Born in 1933 into a prominent Transkei family Makiwane completed his secondary schooling at Lovedale in 1950 and entered Fort Hare University. Politicised during his high school days, he became active in the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) at Fort Hare, and following a demonstration at the College in 1954, he was expelled.
He moved to Johannesburg and briefly took up law studies. He became a member of the national working committee of the Youth League and was a defendant in the Treason Trial from December 1956 until late 1958, using some of his lunch breaks at the trial to consult with organisers of the Alexandra bus boycott in 1957. Makiwane made ends meet as a staff writer in the mid-1950s and later as a correspondent for New Age.
Early in 1959, after his release from the Treason Trial, he left South Africa illegally to attend a youth conference in Cairo. From there he went to London, where he played a central part in launching the international boycott movement. As an African National Congress (ANC) representative in Ghana in 1960, he participated in the short-lived United Front with the Pan Africanist Congress abroad. He later worked with the ANC in Lusaka. Makiwane was assassinated in 1980.