Amandla Cultural Ensemble

Home > Organisations > Amandla Cultural Ensemble

The Amandla Cultural Ensemble was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for their contribution to the struggle against apartheid through their cultural performances.

The Amandla Cultural Ensemble originated in the late 1970s, most of them from Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadres based in Angola. Led by the trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, the Ensemble became an ambassador for the African National Congress (ANC) throughout Africa, South America, Europe and the Soviet Union. In July 1982 the watershed Culture and Resistance Conference took place in Botswana (attended mainly by ANC members). Later that year the ANC’s Department of Arts and Culture was formed. In December 1987, the high profile Culture in Another South Africa (CASA) festival was held in The Netherlands. According to writer Shirli Gilbert, the Ensemble grew out of these initiatives and came to be one of the ANC’s greatest achievements in the realm of arts and culture.

In September 1978 the International Festival of Youth and Students took place in Havana, Cuba. South Africa was represented by a group of youth who were members of the ANC studying in various countries in Europe, Africa and the USA. They also included members of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) based in Angola. These groups were combined and performed as one united group belonging to the ANC.

The leadership of the ANC, taking its cue from recent Cuban successes, took a decision to establish a permanent cultural group centred around the music group.  The leadership also decided that, for reasons related to military discipline, the members should be counted as MK cadres. The group started with seven members and a recruitment drive was conducted to increase the group to about 40 members. All members had to multitask as musicians, dancers, and actors.

Amandla’s conceptual origins date back to the World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Nigeria in 1977. Inspired by the festival, Gwangwa, himself in exile since 1961, was motivated to put together a group he called Amandla (Power).

South Africa’s struggle for liberation depended on international mobilisation to a great extent. In this regard, the Amandla Cultural Ensemble’s main tasks included:

  • Mobilisation of the international community. ANC President Oliver Reginald Tambo, after seeing an Amandla performance in London, said that it took him 20 years to do what Amandla had done in two hours – to promote South Africa and the struggle for freedom.
  • Showcasing South Africa’s cultural heritage and its diversity, a task made necessary after centuries of colonial oppression accompanied by cultural oppression designed to destroy national pride.

The show Amandla put on was was based on a chronology of important events, beginning with a peaceful era before the colonisers came to the country. It continued with the periods of colonisation and industrialisation, to culminate in the conscientisation of the working-class population.

Amandla travelled to more than 60 countries, educating people all over the world about conditions in South Africa. The ensemble was repeatedly invited to countries such as The Netherlands and those in the Scandinavian region, with some European fans following the group from city to city and country to country.

Plans to relocate Amandla in an organised way after the advent of democracy were never realised, although the group did manage to stage a few performances. Subsequent efforts to revive the group have not been successful.

The following members of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble were honoured:

Nora Mapule Pitsi (Dikeledi Mokoena*), Daisy Nompumelelo Tshilwane (Fortune Nala*), Thokozani Maureen Magxwalisa (Julinda Klaas*), Mandisa Blossom Mphati (Louisana Gugwini*), Doctor Pooe (Bethuel Khoale “Mosquitoe”*), Refiloe Dyer (Prudence  Masuku “Nanas”*), Nonkululeko Beauty Mraqisa (Viola Mkhize*), Nocawe Nomalizwe Merriam Doshane (Angela Moa*), Mantoa (Belinda*), Lorraine  McClare (Mamonkie Simelane*), Stella Mbentshe ( Noluthando Pungula*), (Dudu Mbanjwa*), Sibusiso Judas Mabaso (Mbongeni Dingindawo*), Mikkie Lebona (Sandile Khumalo “Skhulu”*), Joe (Joe Mthembu “Mrashushu”*), Jabulani Magubane (Patrick Sithole*), Msimang (Jeniffer Mothwa*), Nomathemba Ramncwana (Nelly Kota*), Wiseman Ntombela (Livingston Tikwane “Santana”*), Welile*, Welcome Msomi*, Sandisile*, Lemmy Nkuta (Selina Binda*), Jonas Gwangwa and Promise Nkosi (Pinki*).                      

On 27 April 2011, the State President, Jacob G Zuma, honoured the Amandla Cultural Ensemble collectively with the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for their cultural contribution to the struggle for liberation in South Africa and for spreading the message all over the world about South Africa’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

• Anon, 2011, Presentation Of National Orders , Amandla Cultural Ensemble, from the Presidency, online. Available at  [Accessed  19 May 2011]
• Gilbert S, 2007, Singing against Apartheid: ANC Cultural Groups and the International Anti-Apartheid Struggle online.  Available at [accessed on 19 May 2011](*) denotes combat name

Last updated : 18-Oct-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 18-Oct-2011

Support South African History Online

Donate and Make African History Matter

South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.

Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.