Miriam Makeba

Zenzi Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) was a South African singer and a world-renowned symbol of the fight against apartheid.


Zenzi Miriam Makeba is born on the 4th March 1932 in the segregated neighbourhood of Prospect, in Johannesburg. Her father, Mpambane Caswell Makeba, dies when she is five years old. Her mother, Nomkomndelo Christina, is forced to send her to live with her grandmother, where she grows up in poverty. At the age of seventeen, she gives birth to a daughter, Bongi, at a time in her life where she is also taking her first steps in a professional singer career with the Manhattan Brothers. She then goes on to found the female quartet The Skylarks.

In 1959, she travels to Europe, following the success of a film called Come Back, Africa made by the American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. Her talent is demonstrated to an international audience. After her marriage to the African American activist Stokely Carmichael in 1969, she is exiled to Guinea. She achieves great success on the African continent and plays a major symbolic role as a militant Pan-African.

Miriam Makeba in 1969.

In 1963 and 1971, she speaks at the United Nations with the support of Guinea. This position sees her named “Woman of the Century” by the Bedford Stuyvesant Community of New York City. She also receives Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and the French Legion of Honour. Her autobiography is published in 1988, and is translated into five languages. Her records, 32 in total, achieved global success. In 1990, Nelson Mandela persuades Mama African to return to South Africa, where she spends her last days working with her two charitable foundations. She dies in Naples in 2008.