Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe was born on 18 February 1953 in Cato Manor, Durban, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal). In 1958, his family was evicted to KwaMashu, north of Durban. He enrolled at the University of Zululand to study law. On campus he joined the Black Consciousness movement. This was his introduction to political activism. In 1976 Radebe began serving his legal articles in Durban. During the 1976 student uprisings he joined the African National Congress (ANC) underground.
In 1977 the ANC instructed him to leave for Mozambique. After two years as a radio journalist with Radio Freedom in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, broadcasting into South Africa, Radebe began studies in law at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig. In 1981 he received his LLM in International Law.
The next few years saw him living in Zambia, where he worked for the ANC's international department, and in Lesotho, creating underground ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP) structures inside South Africa and giving political direction to activists. He also underwent military training with uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) during this period.
In 1985 he spent a year at the Lenin International School in Moscow. Radebe records that his studies in Germany and the then USSR shaped a new outlook in him, which emphasised the global dimensions of economic and political change. In 1996 he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters by the Chicago State University.
In April 1986, Radebe arrived in Johannesburg from Lesotho on a secret mission. He recalls this as his least successful undertaking. A security breach resulted in him being arrested. Radebe was convicted under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to 10-years imprisonment which was reduced to six years on appeal. The appeal judge was Justice Richard Goldstone, in front of whom Radebe would testify, seven years later, during the Goldstone Commission of Inquiry into violence in Natal.
On Robben Island Radebe was active in the ANC's political department. By the time he left he was head of this department. He was released in 1990, having organised a successful 12-day hunger strike to speed up the release of political prisoners.
His first job, after leaving Robben Island, was as Projects' Co-ordinator for the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) until his election as chairperson of the ANC in Southern Natal in November 1991. From 1991 to 1994 Radebe was the Chairperson of the Regional ANC Peace Forum in KwaZulu-Natal. He also served on the then Natal Regional Dispute Resolution Committee.
Since 1991 Radebe has been a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC. He has also been the Head of the ANC Policy Unit and a member of the SACP Central Committee.
From 1999 until April 2004 Radebe was the Minister of Public Enterprises and from 2004 until 2009 he was South Africa’s Minister of Transport. On 23 October 2005, the Leucospermum flower was named the Radebe Sunrise in his honour. The following year in 2006, Radebe was made an Honorary Colonel in the South African Air Force’s Mobile Deployment Wing. He also served as a Board member of the Local Organising Committee of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup. On 11 May 2009 Radebe was appointed the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development of the Republic of South Africa.
Anon, (1994) Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe, from Press Briefings, 24 January, [online] Accessed on 28 March 2011.| Anon, Jeffrey Thamsanqa (Jeff) Radebe, from Who’s Who Southern Africa, [online] Available at www.whoswhosa.co.za [Accessed on 28 March 2011]|Anon, (2011), Minister of Justice & Constitutional Development, from the South African Government Information, [online]. Available at www.info.gov.za [Accessed on 28 March 2011]