Women’s month

Celebrating women in history and those making history


Zenzile Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a South African singer and civil rights activist.In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world. She is best known for the song “Pata Pata”, first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela.

Makeba campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. The South African government responded by revoking her passport in 1960 and her citizenship and right of return in 1963. As the apartheid system crumbled she returned home for the first time in 1990.

Makeba died of a heart attack on 9 November 2008 after performing in a concert in Italy organised to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the region of Campania.

On 16 October 1999, Miriam Makeba was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn for the New York City based record label Putumayo World Music, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category. She worked closely with Graça Machel-Mandela, who at the time was the South African first lady, for children suffering from HIV/AIDS,child soldiers, and the physically handicapped.

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In 2001, she was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, “for outstanding services to peace and international understanding”. She shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. The prize is regarded as Sweden’s foremost musical honour. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life.

From 25 to 27 September 2009, a tribute show to Makeba entitled Hommage à Miriam Makeba and curated by Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activistAngélique Kidjo for the Festival d’Ile de France, was held at the Cirque d’hiver in Paris.The same show but with the English title of Mama Africa: Celebrating Miriam Makebawas held at the Barbican in London on 21 November 2009. Mama Africa, a documentary film about the life of Miriam Makeba, co-written and directed by Finnish film directorMika Kaurismäki, was released in 2011.On 4 March 2013 Google honored her with a doodle on the homepage.

Mama Africa, a musical about Miriam Makeba was produced in South Africa by University of Missouri Des Lee Endowed Professor of Theater, Dr. Niyi Coker. Originally titledZenzi!, The musical premiered to a sold out crowd at Cape Town, South Africa on 26 May 2016. It will debut in the United States with performances scheduled in Saint Louis, Missouri and New York City from September 14, 2016 through December 2016 with the musical returning to South Africa in February 2017 for celebration of what would have been Miriam Makeba’s 85th birthday.

The Pretoria campus of the Lycée Jules Verne, École Miriam Makeba, is named after her.



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