Thenjiwe Mtintso

Thenjiwe Mtintso. Oupa Nkosi/M&G
Thenjiwe Mtintso. Oupa Nkosi/M&G

Black Consciousness Movement member | Politician | Soldier

Born: 7 November 1950

“Freedom has to include the presence and representation of women in leadership structures. Arguments for this include parity and participation, fairness and justice."

Who is
Thenjiwe Mtintso?

Anti-apartheid activist, commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), member of the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Ambassador.

and Roles

Activist, politician, diplomat, soldier, South African Ambassador.

Best Known For

Activism in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the ANC during apartheid, serving as commander of MK while in exile.

Life highlights

  • While studying at the University of Fort Hare, Mtintso became a student activist in the South African Student Organisation (SASO) and the BCM. Her activism in student politics led to her expulsion from the university.
  • Mtintso was detained several times by the security police in the 1970s, as well as banned because of her activities as a political organiser and a journalist of the Daily Dispatch newspaper.
  • After Mtintso was arrested and brutally tortured by the security police, she was forced to go into exile in 1978. While in exile she joined the ANC and MK. She underwent military training and became the commander of MK.
  • She remained in exile until 1992 when she returned to South Africa and was appointed onto the Transitional Executive Committee. She became an active participant of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations.
  • In 1994 she became an ANC Member of Parliament (MP), and later served as the first Chairperson of the Commission of Gender Equality in 1997.
  • In 1998, Mtintso was elected as Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC.
  • In 2007, she was appointed as South Africa’s Ambassador to Cuba, and in 2010 as the Ambassador to Italy.
  • Mtintso also served as Ambassador to Romania and to Malawi.


“Freedom has to include the presence and representation of women in leadership structures. Arguments for this include parity and participation, fairness and justice. Women’s life experiences and perspectives differ from those of men, thus they must be heard in both the economic and developmental sense. There must be transformation of power relations across society.”

– Thenjiwe Mtintso


“Her plate is always full and she wants to do everything to perfection. Not only does she have a full-time position on the gender commission, but she completes every task given to her by the SACP and the ANC and she’s completing her MA in management at the University of the Witwatersrand.”

– Colleagues at the Commission for Gender Equality

Due to financial constraints, Mtintso was forced to leave school and work full-time in various factories to fund her part-time studies at secondary school and at the University of Fort Hare.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994