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Our People: Thenjiwe Mtintso


Meet Thenjiwe Mtintso, the tenacious former Daily Dispatch journalist who survived brutal police torture to become an admired military commander, passionate gender activist, one of our first democratically elected MPs and, ultimately, a highly respected international diplomat.

A student at the University of Fort Hare, Thenjiwe was active in student politics and soon become involved with the Black Consciousness Movement, where she worked closely with both Steve Biko and Mamphela Ramphele.

Her association with Biko, as well as her liberal journalism, soon caught the security police's attention, however, and she would be detained several times during the mid-1970s.

On 8 July 1977 - 42 years ago today - Thenjiwe, Biko and Ramphele were all arrested again and brought before the King William's Town magistrate's court, this time for breaking their various banning orders.

Less than 10 weeks later, Biko was dead, murdered while in police custody, and Thenjiwe, who had herself been brutally tortured while in detention, fled into exile.

And despite suffering severe physical and psychological damage, she would become one of South Africa's most admired political leaders.

After receiving military training, she rose through the ranks to become one of the first woman MK commanders.

Post-1994, she served as a Member of Parliament before being elected the first chair of the Commission on Gender Equality.

In 1998, she became the first woman ANC deputy secretary-general and was, for a time, the lone woman among the ANC Top 6.

Since 2004 she has represented South Africa abroad as our ambassador in Cuba, Italy, Bucharest and Malawi, her current post.

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