Friday Feature


Sibongile Susan Mkhabela is a former Student Leader, Executive member of the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) and South African Students Movement (SASM) General Secretary – both the driving force behind the nation-wide June 16 1976 revolt. As a former student leader she played a critical role in the June 16 1976 uprisings. In September 1978, she was charged with 10 others for sedition under the Terrorism Act in what was known as the Soweto 11 trial and imprisoned to three years at the Krronstad prison in the Free State.  She was the only woman among the 11 student leaders arrested.

On her release in 1982, Sibongile spearheaded the formation of a Para-legal Advice Centres Association which offered free services to aggrieved un-unionised workers on public law related issues. While in jail, Mkhabela’s numerous applications to study were denied. As she came out, she was served with a banning order that restricted her from entering any place of education. She finally matriculated by correspondence in 1983. Thereafter, she formed and worked with a number of non-governmental organisations to help those in distress. But in 1989, she wanted to stop working and go to university. The youngest of her three children was two years old, but she felt she needed a degree. So, through the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she got an honours degree in Social Work. Over the years she has become A Joel L. Fleishman Civil Society Fellow at Duke University, North Carolina, USA, has several graduate diplomas, and has completed various management courses through the University Of Witwatersrand Business School.

Sibongile describes her youth as a time of mentorship, under great women like Ellen Kuzwayo. She recently won the Ellen Kuzwayo Council Award, recognising her outstanding contribution to higher education that went beyond the bounds of teaching and research. She has worked as a Programme Director of the Development Resource Centre, paving the way to the establishment of the South African Grant Association (SAGA). She served as UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Consultant to help establish its presence in South Africa. She enlisted into the Office of the then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, 1995-1999, as Director of Programmes, Projects and Coordinator of a legislative process leading to the establishment of the National Development Agency (NDA). She is currently at the helm of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, as the Chief Executive Officer. (Chairperson since 2006) She serves on the boards of a number of companies and is currently chair of Black Sash.

Sibongile Mkhabela is author of a book, Open Earth and Black Roses – a story of June 16 1976 published by Skotaville Press.


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