Henry Gordon ‘Squire’ Makgothi

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Biographical information

1
Synopsis:

Teacher,  President of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League; accused in the 1956 Treason Trial. Makgothi was also detained on Robben Island for 8 years for trying to leave the country without a passport; member of the SACP and ANC Depu

First name: 
Henry Gordon
Last name: 
Makgothi
Date of birth: 
25 December 1928
Location of birth: 
Adelaide, Eastern Cape
Date of death: 
24 March 2011

Henry Gordon "Squire" Makgothi was born on 25 December 1928 to Walter Mokowa, a school teacher and Martha Makgothi, a domestic worker. He attended Pimville Government School and completed his secondary school education at St Peters Secondary School in Rosettenville.  He then went on to Fort Hare College in the Eastern Cape, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and a teacher’s diploma.

In 1944, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League at St Peters Secondary School, together with Joe Matthews (Chair) and Michael Tsoke (Secretary) - who later became Mayor of Ga-Rankuwa. Makgothi then taught at Pimville High School. He actively participated in the 1952 Defiance Campaign  and was subsequently expelled and barred from the teaching profession. To make ends meet, he briefly worked as a bus driver for the Public Utilities Company (Putco). Thereafter, he found employment as a records clerk at Isaacs and Kassel, an Accounting and Auditing company.

In 1953, Makgothi attended the Bucharest World Youth Festival.  In May 1945, he was elected as President of the ANC Youth League in the Transvaal. On 5 December 1956, he was arrested on charges of treason at his home in Sophiatown and detained at the Fort. On 21 December 1956 he was released on bail.

During the preparatory trial he was hospitalised with tuberculosis for several months at the East Rand Mine Hospital. In August 1958, when he returned to the trial, charges against him were withdrawn.  Fortunately his employers had retained his position, so he could immediately return to his former job.

He was constantly harassed and in 1960 he crossed the border into Bechuanaland (Botswana).

Officials in the then-British Protectorate arrested and handed him over to the South African Police who charged Makgothi for leaving the country without a passport.  He was sentenced to ten years in prison and spent two years at Leeukop Prison, and eight years on Robben Island. Whilst in prison he mentored many fellow political prisoners in political classes and even taught the basics of reading and writing.

On his release from Robben Island in the 1970s, he was restricted to Mabopane outside Pretoria.  However, Makgothi escaped to Swaziland and joined the ANC in exile. He was a founder member and on the staff of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) at Mazimbu in Tanzania. Whilst in exile he was elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC until his return home in 1990. He was the ANC’s political Commissar for East Africa. Makgothi was also elected as the Deputy Secretary–General of the ANC in exile. Whilst in exile he contracted malaria which dogged him for years. Makgothi was also entrusted with fundraising for the ANC in the early 1990s.

On his return to South Africa, Makgothi worked in the ANC’s Finance Office, and served as Chief Whip of the National Council of Provinces from 1997 to 1999.

Makgothi also held positions in business; he served as Chairperson of Zonkizizwe Investments and a member of the National Lottery Board. He has also served on the board of the company Reshebile Aviation & Protection Services (RAPS), which is responsible for the security screening of South African Airways personnel. According to the City Press, even at the age of 83 one would find Makgothi working full time as the Chairperson of Isqithi (Island) Investments, a company which seeks to provide financial assistance to the family members of Robben Island prisoners. Mokgothi died on 24 March 2011 after suffering from a stroke.


References:
• Field S, (2011). Squire ”“ revolutionary until his last breath, City Press, p28, 27 March 2011
• Bell T, (2011), Henry 'Squire' Makgothi: Unassuming ANC leader , from the Sunday Times, 27
• March  [online], available at www.timeslive.co.za[accessed on 29 March 2011]
•  Mthembu J, (2011), ANC pays tribute to struggle veteran Henry Makgothi, 24 March, from the African National Congress, [online], available at www.anc.org.za  [accessed on 29 March 2011]

Last updated : 25-Sep-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Apr-2011