About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Masekela, Barbara

Click here for list of interviews

Political activist and South African ambassador to United States.

Barbara was born on 18 July 1941 in Johannesburg, the second of four children. She grew up in Witbank under watchful eye of her grandmother, until she went to Alexandra Township in 1952. She was raised in a politically conscious family. She went to the Anglican Primary School in Witbank and St Michaels Anglican School in Alexandra. In 1956 she enrolled at the Inanda Girls Seminary Boarding School in Durban where she completed her matric in 1960. and where she had an opportunity to meet with social and political leaders such as ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli.

Upon completing matric Masekela worked for New Age newspaper. After six months she enrolled at the Lesotho campus of University of Botswana and Swaziland. Masekela initially started studying towards a BA degree but in February 1963 she moved to Ghana where she contracted tuberculosis. She then moved to the United Kingdom for a year to receive treatment in a sanatorium. From the UK she went to the United States where she enrolled at Fordham University, New York in 1965 but she got ill again, and left the US.

Masekela came back to Africa and resumed her studies at the University of Zambia in 1967. In her third year of study she was involved in car accident and had to put her studies on hold. She then went to California to join her brother and from 1970-1971 enrolled at the Ohio State University and completed her BA degree majoring in English literature. In 1972 she taught at Statten Island Community College. She later moved to teach in the English Department of Livingstone College, Rutgers University, until 1982. In 1976 she took leave of absence to finish her MA degree.

While in New York, Masekela became chair of the ANC's regional political committee for the US. She had a close working relationship with Johnny Makatini, the ANC chief representative at the United Nations. In the US Masekela addressed meetings and organised campaigns. She formed part of the exile team which constructed an anti-apartheid movement and galvanised millions of people to wage a war against apartheid. Her activities in US went beyond education and politics. She published a few poems and became involved in women issues.

In August 1982 Masekela returned to Zambia where she worked as administrative secretary for the ANC on a full time basis. In 1983 she was requested to head the ANC's Department of Arts and Culture, which she accepted.

In February 1990 when F W de Klerk unbanned liberation movements Masekela returned to South Africa. Upon her arrival she continued to work at the Department of Arts and Culture, based in Johannesburg. She later served the ANC as its fundraiser. She accompanied Nelson Mandela on trips to the US and to India.

At the ANC conference held in Durban in July 1991, Masekela was seconded to the ANC National Executive Committee. She served on the ANC negotiations commission and attended the December 1991 Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). Masekela was involved in the affairs of the ANC Women's League. She served the South African government at the highest level when on 8 September 2003, she became South Africa's ambassador to the United States.

Before she became ambassador she served as an executive director for public and corporate affairs for De Beers Consolidated Mines until March 2003. She previously served as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Masekela also held various executive and non-executive directorships, including director of the Standard Bank of South Africa, the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the International Marketing Council. She has also served as ambassador to France and UNESCO (1995-99).

Barbara has two children and lives in Johannesburg.

Sources: www.sahistory.org.za

Gastrow, S. (1992) Who's Who in South African Politics, Number 4. Pp 171-173


This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.