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Mabuza, Lindiwe

Prominent Refugees, 0

Lindiwe Mabuza

Lindiwe Mabuza

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".




UNHCR country pages

South Africa's Invisible People

In March 2011, UNHCR initiated a project with the South African non-governmental organization, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), to tackle the issue of statelessness. The specific goals of the project were to provide direct legal services to stateless people and those at risk of statelessness; to engage government on the need for legal reform to prevent and reduce statelessness; to raise awareness about stateless people and their rights; and to advocate for the ratification of the 1954 and 1961 UN conventions on statelessness.

LHR had conceived the project a year earlier after noticing that large numbers of Zimbabwean-born asylum-seekers were telling its staff that they faced problems getting jobs, studying or setting up businesses - all allowed under South African law. They told LHR that when they applied for Zimbabwean passports, necessary to access these rights, they were informed by consular officials that they were no longer recognized as Zimbabwean citizens. This effectively made them stateless.

Since the project's inception, LHR has reached more than 2,000 people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. These people came from more than 20 different countries. It has identified numerous categories of concern in South Africa, both migrants and those born in the country.

The following photo set portrays some of the people who have been, or are being, helped by the project. The portraits were taken by photographer Daniel Boshoff. Some of the subjects asked that their names be changed.

South Africa's Invisible People

South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where registered refugees and asylum-seekers can legally move about freely, access social services and compete with locals for jobs.

But while these right are enshrined in law, in practice they are sometimes ignored and refugees and asylum-seekers often find themselves turned away by employers or competing with the poorest locals for the worst jobs - especially in the last few years, as millions have fled political and economic woes in countries like Zimbabwe. The global economic downturn has not helped.

Over the last decade, when times turned tough, refugees in towns and cities sometimes became the target of the frustrations of locals. In May 2008, xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread to other parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.

In Atteridgeville, on the edge of the capital city of Pretoria - and site of some of the worst violence - South African and Somali traders, assisted by UNHCR, negotiated a detailed agreement to settle the original trade dispute that led to the torching of Somali-run shops. The UN refugee agency also supports work by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to counter xenophobia.

South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South AfricaPlay video

Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South Africa

Living in Pretoria as a refugee or asylum-seeker is challenging. Most either live rough on the streets or in cramped apartments in townships. There are also tensions with locals because of the perception that foreigners get a better deal than South African citizens.
Top business partners renew supportPlay video

Top business partners renew support

Executives from Manpower, Young & Rubicam, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft visit UNHCR operations in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.
Zimbabweans in South AfricaPlay video

Zimbabweans in South Africa

While Zimbabwe's main political rivals have agreed to hold power-sharing talks, there are continued reports of instability and violence in the country. The flow of Zimbabweans seeking asylum in neigbouring South Africa is growing, rather than ebbing. The UN refugee agency reports that there are more and more women and children joining the exodus.