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Meet the 5 Africans Who Spent Decades in Prison for Political Reasons

Many times it takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice to fight for a worthwhile cause.

Its consequences have prevented many from undertaking the calling to advocate on behalf of another person or groups of people.

The following prisoners were held because they courageously put their freedom on the line to help future generations down the line.

Keep reading to learn about five African political prisoners imprisoned for decades:

Image of a slave ship U.S. slave Blog

Massavana and Koesaaij

During the Meermin slave mutiny of 1766, Massavana and Koesaaij were Malagasy slaves who led the uprising aboard the Dutch East India Company’s fleet of slave ships.

After the Malagasy slaves were unshackled due to overcrowding and to lessen the spread of disease.

The slaves were then obliged with working around the ship and entertaining the crew.

After being ordered to clean Madagascan weapons, the slaves then used the spears and other weaponry to overtake the crew of the ship.

Massavana and Koesaaij, which were not the actual names of the slaves but Dutch variations of it were sent to Robben Island in hopes of gaining more information about the uprising.

Massavana died after being in prison for three years, Koesaaij was imprisoned for another 20 years.

Andimba Toivo ya Toivo…The Namibian

Andimba Toivo ya Toivo

Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a Namibian anti-apartheid activist and politician.

Toivo emigrated to Capetown in the 1950s. It was then when he became instrumental in the founding of South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the Ovamboland People’s Organization (OPO) in 1959.

Because of his activism on behalf of Namibian independence, Toivo was jailed in 1966 under the Terrorism Act. He was sentenced to 20 years. He served 16 years on Robben Island.

Walter Sisulu…Shaku Sisulu

Walter Sisulu


Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu was a South African anti-apartheid activist and member of the African National Congress (ANC).

Sisulu along with Mandela and five other activists were convicted of treason at the Rivonia trial.

Sisulu was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was released in October 1989.

Nelson Mandela…Biography

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist. He also served as the first black president of South Africa.

On July 11, 1963, the police raided Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg which was the hideout of some key African National Congress members taking with them supposed evidence of plans by Mandela and others to sabotage and lead a violent revolution against the apartheid government. Keep in mind that Mandela was already serving a five-year jail term on charges of leaving South Africa without permission and also instigating workers to go on strike.

Though the Rivonia Trial, which took place between October 9, 1963, and June 12, 1964, was strongly condemned by recognized international organizations including the United Nations and the World Peace Council, it still proceeded and eventually found Mandela together with the other accused guilty.

Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1990 and he became the first black president of South Africa.

Image of the Nandi people…Wikipedia

Barsirian Arap Manyei

Barsirian Arap Manyei was born in 1882 in Samitu. Like his father, Koitalel Arap Samoei, Manyei was an Orkoiyot, the supreme chief of the Nandi people of Kenya.

Manyei took over the throne in 1919 after his brother Lelimo Arap Samoei reneged his post after killing one of his palace guards, who also happened to be an informant for the British.

He fled after the murder.

There was an unrest brewing between the Nandi people and the British government due to tax increases and a stock quarantine imposed on the Nandi people from 1921 and 1923 amongst other factors.

In 1923 the saget ab eito or sacrifice of the ox was to commence. The ceremony entailed the exchange of leadership between the community.

The British administration believed that the gathering was a cover-up for a planned mutiny.

On October 16, 1923, several days before the ceremony was to occur, Manyei and four additional elders were apprehended and expelled to Meru.

Manyei spent the next forty years in prison.  He was Kenya’s longest-serving political prisoner.


Written by How Africa

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