Tribute to Lindiwe Mabuza, diplomat, poet, and cultural activist

Ann Linde, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden with Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza and former Deputy Minister of International Relations of South Africa, Ebrahim Ebrahim (photo: twitter)

7 December 2021

Lindiwe Mabuza, poet, intellectual and one of South Africa’s most distinguished diplomats, passed away peacefully on December 6, at the age of 87 in Pretoria surrounded by loved ones.

Tributes have poured in for the former Head of Mission to South Africa’s embassies in Germany, Malaysia and the Philippines, and the United Kingdom.

She joined the African National Congress in exile and became active in the 1960s when she studied in the United States. A promising academic who had seured a Fulbright Scholarship to Stanford University, Mabuza took the bold decision to resign her teaching post in order to join the ANC on a full-time basis.

She was pivotal to Radio Freedom, which broadcast from Lusaka, and served on the liberation movement’s culture committee in the late 1970s. It was her career as a diplomat and as cultural representative that marked her out however.

Long before she was given the title of Ambassador, Lindiwe Mabuza was a diplomat. In 1979, she was appointed as the ANC’s chief representative in Scandinavia. The ANC sent her to Sweden and within a short time she had opened offices in Denmark, Norway and Finland. These became a significant source of solidarity and political and moral support for the ANC during the next decade, and a crucial pillar in the international movement against apartheid.

It was here that her career as a diplomat began to take shape. Mabuza served as a crucial liaison between the black masses in South Africa and the people of Sweden through their government. She travelled the length and breadth of Scandinavia, talking to school children and addressing communities, to tell them about the obligations they had to fight apartheid. She is widely recognised for having deepened the ties that continue to bind South Africans and Scandinavians.

After Sweden, Mabuza was assigned to the United States of America. Here she picked up her old networks and developed new ones. She reached out to artists like Quincy Jones, Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte. She also forged deep relationships with senior African American leaders like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Randall Robinson, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Barbara Lee, famed litigator Johnny Cochran and many others. These political and cultural icons became a crucial part of the ANC’s strategy for challenging apartheid using hearts and minds in the 1980s.

When Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, Ambassador Mabuza was central to organising his first trip to the US, setting up media interviews and brokering meetings with key leaders. When the ANC won elections in 1994, Ambassador Mabuza served briefly as a parliamentarian before President Mandela appointed her to serve as Head of Mission in Germany.

Ambassador Mabuza was deeply respected across the world. She leaves a legacy of strength and empowerment for women across South Africa, with a particular emphasis on the diplomatic corps.

By Sisonke Msimang