Remembering famous South Africans of all time

Who are the most famous South Africans in the world? South Africa, fondly referred to as Mzansi by South Africans, is one of the largest if not the largest economies in Africa. The Mzansi nation is located in the southern part of the African continent. The name South Africa originated from Sud Afrika, as the Dutch used to call it. Mzansi on the other hand was adapted from one of the most popular tribes in South Africa. Mzansi means the south (uMzantsi).

Well, many icons have made significant social, economic, and political impacts in South Africa. These heroes have put the South African nation in the limelight as one of the most popular nations, with influential people. In this article, we will only list some of them because they are many.

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1. Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

If you are wondering about who is Africa’s most famous person, then you have your answer here: Nelson Mandela is not only popular in Africa but globally. He is the nation’s father and the first African to be the head of state in South Africa. Travel to any African country and you will find many people named after the icon. Nelson Rolihhala Mandela was born on the 18th of July, 1918. He passed on on 5th December, 2013. (Coincidentally, at the time of publishing this post, today marks the 9th anniversary since Nelson Mandela died).

What is Nelson Mandela popular for? Mandela’s popularity is thanks to his role in fighting Apartheid, which made him serve a 27-year jail term, which was initially a life sentence for treason against the then white government. For his role in the fight against Apartheid, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

2. Zenzile Miriam Makeba

Zenzile Miriam Makeba is another South African most popular female. She is ranked here as the second most famous South African after Nelson Mandela. As a talented singer, Miriam Makeba took African talent to the world. She was even recognized by Nelson Mandela, who said that she inspired a sense of hope.

As a great singer, she performed alongside other notable singers: Cuban Brother, Manhattan Brothers, The Skylarks, Paul Simon, Nina Simone, and the legendary Hugh Masekela.

For her great talent, she won a Grammy Award.

Miriam Makeba was born on 4th March 1932 and died aged 76 in November 2008.

3. Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu, one of the most famous South Africans

Desmond Tutu is also one of the most famous South Africans. Desmond Tutu is prominent for his fight against apartheid rule in SA. He is notable for being the first black person to become the Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985. He later on became the Archbishop of Cape Town.

He also served in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Additionally, he won the Nobel Peace Prize

Desmond Tutu full name is Desmond Mpilo Tutu. He was born on 7th October 19311 and died aged 90 on26th Dec, 2o21.

4. Bantu Stephen Biko

Stephen Biko

Born in 1946, Steve Biko was also among the South African leaders that advocated for equality. He died at a tender age of 30 in September 1977. However, his legacy still lives on. Steve Biko is famous for being a student leader with strong ideologies when he was the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement. He is popular for the creation of the South African Students’ Organization.

5. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (1936 – 2018

Winnie Mandela
Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela was the wife to Nelson Mandela. She is considered the Mother of the Nation in South Africa because she was also strongly against Apartheid. She served in a senior position of the ANC and contributed to the state’s efforts in fighting against racism.

She was born to a royal family and married Nelson Mandela in 1958 and were blessed with two children together. She was jailed while pregnant, being kept in solitary confinement. She also served as Nelson Mandela’s link to the outside world.

Winnie and Mandela divorced in 1992, two years after Mandela’s release from prison. She was convicted of fraud and theft in 2003, forcing her to quit politics only to return several years later.

6. Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela
Hugh Masekela


7. Lucky Phillip Dube

Lucky Dube
Lucky Dube

Lucky Dube is one of the most famous South Africans of all time. He was a musician whose music is still listened to by reggae music fans around the world.

Lucky Dube was born on 3 August 1964 and died aged 43 on 18 October 2007. He was shot dead and his killers were tried and sentenced to life in prison.

8. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)

John Ronald was born on 3 January 1892 and died on 2 September 1973 ,aged 81. He is known for his authorship works of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Other popular works by him include Beowulf; The Monsters and the Critics, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth. 

13. Albert Luthuli

Albert Luthuli
Albert Luthuli (1898 – 1967)

Inkosi Albert John Luthuli is one of the most popular South Africans with roads named after him, including in Nairobi (Luthuli Avenue). Inkosi Luthuli was born in 1898 and died aged 69 on 21 July, 1967. Albert Luthuli was an activist and politician. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a Zulu chief and an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Among the many South Africans with a Nobel laureate, he was the first black South African.

10. Oliver Tambo (1917 – 1993, 75)

Oliver Tambo
Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo is also a prominent South African because of his fight against Apartheid. He was exiled in the 60s and 70s because he was seeking international support for the anti-apartheid regime in South Africa.

He was elected president of ANC’s Transvaal branch and later on became the party’s deputy president in 160.

11. Walter Sisulu

Walter Sisulu
Walter Sisulu (18 May 112 – 5 May 2003)

Walter Sisulu was also a famous South African anti-apartheid activist. He is among the most famous people in South Africa because of his strive for freedom and equality in the Mzansi nation. He was a member of the ANC, having been a member of the party’s youth wing ANC Youth League) from where he rose the ranks to be the most influential leader in South Africa.

12. Chris Hani

Chris Hani
Chris Hani (28th June, 1942-10th April, 1993)

Chris Hani was a South African who died at the age of 50, having been born on 28 June, 1942 and passing on in 193. He is popular for being among South African politicians that fought against the oppressive apartheid regime. Being a notable figure in the fight against racism, he was assassinated in 1993.


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