The Role and Impact of Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile and Women in South Africa Politics


Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile has played a major and vital role in the history of South African politics and the impact that women have had in politics, in addition to the fight against the apartheid movement and the rights for all people in South Africa. During her childhood, Mbete became highly aware of the issues that were taking place throughout her city and the entire country of South Africa. As the years progressed, her passion and dedication in paid off, especially after her introduction to the African National Congress, (ANC). After actively participating in the ANC for several years, Mbete decided to leave South Africa and finish her work with ANC and other organisations. Years later after her return from exile, Mbete joined the African National Congress Women’s League, ran for the 1994 South African Constituent Assembly, and her biggest accomplishment of all: the current Speaker of the National Assembly of the ANC. Although there have been numerous obstacles throughout her time in office, Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile is a great example that women can have a voice in politics and that they can use their voice to impact not just the political arena of South Africa, but any issue throughout South Africa.


Baleka Mbete, African National Congress, exile, politics, women, music, arts


Due to the numerous segregation legislation and grievances that affected South Africa during the early 20th century, John L. Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, and Sol T. Plaatje,decided to establish the South African Native National Congress on January 8, 1912; later named the African National Congress (ANC).[1] Uniting and bonding the people of Africa together along with leading the struggle for “fundamental political, social and economic change” became the mission and purpose of the African National Congress.[2] After the creation of the apartheid system in 1949, the African National Congress supported and battled for the civil liberties of Africans and other disenfranchised people, in addition to taking action against discrimination, racism, bigotry and oppression, through consolidating mass resistance[3] . Throughout the years, many well-known historical leaders participated in the African National Congress, like Nelson Mandela, whose participation in the ANC shaped and molded his leadership skills and development, the Rivonia Trial in 1963, and leading South Africa’s peaceful transition. Nevertheless, there are other leaders - less publicly recognized - who have changed the political arena of South Africa, and one of those leaders is none other than Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile. Mbete’s platform as a member of the ANC created a major voice within the committees that  played a vital role in helping the voices of women who wants others to know that women are in this fight against the apartheid movement and fighting for the rights of all peoples of South Africa. As a result of her active participation in organisations like the ANC, in addition to the numerous accomplishments she have achieved during her exile, Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile impacted South Africa with her leadership and determination in changing the perspectives of how women are viewed in politics, as well as fueling the wave of women empowerment in South Africa.

Early Life of Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile

Magubane, Peter. 1960. "Sharpeville Massacre." BAHA. Baileys African History Archive. Sharpeville, Johannesburg, South Africa

Baleka Mbete was born in the township of Claremont on 24 September 1949 in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. While in Northern Transvaal, she lived with her grandmother and attended pre-school. At the age of nine, her family made the decision to move to Fort Hare University (Eastern Cape) due to her father’s appointment as the institution’s librarian[4] . Due to her father’s affiliation with organisations such as the South African Indian Congress and South African Communist Party, Mbete became very aware and knowledgeable about the issues that happened in South Africa. Unfortunately, after the institution learned of her father’s affiliation with the South African Communist Party in addition to the recent shutdown of all political undertakings on the campus, the institution removed and released Mbete’s father from his position as librarian. Even in the midst of the situation that took place at Fort Hare University, the disappointment did not stop Mbete from continuing her passion, activism and solidarity in standing up for what she believed in. Years later, after Mbete decided to enroll into the Eshowe Training College in South Africa, Eshowe Training College expelled Mbete due to “challenging the college authorities”[5] . After her expulsion, Mbete completed her college career in 1973 from the Lovedale Teacher Training College, where she took all of the information she learned from the institutions she attended and made the decision to become a teacher; a decision that led her to teach in her hometown of Claremont, Durban.

Early Adulthood of Baleka Mbete

Magubane, Peter. 1960. "Sharpeville Massacre." BAHA. Baileys African History Archive. Sharpeville, Johannesburg, South Africa

During her time in Durban, Mbete learned and affiliated herself to various organisations within the Black Consciousness Movement, founded and molded after the events that occurred in the 1960s and earlier, especially the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 that resulted in the death of 69 people and injury of hundreds.[6] Activist Steven “Steve” Biko founded and established the Black Consciousness Movement, a movement against the apartheid[7] – a system created by the National Party, or NP, that enforced segregation throughout South Africa in 1948 – and the social injustices that South Africans had to face on a daily basis, including the various segregation laws and pass laws.[8] Years after her exposure to the Black Consciousness Movement, Mbete decided to participate in the African National Congress and learned more about their structures.

The Exile Era of Baleka Mbete

Three years after she completed her college education at Lovedale Teacher Training College, things started to increasingly fraught with tension and danger in South Africa. During her participation in the African National Congress and teaching in Durban, Mbete’s brother - an active member of the Natal Youth Organisation, an umbrella organisation under the influence of the Black Consciousness Movement – had been under arrest due to suspicion of treason.[9] Mbete decided to depart from teaching after her brother’s arrest; however, officers arrested Mbete and detained due to her affiliated with the Black Consciousness Movement and the African National Congress. During her time in jail, Mbete received a letter from her brother warning her to leave South Africa. Taking heed of the warning her brother gave her and with the help and support of the African National Congress, Baleka Mbete decided to leave South Africa in April 1976 and go to Swaziland.

During her time in exile, Mbete continued her work with the African National Congress and resumed her passion in teaching, that later resulted as a teaching post in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland. In addition to teaching, Mbete wrote many poems during her time in exile. During this time, Mbete wrote a lot about her life: what led her to join politics and what led her to leave her two children behind in South Africa.[10] A year later, Mbete made the decision to leave Swaziland and went to Tanzania, where in 1977 Mbete became the secretary of the ANC regional women’s section, with Mbete holding the first secretary position. The ANC created the position after the high increase rate of exiled women in Africa.

One year later, in 1978, Keorapetse Kgositsile – an exiled writer and poet – and Mbete got married. Three years after their marriage, Mbete decided to join her husband in Kenya, where her husband taught as a professor at the University of Nairobi. Unfortunately, Mbete left Kenya and fled to Botswana after an attempted government takeover, or coup. Nonetheless, Mbete stayed persistent in her work with the African National Congress.

Goldblatt, David. 1994. "Personalities." Africa Media Online. Africa Media Online. Parliament, Cape Town

During her time in exile, Mbete continued to work with the African National Congress and decided to teach in the field of arts and music. Years after her departure from South Africa, Mbete became the head of the writers and music units of the Medu Gaborone Arts Ensemble”[11] . Unfortunately, in 1985, a raid arose by the South African Defence Force (SADF) that led Mbete to leave again, but this time to Zimbabwe. Although the raid led to difficult times for Mbete, she continued her work with the African National Congress and participated in women committees, like the African National Congress Women’s League, better known as ANCWL. Although her affiliation with the Medu Ensemble ended, Mbete continued to stay passionate and vocal about the importance of the arts, music and the influences of artists and foreign artists. For example, in 1991, the cultural boycott that occurred in South Africa. During this time, many artists needed the permission and blessing from the anti-apartheid movements in order to perform in South Africa. Mbete wanted to make sure that the artists that came to South Africa came to support the anti-apartheid movement and not just there for publicity.[12]

Goldblatt, David. 1994. "Personalities." Africa Media Online. Africa Media Online. Parliament, Cape Town

Baleka Mbete and Women in Politics in South Africa

Mbete’s influence in the African National Congress led to numerous opportunities for her to rise in her ranks. In 1990, the African National Congress Women’s League elected Mbete as the secretary general. In 1994, Mbete and other women ran for the April 1994 election to the South African Constituent Assembly on the ANC Slate[13] . Indeed, numerous well-known women ran in the election as well: Winnie Mandela, Gertrude Shope, Albertina Sisulu, and many more. Mbete became extremely vocal about the rights of women and empowering women to be a part of politics and understanding the issues that took place in South Africa. In Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, Mbete mentions in her interview about the numerous issues that many South African women had against each other and some solutions to overcome those issues:

“…we fought a battle amongst ourselves, to try and be more organised and mobilise women, and to try as far as possible to find a way for us to recognise issues on which we agreed, areas where we could converge and speak with one voice. At the 1990 Malibongwe conference in Amsterdam we agreed that whereas all formations and sectors in the country had come together to form national bodies, women had failed to do so up to that point, and that we had to do that. Of course, we subsequently had to re-prioritise after the unbanning of the ANC and to focus rather on the recruitment drive to rebuild ANC structures on the ground.” – Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile, Interview[14]

Even today, Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile continues to take a stand against the numerous issues that have plagued the country fight and speak on the behalf of the people of South Africa. In 2004, the ANC appointed Mbete as the National Assembly Speaker, with Mbete as the second woman appointed to this position, after Frene Ginwala.[15] In addition to her position as the National Assembly Speaker, Mbete received the position as the Deputy President of South Africa in 2008, and later elected and re-elected as the National Chairperson of the African National Congress in 2007 and 2012.[16] Baleka Mbete is currently the Speaker of the National Assembly again, a position that she initially received in 2014.[17]

Trouble in Parliament: Scandals and Problems of Baleka Mbete

Though Mbete has accomplished many tasks as the Speaker of the National Assembly, she has been under radar due to numerous decisions, confrontations and scandals that has affected her and her character in the African National Congress. After her appointment as the Deputy Speaker of the African National Congress in 1997, officials discovered that Mbete had an illegitimate driver’s license.[18] In addition to the illegal driver’s license, Mbete skimmed money from travel agents. Mbete received national attention after officials revealed her participation in the Travelgate scandal.

In addition to the Travelgate scandal, in 2013, an investigation took place after a discovery of a R25-million share allocation by Gold Fields, a gold-mining firm located in South Africa. The law firm believed that Mbete’s affiliation with the R25-million share allocated “increased” her part in a 2010 empowerment deal.[19] On the other hand, the New York law firm could not find anything against Mbete. Throughout her time as the Speaker of Parliament, Mbete has received a lot of controversy and heat over her decisions and choices; nonetheless, those statements have not stopped her to fulfill her duties and responsibilities as the Speaker of the National Assembly.


In the midst of various scandals and controversy, the legacy and accomplishments of Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile has changed the face of South Africa and the viewpoint of how women can be active in politics and their participation in changing and eliminating the factors that have plagued South Africa and the people who lives there. Although there are still a few challenges that are still taking place in South Africa, women like Mbete have shown the people – not just in South Africa, but people around the world – that your voice is powerful and can create change and improvements in any area of your life. Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile is a good example that women have a voice and they can use their voice to impact and change politics and other important issues in the world.


n.d. African National Congress. Accessed November 19, 2016.

African Research Bulletin: Political, Social, and Cultural Series. 2004. "New Speaker." Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural Series 15703.

Goldblatt, David. 1994. "Personalities." Africa Media Online. Africa Media Online. Parliament, Cape Town.

Hirschmann, David. 1990. "The Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa." The Journal of Modern African Studies 1-22.

Kagan, Rachel. 1994. Biographies of ANC Women Candidates in April's Election. Reports/Biographies, South Africa: Africa Fund.

Magubane, Peter. 1960. "Sharpeville Massacre." BAHA. Baileys African History Archive. Sharpeville, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Primo, Natasha. 1997. "Women's Emancipation: Resistance and Empowerment." Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity 31-44.

n.d. South African History Online. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Times, Scott Kraft. 1991. "A Cultural Boycott in Evolution." Los Angeles Times 1-2. Accessed November 23, 2016.

Nicolson, Greg. 07 Dec 2009. “Baleka Mbete: In the centre of the maelstrom.” Daily Maverick.  Accessed December 4, 2016.

McKune, G. Brummer, S. 06 Sep 2013. “Investigators: ‘Gold Fields bribed Mbete’. Mail and Guardian. Accessed December 12, 2016.

End Notes

[1] The history behind the African National Congress, or ANC.


[3] The history of the South African apartheid

[4] More details about the life and childhood of Baleka Mbete can be found in at

[5] Because of Mbete’s exposure to political issues during her childhood and her father’s affiliation to the South African Communist Party, Mbete became vocal about the issues that were taking place, even when it consists of challenging authority.

[6] The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 took place on 21 March 1960, which happened due to a police officer was accidentally pushed and one office decided to fire his gun, which led others to start shooting as well. Not only is the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 mentioned and discussed in the South African History Online website, but the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 was discussed by Dr. Jill Kelly in two lectures (October 24, 2016 and November 21, 2016)

[7] The apartheid was a system that created much hardships, struggles and challenges for the South Africans.

[8] In Hirschmann’s The Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, Hirschmann points out the numerous segregation laws and pass laws that were established to segregate the people in Africa. For instance, many Black Africans has to carry their passes in areas that were mostly white.

[9] In this article, Greg Nicolson highlights the highs and lows of the life of Baleka Mbete and the current state of her position as the Speaker of the National Assembly.

[10] In the article, there are many small poems that gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Mbete during her time in exile.

[11] Please see the biography of Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile

[12] In 1991, artists like Stevie Wonder wanted to perform in South Africa, however, questions arose after many Africans wondered if the artists will be there to support and stand in solidarity, or just there to make money. Mbete and other members of the African National Congress decided to have a cultural boycott, which artists had to get the permission from members like Mbete to perform.

[13] In 1994, Baleka and other women decided to run for a position on the South African Constituent Assembly on the platform of the African National Congress. Please see Kagan for more details regarding Mbete’s candidacy

[14] See Primo’s article regarding the interview she had with Baleka Mbete

[15]African Research Bulletin, 2004

[16] Ibid, 2007.

[17] Information regarding Mbete’s re-election of her position as the Speaker of the National Assembly is in her biography on the South African History Online website.

[18] In Grootes’s article The Rise (and Denied Fall?) of Baleka Mbete, Grootes points out that Mbete has done much damage to her career and character as the Speaker of Parliament and the numerous scandals that she had much part of.

[19] In McKune’s Investigators: ‘Gold Fields bribed Mbete’, he points out how Mbete’s affiliation with Gold Fields could have easily increased her income.

This article forms part of the SAHO and Southern Methodist University partnership project

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