Born 1929, the son of a labourer, he grew up in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. From St Cyprian's in Sophiatown he went to Adams College but left school at 16 to help support his family, working as a truck driver. Joining the African National Congress during the 1952 Defiance Campaign, he became chairman of the Sophiatown Youth League and later secretary for the Transvaal League. In 1959, during the course of the Treason Trial, in which he was a defendant, he was elected national Youth League secretary. In January 1960 he was issued banning orders confining him to Johannesburg and restricting him from attending gatherings. He later left South Africa for Botswana.