Johnstone “Johnny” Mfanafuthi Makhathini was born in Durban on 8 February 1932. He attended school at Adams College in Durban where he trained as a teacher before teaching in Mzinyathi in the Inanda area. When the apartheid government imposed Bantu Education he resigned from teaching and went on to pursue further studies part time at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Makhathini joined politics and devoted his time to organizing the people as an activist of the African National Congress (ANC). He became a key youth organizer in and around Durban and rural Natal. For instance, Makhathini was instrumental in organizing the ANC's Pietermaritzburg Conference of March 1961. His political activism resulted in his detention by the police several times. He was deeply involved in spreading the message of freedom internationally and advocated the anti-apartheid movement.

 In 1962 Makhathini left the country with a group of the first uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) recruits from Natal for military training. He was stationed in Morocco where he became the ANC's chief representative receiving and overseeing groups of trainees. His stay in Morocco enabled him to learn French which he used to advance the ANC cause in not only English speaking countries but also French speaking countries.

After the independence of Algeria in 1963, the ANC opened a mission in that country and Johnny Makhathini was transferred to join the then Chief Representative, Robert Resha. Makhathini became the ANC Chief Representative in Algeria in 1966. From Algeria, Makhathini visited Western European countries lobbying against apartheid. In 1974 Makhathini became a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC. He was considered to be “the articulate champion of the cause of the oppressed masses of South Africa.”

After his appointment as Head of the ANC mission to the United Nations (UN) in 1977, Makhathini pushed the agenda of the struggle against apartheid in the UN and the Organization of African Union (OAU). Makhathini interacted with members of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and diplomats who supported South African liberation movements. He aimed to make the global community aware of the wrongdoings of apartheid South Africa. On 30 October 1985 Makhathini addressed the UN General Assembly on this subject.

His experience in international affairs led to his appointment as Head of the ANC's Department of International Affairs in 1983. After the National Consultative Conference of the ANC held in Kabwe in 1985, Makhathini returned to Africa to give personal attention to his departmental responsibilities and was based in Zambia.

In 1988 after being admitted to the University Teaching hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, with complications arising from a diabetic condition, Makhathini died on 3 December. In 2010 the South African government engaged the Zambian government to exhume Makhathini's remains and he was reburied at Heroes Acre Cemetery, Kwa-Zulu Natal, where Moses Mabhida was also reburied, on 27 February 2010.

Dr. Kenneth D Kaunda, first President of the Republic of Zambia referred to Makhathini at his memorial service in 2012 at Woodburn Stadium as “an immensely gifted pan-Africanist with a rare sense of fairness and unfailing courtesy to the others, attributes, which earned him immense respect not only among his comrades but also among other people with whom he interacted.

Makhathini is survived by his wife, Valerie O’ Connor Makhathini and his daughter Nandi Makhathini. 

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