Lindiwe Mabuza's versatility led her into many professions, yet her single driving ambition was to see the end of apartheid in South Africa. She worked as a professor, poet, short-story writer, radio journalist, editor, and political organiser for the African National Congress (ANC). After the fall of apartheid, she became South Africa's first black ambassador to Germany.
Mabuza grew up in the working-class coal-mining town of Newcastle, struggling against crushing poverty. Her father was a truck driver and her mother worked as a maid. Mabuza became the only one in her family of seven to finish high school. Intent on her attending college, her mother and grandmother encouraged her to take advantage of the scholarship she was offered.
Mabuza's grandmother had often told her stories about their Zulu heritage. When the time came, she enrolled in Roma University across the border in Lesotho instead of at a college in South Africa in order to increase her understanding of native African culture and literature.
When she arrived back home to Newcastle in 1961, the country's hard-line apartheid policy had toughened following the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Non-white students were forced out of multi-racial universities and into exclusively black institutions with a strictly censored curriculum. Non-white educators resigned in droves. When Mabuza applied for a position at a college in Vryheid, she was denied the post. She moved to Swaziland, where she taught English and Zulu literature.
In 1964, Mabuza began graduate studies in English at Stanford University, California. She earned her second master's degree in American studies at University of Minnesota, where she remained to teach sociology. She became involved in a project for wayward adolescent students, gaining their attention through creative writing and poetry. This project inspired her to write. Combining her broad knowledge of international literature with her experience of Zulu culture, she wrote a collection of poems, "Letter to Letta".
When black South Africans were forcibly removed from segregated townships to "homelands" and Afrikaans was made one of the official languages in black schools, Mabuza became politically active. She joined the ANC in 1975 and became a journalist for ANC's Radio Freedom, based in Lusaka. Her concern with women's issues led to her involvement with Voice of the Women, the ANC's feminist journal, which encouraged women to write poetry.
"Poetry is part of the struggle," she says. "You use the armed struggle; you use political agitation methods.... It gets to the heart of the matter. It moves people." After editing the magazine, Mabuza was sent to open up ANC branches in Scandinavia. She returned to the United States in 1986 as the ANC's chief representative, organising anti-apartheid boycotts and rallies, putting pressure on major corporations to withdraw their investment and facilities from South Africa.
With the legalisation of the ANC and the release of its celebrated leader, Nelson Mandela, in 1990, apartheid was on its way out. In 1994, Mabuza became a member of South Africa's first multi-racial government but within a year, President Mandela offered her the job of ambassador to Germany, which she accepted.
Currently, Mabuza's focus is on encouraging international investment in South Africa and building trading ties and cultural exchange with Germany, since, in her own words, "Democracy without housing, without health and without food is meaningless".