Mavivi Manzini was born in Alexandra Township, outside of Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) in 1956, and then moved to Soweto. Manzini suffered from polio as a child and as a result spent close to four years in the hospital until the age of 6.
Manzini’s parents, who were teachers, were both active members of the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1950s. Manzini herself became active politically during high school, when she got involved in the South African Student Movement (SASM) in 1973. She continued her studies at Turfloop University in Northern Transvaal, where she worked hard to remain politically active despite the banning of the South African Students Organization (SASO) and the expulsion, banning and imprisonment of many of the students on the Student Representative Council.
Manzini became involved in the ANC underground in 1975. She assisted the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) by reconnoitring and providing information about the location and activities of the police in the Northern Transvaal area, which she knew very well. This involvement with the ANC provided Manzini and her fellow campus activists with a political education, as they were supplied with banned political literature and often listened to Radio Freedom, which the ANC broadcasted from Lusaka, Zambia to provide South Africa with information about the then-banned ANC.
Manzini was detained on 3 July 1976 after one of her MK unit members confessed to the police after two months of torture in detention. She was held in solitary confinement and detained for two months until her release in September, 1976. After learning that three of her fellow activists had been detained again, she left the country for Botswana. Her illness from polio as a child left her with a distinctive limp, making her escape from the country all the more difficult and risky as her handicap made travelling difficult and her more recognisable.
Manzini’s trip to Botswana was made possible through cunning and luck. She used her limp and history with polio to convince border patrol guards that she was very sick and that she was travelling to visit traditional healers who stayed next to a river with water she believed would cure her.
When Manzini finally reached Botswana, she applied for asylum, stayed for three months and then went to Zambia to continue her studies. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science, sociology and development studies from the University of Zambia in 1979. After completing her degree, she joined the ANC Women’s Section secretariat full-time and worked as an assistant editor for Voice of Women, an ANC publication.
Manzini worked in the Women’s Section to mobilise women inside and outside the country to continue the struggle. She became leader of the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) in Johannesburg from 1990 to 1992.
In April 1994, she was elected an ANC Member of Parliament. Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini holds a Master's in development studies, specialising in women and development, from the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands.