Alfred Nzo was born on 19 June 1925 at Benoni, Transvaal, into a family of five children. His father was a clerk at Modder B mine, which was later changed into Modderbee prison. Nzo was sent off to Eastern Cape to receive missionary education. After completing his matric, he enrolled for BSc degree at Fort Hare University in 1945. At Fort Hare he joined African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and became actively involved in students politics. In his second year of study he left Fort Hare and returned to Transvaal. He worked as health inspector at KwaDukathole in Germiston and was later transferred to the Alexandra health and community centre in 1951.

As health inspector, Nzo developed much understanding of the lives of millions of South Africans in the 1950s. Nzo got actively involved in the organising of the Defiance Campaign in 1952. He was also involved in the campaign to interview people about the kind of society in which they would like to live. It was this campaign that culminated in the Congress of the People in 1955, at which the Freedom Charter was adopted.

In 1956 Nzo was elected the chairperson of ANC branch in Alexandra. In 1957 he organised the Alexandra bus boycotts in which people walked nine miles from the township to town and back every day for three months to protest the increase in fares. His involvement in political activities cost him his job. His expulsion from work meant that he also lost his residential permit to live in Alexandra. He was subsequently arrested several times and finally sentenced to five months imprisonment for not having a residence permit. He served his sentence at Modderbee Prison, where his father once worked.

In 1958, Nzo was elected to the regional and national executive committees of the ANC. In 1962, Nzo was placed under 24-hour house arrest. In June 1963 he was detained for a period of 238 days. The following year, Nzo went into exile through the ANC instructions to work for the movement outside South Africa. Nzo took up posts in various countries including Egypt, India, Zambia and Tanzania where he represented the ANC.

In 1969, Nzo was elected ANC Secretary-General at the Morogoro Conference in Tanzania. He was re-elected to this position at the Kwabe Conference in 1985. After the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1989, Nzo formed part of the ANC delegation that entered into deliberations with the National Party government. Nzo lost the position of Secretary-General to Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC July 1991 National Conference held in South Africa for the first time after the unbanning of the liberation movements. He was then elected deputy head of the ANC's security department.

After the first democratic elections, Nzo was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Nelson Mandela.

Nzo received the award of "Order of Friendship Among People, Praesidium of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic's Supreme Soviet" in 1985. In 2003, Nzo was posthumously awarded ‘The Order of the Luthuli' by President Thabo Mbeki.

After 1999 national elections, Nzo retired from politics and in December of the same year he suffered a stroke. On 13 January 2000, he passed away at Olivedale Clinic in Randburg, Johannesburg at the age of 75.

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