Ambrose Makiwane was born in Soweto. He attended Clarkebury School and was expelled after participating in a student strike. This, coupled with that his parents could not afford to send him to university after he finished school delayed his enrollment.

Makiwane got involved in politics and the labour movement after finishing high school but before enrolling at the University of Fort Hare. He became the secretary of the Laundry Workers Union as well as a member of the ANC in Soweto.

At the age of 34 he was admitted to the University of Fort Hare in 1955 where enrolled to study Law. Makiwane continued with his political activism at Fort Hare under the mentorship of ANC members who taught at the university such as Professor ZK Mathews and Professor Ngcobo amongst others. He became chairman of the ANC Youth League branch and president of the Students Representative Council in 1957. Together with other leaders of the SRC Makiwane spearheaded a march from Fort Hare to Alice in 1958 against theTreason Trial. He also led protests against the Transfer Act of 1959. This piece of legislation sought to restrict the University of Fort Hare to Xhosa speaking Africans and was to bring the university under the Department of Bantu Education. At the time the university was racially mixed with blacks, coloureds and Indians studying together in a social atmosphere which Makiwane described as cordial.

Makiwane’s activities attracted the attention of the security police who would visit, search and interview him on his activities.  After completing his studies, he left Fort Hare in 1960 to commence his articles in Port Elizabeth. He was also tasked by the ANC to serve as a link between the ANC Executive and people on the ground particularly in the Eastern Cape. However, because of his political profile and the State of Emergency declared that year, the government expelled him from PE. He then went to East London where the government also followed him and harassed him in an attempt to confine him to his father’s farm.

Consequently he was unable to work and with the government continuously expelling him wherever he went, he skipped the country and went to exile in Lesotho. From Lesotho he was transported together with other members of the ANC and SACP in September 1960 to Ghana. When the plane stopped over in Congo, the Belgian authorities detained their plane after mistaking Makiwane for Patrice Lumumba. Makiwane went to Prague where he met with other cadres and communicated what he claimed were ANC messages which instructed cadres about the formation of MK and their need to go further military training in China.   

 In 1962 Makiwane served as the ANC Chief Representative in Cuba where he received MK recruits and facilitated their access to military training. For instance, during the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, he directed them to join the general mobilization to defend Cuba from the imminent attack by the USA. Then in September 1964, Makiwane went for specialized training in guerrilla warfare with leaders of the ANC and SACP leadership, including Oliver Tambo, Moses Kotane, Duma Nokwe and Joe Slovo. That same year the ANC was offered a piece of land at Kongwa, 400 kilometres south of the Der es Salaam, for use by MK as a military training camp. After the establishment of camp, Makiwane was appointed as the first camp commander at Kongwa. After problems Kongwa at which Makiwane was criticized, he was moved from the camp and deployed to head the ANC Mission in Cairo, Egypt.

 Makiwane and Alfred Kgokong Mqota were sus­pended from the ANC’s National Executive Committee for 6 months in 1969 for what the party termed “factional and disruptive activities and for defiance of the instructions of the organisation.” This was because Makiwane and others were pushing an Africanist position within the ANC which rejected the inclusion of non Africans in the Revolutionary Council. At the memorial of Robert Resha, Makiwane criticized what he felt was a small group of communists who had taken over the ANC and Oliver Tambo’s leadership. Rifts between the Makiwane the ANC widened and together with a number of people; Alfred Kgokong Mqoto, George Mbele, Jonas Motlou, Tennyson Makiwane, O. K. Setlapelo, Pascal Ngakane, and Thami Bongo were officially expelled from the party in December 1975.


Disa ‘Ambrose Makiwane, Cala, March 4, 1999, interviewed by Danny Massey’ from DISA [online] Available at: [Accessed on 3 November 2011]|Aluka ‘Interview with Ambrose Makiwane’ from Aluka [online] Available at [Accessed on 3 November 2011]|Nzo, A, (1975), Statement by the ANC on the expulsion of a Conspiratorial Clique, from the African National Congress, 11 December, [online] Available at: [Accessed on 3 November 2011]|Callinicos, L, (2004), Oliver Tambo: beyond the Engeli Mountains, (David Phillip Publishers), p.342.|Marietjie Gericke, From clerk to honorary professor and ambassador, [online] Available at… on 3 November 2011]|Wilton Mkwayi Interview, from the South African Democracy Education Trust, [online] Available at za [Accessed on 3 November 2011]|Gumede, W, M, (2005), Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, (Cape Town), p.25

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