nelson Mandela. He rose as an anti-apartheid supporter within the political ranks of the African National Congress.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk Is an entrepreneur known for co-founding Tesla Motors, X.com which later became PayPal and SpaceX. Musk made headlines in May 2012 when SpaceX launched a rocket that would send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station.

Francois Pienaar

Francois Pienaar Was a distinctly average rugby player who did amazing things for his country. With only 29 international caps, all of them as captain, he became the first South African captain to lift the Rugby World Cup in 1995. After being dropped from the Springbok team in 1996, Pienaar went on to pursue a career with English club Saracens.

The Big-Bang Club (1990-1994)

The Big-Bang Club (1990-1994) A group of four photographers who tried to change people’s perceptions of South Africa and to raise awareness of the horrors of the apartheid through photography. The four photographers were Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and Joao Silva, two of whom won the Pulitzer Prize. A film is now being made about them.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron Is a South African-born actress, best known for her roles in such films as North Country and Monster, for which she won an Academy Award. She first began appearing in films in the mid-1990s, establishing herself with roles in The Cider House Rules and The Devil's Advocate. She went on to give an Oscar-winning performance as serial killer Eileen Wuornos in Monster, and received well-reviewed performances in North Country and Young Adult.

Nkosi Johnson (1989-2001)

Nkosi Johnson (1989-2001) 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. Nkosi was legally adopted by Gail Johnson, a Johannesburg Public Relations practitioner, when his own mother, debilitated by the disease, was no longer able to care for him. Nelson Mandela referred to Nkosi as an "icon of the struggle for life."

Oscar Pistorius (Blade Runner)

Oscar Pistorius (Blade Runner)Is a South African sprint runner who became the first amputee to compete in the Olympics in 2012. To his name, he has so many gold, silver and bronze Paralympics medals. In 2013, Pistorius admitted to shooting and killing his girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp.