Jessie Duarte was a South African anti-apartheid activist who was an aide to the country’s first Black president, Nelson Mandela (1918–2013).
Duarte was working to organize women in the fight against apartheid when she, like Mandela, was detained by the apartheid government. When Mandela was freed from his long years in prison in 1990, Duarte became one of his personal assistants, working closely with the leader as he led the fight to dismantle apartheid. Later, she served as the South African ambassador to Mozambique. She then became a leader in the African National Congress, the political party of Mandela. Duarte served as the party’s deputy secretary-general for ten years and acting secretary-general from May 2021 until her death. She had intended to retire from the position later in 2022. Sometimes a controversial figure, Duarte became known for her fiery opinions and feuds with the media.
Duarte on working with Mandela
“It was an enormous privilege … you don’t often work for a legend, and you don’t often get to do that with the kind of intensity that I did, and to get close to the people as I did.” —from a 1999 interview for Frontline
Tributes to Jessie Duarte
Full obituary: The Washington Post