Joseph Johannes Marks

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Biographical information

Joe Marks © SABC


Political activist, member of ANC, MK, UDF and SACP, Democratic Party Member of Parliament, Vice President of UDF

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Mossel Bay,Cape Province,South Africa
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Joseph Johannes Marks was born on 22 April 1936 in Mossel Bay, where his father, a fisherman, was also born.  He grew up in Pacaltsdorp near George in the Western Province. Marks attended the local school where he completed Standard Five. 

In 1950 he moved to Cape Town and worked as a labourer at a tobacco company in Observatory. He held various other jobs as a labourer. He became a fruit and vegetable hawker in 1976 after he was fired from his position as a foreman in a construction company for staying away from work on 16 and 17 June, at the height of the Soweto Uprising.

Active in liberation politics since 1954, he was jailed three times in the Eighties and banned from all political activity between 1988 and 2 February 1990. Marks’ interest in politics began in 1952 when he attended a meeting held at the Cape Town Drill Hall, addressed by Cissie Gool and her father, Dr Abdulla Abdurahman, both political activists. Subsequently, Marks became involved in community organisations such as the Athlone Civic Association. In the period 1980 to 1981, he was the Vice-Chair of the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee(CAHAC).  He was also the Chair of the Steenberg Rent Action Committee, which was affiliated to the CAHAC. In 1983, Marks delivered the welcoming address at the United Democratic Front(UDF) launch in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.  He was the Vice-President of the UDF in the Cape and a member of the UDF National Executive. He was also active in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) . 

Frustrated with the ANC, Marks joined the Democratic Party (DP) in 1993 and served the Party as an Member of Parliament from 1994 to 1999, after which he withdrew from active politics. In February 2004, the ANC announced that Joe Marks had returned to the fold after 10 years as a member of the Democratic Party and Democratic Alliance.

After his retirement from politics he was involved with local civics and worked with HIV positive community centres and with community health centres. His son Joseye Marks says:

"My father was active in setting up health centres and in the community police forum. But over last years was very active in the Khoisan movement,"

Marks’ other interests included reviving the Khoisan movement, chess and racing pigeons.  He was the Vice-Chair of the Olympic Racing Pigeon Club. Marks was married to Magdalene, the treasurer of the Steenberg Rent Action Committee, and they have seven children. Marks died in 2011, at the age of 75, due to natural causes.

ANC member Chris Nissen who worked closely with Marks in the UDF says of him

"I worked close with Mr Marks in the UDF, he was humble, hard working yet compassionate and loved laughter,"

Joe Marks leaves behind his wife, seven children, 21 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

• Gastrow, S. (1985). Who's Who in South African Politics. Braamfontein, Johannesburg: Ravan Press (Pty) Ltd.
• Joe Marks back with ANC. ANC Daily News Briefing, 1 March 2004, [online] Available at:[Accessed 25 January 2010]
• SABC, (2011), UDF stalwart Joe Marks laid to rest, from the South African Broadcasting Corporation, 26 November, [online] Available at[Accessed on 5 December 2011]
• Adams, N (2011), Joe Marks dies, from Eye Witness News, [online], Available at  [Accessed on 5 December 2011]
• Email from Andhor Marks to SAHO, dated 30 April 2013

Last updated : 05-Jul-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 21-Dec-2011