Johnny worked as the ANC’s director of the Department of International Affairs during the 1980s. He was also a long standing member of the ANC National Executive Committee. He was an indefatigable organizer and campaigner on behalf of the African National Congress and worked tirelessly and traveled ceaselessly throughout Africa and many parts of the world in pursuit of the liberation movement.
Valerie met “Johnny” Makatini in Washington, D.C. while she was a student at Howard University. She had gone to the airport to drop off a friend and on the way back to her car she ran into Johnny who was about to enter the airport. He commented on her “beautiful legs” and immediately apologized saying he couldn’t help himself. After introductions, they chatted a bit and exchanged numbers. He was stationed in New York at the time. He called and kept on calling. They later married and had a daughter, Nandi.
Johnny was born in Durban on February 8, 1932; he was a bright and gifted child, and a talented debater at school. He was articulate, with an aptitude for languages – qualities he developed from his mother, Mama Jali, who was a well-known radio personality.
Trained as a teacher, Johnny taught at Mzinyathi in the Inanda area, and was soon active in organizing opposition to the imposition of Bantu Education in African schools. Rather than serve under this hated system, he resigned from the teaching profession and registered as a part-time law student at Natal University.
He was actively involved in all the ANC campaigns of the period and was arrested on numerous occasions. Johnny was one of the principal organizers of both the historic Pietermaritzburg Conference of March 1961, which was addressed by Nelson Mandela, and the highly successful anti-fascist Republic strike of May 1961.
In 1962, Johnny was among the first group of volunteers from Natal to be sent out of the country for military training. In 1966, he succeeded Robert Resha as Chief Representative in Algeria, and soon extended the activities of his mission to cover France, where he became a well-known personality in the circles of the solidarity movement. By this time he was beginning to emerge as one of the ANC’s most accomplished diplomats.
He was already a well-known figure in Organization of African Unity (OAU) and United Nations circles, where he earned a well-deserved reputation as an articulate champion of the cause of our people. It was these qualities that contributed to his appointment as head of the ANC mission to the United Nations in 1977 and later, in 1983, as head of the Department of International Affairs.
Johnny’s unique flair for diplomatic work flowered during his years at the United Nations. All UN diplomats knew Johnny Makatini and few escaped his persuasive tongue. The point was even reached when some accused the ANC of dominating the United Nations.
Johnny passed away on December 3, 1988 in Lusaka, Zambia after being hospitalized due to complications from diabetes.
Portions of this article were excerpted from a statement by the Executive Committee of the ANC.