Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” He’s right. There are people who have fought oppression fiercely, men and women that did not sit back and wait for their circumstances to change. These activists were prepared to die for what they believed in and indeed some of them did. They were willing to sacrifice their lives by all means necessary to improve not just their lives but also the lives of others.
Lets look at five of some of the fiercest activists that changed their world against all odds.
- Ernesto che Guevara
“I don’t care if I fall, as long as someone picks up my gun and keeps shooting.” Ernesto che Guevara.
Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, military and guerrilla leader. He is considered by many across the world as a symbol of rebellion and idealism. He played a critical role in the 1953 Cuban Revolution that ousted then president Fulgencio Batista. Today Guevara’s stylised face can be found all across the world and while his visage has been commodified it is still a symbol of rebellion against oppression.
In 1956, Guevara and 82 other comrades boarded a 38-foot yacht known as Granma. As soon they arrived in Cuba they were ambushed by the Cuban army and were left with no choice but to fight back.
After returning from Cuba with a neck injury, Guevara and the 20 other men that survived the ambush regrouped in the Sierra Mastera mountains. Guevara participated in more attacks and executions proving himself to be a good leader and in 1958 he became second-in-command of a large group of revolutionaries that had gathered in the Sierra Maestra.
Using guerilla tactics, Guevara and his men soon overthrew Batista’s government, prompting him to flee Cuba in January 1959.
In 1965, Guevara disappeared from Cuba, leaving behind his family and children. After attempting to start revolutions in the Congo and Bolivia, in October 1967 Guevara soon found himself surrounded by Bolivian Army Rangers. A gun battle soon broke out between the other revolutionaries accompanying Guevara and the Bolivian Rangers leading to most of them being killed and Guevara was soon captured. The Bolivian president Rene Barrientos ordered his execution.
- Chris Hani
Hani was the leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and chief of staff of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). In 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe developed an underground campaign to expose and counter state repression.
Born Martin Thembesile Hani, he joined the ANC at the tender age of 15 and became active in protests against the Bantu Education Act. Hani joined Umkhonto we Sizwe and was later arrested and later went into exile in Lesotho in 1963.
Hani together with his Umkhonto counterparts fought fiercely against the apartheid government. He later fled to Zimbabwe after realising that he had become a target for assassination because of his involvement in organising guerilla operations in South Africa.
Hani returned to South Africa following the unbanning of the ANC in 1990 and took over the leadership of the SACP in 1991.
On 10 April 1993, feelings of confusion and grief evoked anger across South Africa as images of Hani’s bloodied corpse emerged. Hani had been assassinated outside his home in Dawn Park, Boksburg. He suffered two shots on the head, fired by Polish immigrant Janusz Walus and organised by Clive Derby-Lewis.
- Malcom X
“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” – Malcolm X
Also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Malcolm was a very outspoken African American leader and human rights activist. He condemned white America’s crimes against black Americans in the harshest terms.
After being imprisoned in 1946 at age 20 for larceny, Malcolm underwent a great change and ended up converting to Islam. He soon became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its leader that he once revered, Elijah Muhammad. This then led him to converting to Sunni Islam and he set out on a pilgrimage across Africa and the Middle East.
During his pilgrimage, Malcolm came to the realisation that the whiteness he had hated and fought in America was not so much a matter of colour but attitude and behaviour.
Upon his return to America one of the organisations he formed was the Organisation of Afro-American Unity. He continued to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination and black self-defence.
Malcolm soon found himself to be the target of an assassination when his assistants were continually harassed and assaulted. His family also became a target and his home was firebombed in February 1965 .
His pursuit for freedom came to an end on 21 February 1965 when he was assassinated at an Organization of Afro-American Unity organisational meeting at the Audubon Ballroom hall in Harlem, New York.
- Steve Biko
“Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time.” – Steve Biko
Biko was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a student leader who fought fearlessly to empower and mobilise the black population. His passion for empowering the black population to be politically self-reliant led him to helping found the South African Students Organisation which would help unify university students through promoting “black consciousness.”
In 1973 when the apartheid government realised that he was a threat, Biko was banned. This meant he was not allowed to speak in public or to the media. Quoting Biko was also forbidden in the unjust apartheid regime.
Against all the odds, Biko continued in his quest for freedom and took part in organising protests which eventually led to the Soweto uprising of 1976. His role in organising these protests led him to becoming a target for the apartheid government security forces.
After being arrested on 18 August 1977 under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967, he was interrogated and tortured by police. This subsequently resulted in a coma as he had suffered a major head injury while in police custody.
Failing to get proper treatment for the injuries, Biko died on 12 September 1977 at the Pretoria prison. The police claimed that he had died from an extended hunger strike but his autopsy proved otherwise, revealing multiple bruises and abrasions and that he suffered brain hemorrhage.
- Aung San Suu Kyi
“Freedom and democracy are dreams you never give up.” – Aung San Suu Kyi
Suu Kyi is an opposition leader from Myanmar and is the shining face of the country’s claim for democracy and human rights. She is one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners. Following numerous speeches calling for freedom and democracy in Myanmar during 1988, she was placed under house arrest on July 20, 1989 without charge or trial. She spent almost 15 years in detention from July 1989 to 13 November 2010.
Suu Kyi has remained defiant against Myanmar’s military rule and continues to fearlessly fight the country’s dictatorship on her quest to make the country feature among democratic nations of the world.
On 9 November 1996 she was attacked in a motorcade that she was travelling in with other National League for Democracy leaders. The car in which she was in had its rear window smashed and the offenders were believed to be members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association who were allegedly paid 500 kyats each to participate.
Following her release from house arrest in 2010, Suu Kyi was elected to Parliament in the April 2012 by-elections. For the first time in her life, she is now afforded the opportunity to use her mandate to implement her political ideas.
In 2013 she made clear her intentions of running for president in the 2015 presidential elections. This could see her political ideas realised if she is allowed to run for the presidency considering that so far she is being prevented by a clause in the current constitution that bars people married to foreigners from standing for president.
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