Barbara Mosima Joyce Masekela was born on 18 July 1941 in Johannesburg. She was the second of four children born to Pauline and Thomas Selema Masekela. Her mother was a social worker in a family centre in Alexander and her father was a health inspector and part-time sculptor. Barbara grew up in Witbank under watchful eye of her grandmother, until she went back to Alexander Township in 1952. She was raised in a politically conscious family. She went to the Anglican Primary School in Witbank and St Michaels Anglican School in Alexander. In 1956 she enrolled at the Inanda Girls Seminary Boarding School in Durban where she completed her matric in 1960. At the seminary school students had an opportunity to meet with social and political leaders such as African National Congress (ANC) president Chief Albert Luthuli.

Barbara's contact with the political figures happened at a very young age. The first two people she met were Helen Navid who was the head of the welfare centre and Father Trevor Huddleston who taught at her brother's school, St Peters. She learnt about the coming of apartheid through reading books and newspapers and listening to her parent's discussions. Upon completing matric Masekela rendered her labour to the New Age newspaper. After six months, she enrolled at the Lesotho campus of University of Botswana and Swaziland. Masekela initially started studying towards a BA degree. In February 1963 she moved to Ghana after only one term at the University. While in Ghana she contracted tuberculosis and moved to the United Kingdom for a year to receive treatment in a sanatorium. After her discharge from the hospital she stayed for a few months in UK. From UK she went to the United States where she enrolled at Fordham University, New York in 1965. Fordham University was where Masekele was exposed to vicious racism, particularly in her anthropology lectures where reference was always made to uncivilised societies. She got ill again, and left the US.

Masekela came back to Africa and resumed her studies at the University of Zambia in 1967. In 1969 she was involved in car accident and had to put her studies on hold. She then went to California to join her brother and from 1970-1971 enrolled at the Ohio State University and completed her BA degree majoring in English literature. In 1972 she taught at Statten Island Community College. She later moved to teach in the English Department of Livingstone College, Rutgers University, until 1982. In 1976 she took leave of absence to finish her MA degree.While in New York, Masekela became chair of the ANC's regional political committee for the US. She had close working relationship with Johnny Makatini, ANC chief representative at the United Nations. Their first meeting was at the Inanda Seminary while she was still 16 years old. Makatini was instrumental in shaping Masekela's political perceptions. During her years of exile Masekela maintained her contact with Makatini. In the US Masekela addressed meetings and organised campaigns. Masekela formed part of the exiled team, which constructed an anti-apartheid movement and galvanised millions of people to wage a war against apartheid. Her activities in US went beyond education and politics. She published a few poems and got involved in women issues.

In August 1982 Masekela made her trip back to Zambia where she worked as administrative secretary for the ANC on a full time basis. In 1983 she was requested to head the ANC's Department of Arts and Culture which she accepted. The formation of this department was stimulated by the cultural festival and resistance which were staged in Botswana in 1983. Masekela and others, including Wally Serote, Mandla Langa, Lindiwe Mabuza, Patrick Fitzgerald and Louise Colvin (Angela Brown) set up a department, which had an immense impact on the academic and cultural boycotts in South Africa. In February 1990 when F.W. De Klerk unbanned liberation movements Masekela returned to South Africa. Upon her arrival she continued to work at the Department of Arts and Culture, based in Johannesburg. She later served the ANC as its fundraiser. In 1990 she was requested to accompany Nelson Mandela to the US and she was also drafted into a team that prepared the visit. Later that year she accompanied Mandela to India.

At the ANC conference held in Durban in July 1991, Masekela was seconded to the ANC National Executive Committee. She serves on the ANC negotiations commission and attended the December 1991 Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). Masekela was involved in the affairs of the ANC Women's League. She served the South African government at the highest level when on 8 September 2003, Barbara Masekela became South Africa's ambassador to the United States. Masekela also held private positions. Before she became ambassador she served as an executive director for public and corporate affairs for De Beer Consolidated Mines until March 2003. She previously served as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Maskela also held various executive and non-executive directorships, including director of the Standard Bank of South Africa, the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the International Marketing Council. She later served as ambassador to France and UNESCO (1995-99). Barbara has two children and lives in Johannesburg.


Gastrow, S. (1992) Who's Who in South African Politics, Number 4. Pp 171-173| |Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) (last accessed 26 July 2019)

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