Raymond Mhlaba

The first act of defiance

February 12, 1920 — February 20, 2005
Artist: Mxolisi Sapeta and Andrew Lindsay
Location: Red Location Museum, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth
Installed outside the Red Location Museum, the Raymond Mhlaba memorial — a floor mosaic depicting scenes from the 1952 defiance campaign — was created by Andrew Lindsay from a concept by Mxolisi Sapeta.
Picture: Gary Horlor © Sunday Times

In the early hours of June 26, 1952, after praying through the night, Raymond Mhlaba led 30 volunteers to defy apartheid by entering the "Europeans Only" section of New Brighton railway station, Port Elizabeth, the first act in a nationwide defiance campaign in response to the passage of a slew of apartheid legislation. They were swiftly arrested, and Mhlaba served a month’s hard labour. As one of the Rivonia treason trialists a decade later, Oom Ray, as Mhlaba was affectionately known, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 26 years, and went on to become the first premier of the new Eastern Cape.

From The Archives
75 pieces of apartheid legislation
To consolidate its position after coming to power in 1948, the National Party government promulgated laws which deprived all non-whites of basic rights. Some of the laws enacted from the late 1940s and early 1950s are described here by Elinor Sisulu.
Defiance at the station: Mhlaba's memories of the moment
In this excerpt from his memoirs, Raymond Mhlaba describes the chilling moments when the 1952 defiance campaign kicked off at New Brighton station.
Politics and Prayer: The role of religion in Eastern Cape struggle politics
Religion was a heady part of liberation politics in the Eastern Cape, with prayers and religious fervour adding heat to the brew.
Why the defiance campaign was "most dramatic" in the Eastern Cape
Historians Phil Bonner and Tom Lodge explore why participation in the defiance campaign was so passionate in the Eastern Cape, while, in his personal memoirs, Raymond Mhlaba describes local factors that contributed to the fervent support it received.
The ANC's growth after the defiance campaign
The publicity the ANC received as a result of the defiance campaign and, undoubtedly, the tireless efforts of its leaders at branch and national level, helped the organisation to gain more members.
Mhlaba in exile and in Umkhonto we sizwe
After going into exile, Raymond Mhlaba underwent military training in southern China where, among other things, the Chinese taught him and his comrades hit-and-run techniques using self-made weapons.
Life Stories
"Oom Ray" and the power of mass action
Raymond Mhlaba was the first leader to be arrested in the 1952 defiance campaign, during which thousands of South Africans of all races broke unjust laws in a non-violent effort to resist apartheid.
The man who opened the way
Some of the original members of the group led by Raymond Mhlaba into the "Europeans Only" section of the New Brighton railway station look back in sadness at the days when "blacks were treated like dogs".
Making the Memorial
Who are Mxolisi Sapeta and Andrew Lindsay?
Mxolisi "Dolla" Sapeta, a former art lecturer from Port Elizabeth, and Andrew Lindsay, a Joburg-based gallerist and curator, pooled their talents to conceptualise and create the memorial to Raymond Mhlaba’s role in the 1952 defiance campaign.
The Light Bulb Moment: The Artist's concept
The scenes on Mhlaba's memorial depict scenes from the 1952 Defiance Campaign - the two artists who created the piece elaborate.
"I opened the way for others to defy an unjust system."
Raymond Mhlaba
Raymond Mhlaba
Picture: Courtesy of Thembeka Mufamadi


In this lesson plan, learners will have an opportunity to study Raymond Mhlaba's memoirs as he related them to a historian in 2001. They will be able to think about the value of oral history and how it provides new insights into events.

Lesson plan
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Archive and Artwork Photo Gallery
Images from Raymond Mhlaba’s life and of the Heritage Project’s memorial to his role in the 1952 defiance campaign.
Audio about Raymond Mhlaba
Family, friends and colleagues talk about Raymond Mhlaba and why he is regarded as one of the unsung heroes of the Eastern Cape
Raymond Mhlaba speaks about life imprisonment
In June 1964, Raymond Mhlaba and seven other icons of the struggle against apartheid were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. For them the sentence came as a relief — it was much better than the death sentence they were expecting. In this e
Mhlaba and Mandela on the 1952 Defiance Campaign
In 1952, Raymond Mhlaba launched the famous Defiance Campaign by walking into a whites-only area at the New Brighton train station, knowing that he would be arrested. In this video extract from a documentary by Dali Tambo, Mhlaba and Nelson Mandela remi