BORN: 1861
DIED: 1951
PRESIDENCY: 1917 – 1924

Sefako Mapogo Makgatho was born at GaMphahlele, in the Pietersburg district in Transvaal (now Limpopo province) in 1861. He was the son of Chief Kgorutlhe Josiah Makgatho of the Makgatho chieftaincy at Ha Mphahlele. Sekhukhune was the paramount chief until 1879 when the British colonial government and the Voortrekkers managed to defeat him and brought some of the minor chiefdoms under their rule. At this stage Makgatho was a young man of 18 and fully aware of developments that were to signal the end of the Pedi polity.

Makgatho began his education in Pretoria where he completed his primary education. In 1882 he left South Africa to study education and theology at Ealing in Middlesex, England. At the time of the Scramble for Africa in 1885, he returned to Pretoria and started his career as a teacher at the Kilnerton Training Institute, a Methodist School for African children living near Johannesburg. Kilnerton Training Institute is known for some of its illustrious students, including Miriam Makeba and Lilian Ngoyi. Makgatho taught there until 1906 when he, together with other teachers in the Transvaal, formed one of the first teacher unions, the Transvaal African Teachers’ Association (TATA).

He was also the key figure in the formation of the African Political Union (APU) and the Transvaal Native Organisation, both of which merged with the SANNC in 1912. Makgatho also became involved in journalism, an occupation many African leaders found attractive during this period. Between 1912 and 1914, Makgatho teamed up with Alfred Mangena to establish a political journal, The Native Advocate. Makgatho collaborated with Pixley ka Seme in launching the SANNC’s Abantu Batho in 1912, which was funded by the Swazi queen regent. When World War I broke out in 1914, Makgatho was leader of the Transvaal Congress and supported the decision to suspend attacks on the British government. Makgatho became SANNC President at the tail end of World War I, in 1917. As President of the SANNC, Makgatho worked hard to ensure that the movement remained a key factor in the struggle against segregation.

Makgatho managed to steer the movement away from its traditional support base of chiefs and African petit bourgeoisie by responding to the concerns of the underclasses, albeit for only a short period in the 1920s. This was particularly evident in the Transvaal, while Makgatho was still President of the Province’s SANNC.

In the seven years he was president of the SANNC (renamed the African National Congress [ANC] during his tenure), Makgatho used the courts to challenge legislation that affected and undermined Africans in the urban areas, particularly laws relating to their freedom of movement. Mahabane’s presidency was marked by a growing alliance between the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). In 1924 he lost he was succeeded by Rev. ZR Mahabane as president of the ANC.

When Pixley ka Seme was elected President of the ANC in 1930, Makgatho became the national treasurer. On 17 June 1933, at a Transvaal Native Congress provincial conference, Makgatho lost his position by a vote of 73 to 52 to Simon Petrus Matseke.

After leaving his position of national treasurer in 1933, Makgatho continued to be involved in provincial campaigns of the ANC in the Transvaal well into the 1940s.

Sefako Makgatho died in 1951, aged 90. In the same year, Nelson Mandela’s son from his first marriage with Evelyn was born. In paying tribute to Sefako Makgatho, Mandela named his son after him.