Aimee Stephens (7 December 1960 – 12 May 2020)
American transgender activist Aimee Stephens was fired from her job in 2013 when she told her boss that she planned to transition to female. She then sued the former employer for sex discrimination. The case was the first major transgender rights case to receive a full hearing in the US Supreme Court, in 2019. One month after her death, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law prohibits employment discrimination against LGBTQ workers.
Albert Uderzo (25 April 1927 – 25 March 2020)
Legendary French illustrator Albert Uderzo was the co-creator and writer of the much-loved comic books featuring the exploits of Asterix the Gaul. He created the famous stories – about the adventures of Gaulish warriors fighting the Roman Empire – with his friend René Goscinny from 1959 onwards. The books have sold 370 million copies worldwide, in dozens of languages, and several stories have been turned into cartoons and feature films. His legacy continues as the series runs on under new ownership.
Andrew Mlangeni (6 June 1925 – 21 July 2020)
Mlangeni was a South African political activist and anti-apartheid campaigner who, along with Nelson Mandela and others, was imprisoned at the end of the famous Rivonia Trial. He spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island. After his release in 1989 and South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Mlangeni served in Parliament from 1994 to 2004, and then again as a member of the National Assembly from 2009 until 2014, after which he retired.
Daniel arap Moi (2 September 1924 – 4 February 2020)
Former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi was an autocratic leader who ruled for more than 20 years. He succeeded in keeping Kenya relatively stable compared with many of its neighbouring countries at the time, working for regional peace. However, the economy regressed under his watch and he failed to tackle intensifying poverty and widespread corruption.
Benjamin Mkapa (12 November 1938 – 24 July 2020)
A former president of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa was committed to fighting AIDS and is credited with much of the country’s success in its response to HIV. In 1999, he declared HIV a national disaster and spearheaded the country’s national response by establishing the Tanzania Commission for AIDS. He also formed the Tanzania Parliamentarians AIDS Coalition (TAPAC) in 2001, which united high-level politicians in responding to the disease.
Bill Freund (6 July 1944 – 17 August 2020)
Described as one of the grandmasters of South African economic historiography, William (Bill) Freund he was a remarkable and prolific scholar. He was a professor emeritus of economic history at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and his research interests included African urban history and African and South African political economy and economic history. He had just finished work on his autobiography, Bill Freund: An historian’s passage to Africa, which is due to be published in May 2021 by Wits University Press.
Bill Withers (4 July 1938 – 30 March 2020)
Three-time Grammy winner Bill Withers released just eight albums before walking away from the spotlight in 1985, but he left an indelible mark on the music community and the world at large. Songs like “Lean On Me”, “Grandma’s Hands”, “Use Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day” are part of Western popular culture and have been covered many times, by musicians such as Adam Levine and Shawn Mendes, among others. While many of his biggest hits were first recorded in the 1970s, they have proven to be timeless favourites.
CT Vivian (30 July 1974 – 17 July 2020)
Reverend Cordy Tindell (CT) Vivian was an American civil rights activist. He worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr and later led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Vivian was active in sit-in protests in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s and met King during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott — a demonstration spurred by Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger. Vivian became an active early member of the group that eventually became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Carl Reiner (20 March 1922 – 29 June 2020)
Carl Reiner was an American writer, producer, director and actor who was part of Sid Caesar’s legendary team and went on to create The Dick van Dyke Show on television Reiner, the father of filmmaker and activist Rob Reiner, won nine Emmy awards, including five for The Dick van Dyke Show. His most popular films as a director included Oh God, starring George Burns, in 1977; The Jerk, with Steve Martin, in 1979; and All of Me, with Martin and Lily Tomlin, in 1984. In later years, Reiner was an elder statesman of comedy, revered and respected for his versatility as a performer.
Chadwick Boseman (29 November 1976 – 28 August 2020)
Actor Chadwick Boseman came to prominence playing real-life figures — baseball great Jackie Robinson in 2013’s 42 and soul singer James Brown in 2014’s Get on Up. However, his leading role in the Marvel superhero movie Black Panther is what he will be most remembered for. Boseman’s untimely death shocked the world. The impact Black Panther and Boseman had on culture cannot be overstated. The film was the first superhero movie to be nominated by the US Motion Picture Academy for its Best Picture Award — and earned six other nominations and won three. Boseman presented to the world an image of a powerful and thoughtful black man, the leader of a thriving African nation and a superhero willing to race into whatever battle he felt was worth fighting, no matter the odds. Accepting a Screen Actors’ Guild Award in 2019, Boseman said the film had changed what it meant to be “young, gifted and black”.
David Dinkins (10 July 1927 – 23 November 2020)
The first African-American mayor of New York City, David Dinkins was elected in 1989 after two high-profile racially charged cases had played out under the previous mayoral stint of Ed Koch. Early in Dinkins’s administration, a newly freed Nelson Mandela made New York City his first stop in the US, in 1990. Dinkins had been a long-time outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa.
Dawn Lindberg (14 April 1945 – 7 December 2020)
Dawn Lindberg was founder and chief executive of the Naledi Theatre Awards, one of the biggest and most prestigious theatre awards in South Africa. With a career spanning over five decades as a singer, actress and theatre director, Lindberg started out in show business after graduating in fine arts from Wits University in the early 1960s. In 1962 she met her husband and long-time partner in music and theatre, Des, and they formed the folk duo Des & Dawn. In 1973 the couple staged the musical Godspell, a groundbreaking multiracial show in South Africa.
Denis Goldberg (11 April 1933 – 29 April 2020)
Denis Goldberg was a lifelong supporter of the ANC and became a member of the armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, when it was formed in 1961. Goldberg was the only white defendant to be convicted alongside Nelson Mandela and others in 1964 for resisting apartheid. He spent 22 years in prison. On his release in 1985, he went into exile in the UK, but returned home to South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. In later years, he was a critic of the corruption that came to define much of Jacob Zuma’s presidency of South Africa.
Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020)
Argentinian soccer player Diego Maradona is generally regarded as the top footballer of the 1980s and one of the greatest of all time. Renowned for his ability to control the ball and create scoring opportunities for himself and his team, he led club teams to championships in Argentina, Italy and Spain and he starred in the Argentine national team that won the 1986 World Cup.
Dr Victor Bernard Holland (28 March 1943 – 19 April 2020)
South African physician Dr Victor Holland grew up in the years just before the start of National Party rule and apartheid. Mark Heywood writes that “his life and profession as a doctor was blighted by racism and inequality but it also forged a life-long approach to equality in medicine and health”. Holland was rejected by Wits University’s medical school as he was classified as “non-white” and completed a BSc degree at Bellville College (now the University of the Western Cape), the institute of higher learning set aside for “coloured” people. In 1963, he was accepted at the medical faculty of the otherwise largely racially segregated University of Natal (now the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine). As a physician, Holland spent many decades as head of general medicine wards at Coronation Hospital and Helen Joseph Hospital. He developed a specialisation in gastroenterology.
Eddie Van Halen (26 January 1955 – 6 October 2020)
Pioneering guitar player Eddie Van Halen’s hard-rock band emerged from the Sunset Strip music scene in Los Angeles in the early 1970s to stand at the top of rock ’n’ roll for a decade. Van Halen was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on 26 January 1955 and studied classical piano after moving to the US in the 1960s. After switching to guitar, he and his older brother Alex, who took up the drums, formed bands that would eventually become Van Halen in the mid-1970s, with lead singer Roth and bassist Michael Anthony.
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah (16 June 1929 – 28 September 2020)
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah ruled the oil-rich Gulf Arab state Kuwait from 2006 and oversaw its foreign policy for more than 50 years. He was dubbed “The dean of Arab diplomacy” for his efforts to restore relations with states that backed Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when Kuwait was invaded by Iraqi forces. The emir also often acted as a mediator in regional disputes, including the ongoing diplomatic stand-off between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar.
Fikile Ntshangase (1955 – 22 October 2020)
South African environmental and anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase was the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO). MCEJO has been challenging in court the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining. It has been alleged that Ntshangashe was assassinated because of her ongoing fight against the mining activities.
Fred Willard (18 September 1933 – 15 May 2020)
Prolific comic actor and master of mockumentaries, Fred Willard starred in Modern Family, Everybody Loves Raymond, Waiting for Guffman and This Is Spinal Tap. Willard was nominated four times for Emmy Awards, three of them (in 2003, 2004 and 2005) for playing Hank in the television series Everybody Loves Raymond and the fourth in 2010 for his recurring role as Frank Dunphy in Modern Family. Willard’s character received a loving send-off during Modern Family’s final season with a January 2020 episode that revealed his death.
George Bizos (14 November 1927 – 9 September 2020)
South African lawyer George Bizos played a critical role through the years of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration, both professionally and as a family friend. The Nelson Mandela Foundation reported that Mandela said Bizos had “behaved like a brother” to him while he was in jail. “He looked after my family, after my children, advised my children and he made me feel that, although I’m in prison, my affairs are being looked after by a man I know and trust.” Bizos was also a vital conduit for messages between Mandela and the external ANC leadership.
George Hallett (30 December 1942 – 1 July 2020)
Acclaimed Cape Town photographer George Hallett spent considerable time in self-imposed exile from 1970, mostly in Europe, before returning to South Africa in 1995. Before his official return, he followed and documented Nelson Mandela on the presidential campaign trail of the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Hallett was born in District Six, but his and many other families were forcibly removed before the infamous demolition of the suburb. He received acclaim for his images of the destruction of District Six, as bulldozers razed a vibrant community whose presence had been deemed illegal under apartheid’s Group Areas Act. Hallett also designed the covers and took the photographs for the African Writers Series.
Gita Ramjee (8 April 1956 – 31 March 2020)
Professor Gita Ramjee was a renowned HIV researcher who specialised in HIV prevention for women. Ramjee joined the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) in 1996, where she was at the forefront of HIV prevention research. She rose to become chief specialist scientist and director of SAMRC’s HIV Prevention Research Unit, where she managed large-scale phase 3 trials in HIV prevention. She also oversaw the development of SAMRC’s clinical trial unit.
Hosni Mubarak (4 May 1928 – 25 February 2020)
Former president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak spent three decades in office before a popular uprising swept the country. His legacy is marked with corruption, poverty and unemployment. In 2012, Mubarak was sentenced to life imprisonment over the deaths of some of the 900 protesters who were killed by security forces during the 2011 uprising. The conviction was overturned and he was freed in March 2017.
Irrfan Khan (7 January 1967 – 29 April 2020)
Bollywood star Irrfan Khan was born in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan and attended the National School of Drama in New Delhi before embarking on an acting career. After playing mainly supporting and character parts for more than a decade, he broke into leading roles in the early 2000s, starring in and winning his first award for the 2004 film Haasil. He rose to international fame playing a police inspector in the multi-award-winning Slumdog Millionaire. He took on a starring role in Life of Pi, which also won multiple Golden Globe and Academy Awards, before playing supporting roles in major US films such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Jurassic World and Inferno.
Jan Morris (2 October 1926 – 20 November 2020)
Jan Morris was an acclaimed British journalist, travel writer and historian who wrote about history’s sweep and the details of place with equal eloquence — and chronicled her life as a transgender woman. As James Morris, she pursued a writing career, with media reports on wars and revolutions from a range of countries and with books like Pax Britannica, the first of a three-volume history of the British Empire. She became increasingly despondent over the issue of gender identity. At age 46, she underwent transition surgery, explaining the reasoning in a well-received 1974 memoir, Conundrum, which was written two years after the operation under a new byline, Jan Morris.
Jerry Stiller (8 June 1927 – 11 May 2020)
American actor and comedian Jerry Stiller (father of Ben Stiller) became known for his role as Frank Constanza in the television comedy series Seinfeld, as Leah Remini’s father in The King of Queens and as Zoolander’s manager in the eponymous comedy directed by Ben Stiller. Though known as a comedian, Stiller was also a serious dramatic actor with a long history on Broadway. Stiller and his wife Meara were a top comedy act in the 1960s, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show 36 times. The pair were also members of the improv group the Compass Players, which later became Second City.
John Lewis (21 February 1940 – 17 July 2020)
John Lewis was an American civil rights activist, a survivor of Alabama’s “Bloody Sunday” massacre in 1972 and a protégé of Martin Luther King Jr. He was a member of the US Congress for more than 30 years and channelled all he had learned from his fight for equality as a young man into empowering youth and minority communities and encouraging activism.
Joseph Shabalala (28 August 1940 – 11 February 2020)
Joseph Shabalala helped introduce the sound of traditional Zulu music to the world. The musician was best known as the founder and director of choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which won five Grammy awards and featured heavily on American artist Paul Simon’s Graceland album. The group reached number 15 in the UK charts with a cover version of the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” at the time of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Katherine Johnson (26 August 1918 – 24 February 2020)
Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician who played a key role in numerous American missions during the Space Race, perhaps most notably calculating the trajectory needed to get the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and back. As a black woman working for NASA in the 1950s and 1960s, Johnson overcame social boundaries and racial discrimination. Her impressive career was the subject of the 2016 book and movie Hidden Figures.
Kenny Rogers (21 August 1938 – 20 March 2020)
Kenny Rogers was an American country music singer known for his raspy voice and multiple hits, such as “Lady”, “The Gambler”, “Lucille” and “Through the Years”. The Houston-born country star had 20 No 1 hits, won three Grammys and performed for some 60 years before retiring from touring in 2017 at age 79.
Kirk Douglas (9 December 1916 – 5 February 2020)
Actor Kirk Douglas (father of Michael Douglas), one of the top male film stars of the post-World War II era, made more than 80 movies before retiring in 2004. He was nominated three times for best actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — for Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life — and was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 1996.
Kobe Bryant (23 August 1978 – 26 January 2020)
American professional basketball player Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, Bryant won five NBA championships and was an 18-time All-Star, a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, a 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), and a two-time NBA Finals MVP. Bryant also led the NBA in scoring twice and ranks fourth on the league’s all-time regular season scoring and all-time post-season scoring lists.
Larry Kramer (25 June 1935 – 27 May 2020)
American playwright Larry Kramer was an LGBTQ+ activist and one of the first activists against AIDS, back when the disease did not even have a name. In the early 1980s, Kramer witnessed hundreds, then thousands, of gay men die before the US government took action to stop the spread of HIV. He became a high-profile, high-volume, one-man crusade against the disease.
Lee Teng-hui (15 January 1923 – 30 July 2020)
Former president of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui was considered “the father of Taiwan’s democracy”. Throughout his 97 years, Lee took on multiple identities as a Japanese, communist, Chinese, Christian and, finally, Taiwanese independence activist – matching the island’s many changes. He served as president of Taiwan from 1988 to 2000. Lee was credited with ending autocratic rule in favour of pluralism and democracy — but was also a controversial figure. His attempts to delink the island from China sparked tensions with Beijing, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory.
Lucille Bridges (12 August 1934 – 10 November 2020)
Lucille Bridges was known as “the champion for change”. While her daughter Ruby Bridges may be widely known as the brave black child who desegregated an all-white school in the US South, it was Lucille who set the process in motion. In 1960 she braved a gauntlet of threats and racist slurs to escort her daughter to a formerly all-white school in New Orleans in what became a lasting symbol of opposition to segregation.
Mary Twala (1940—2020)
Actress Mary Twala, who died at the age of 79, was described as an institution. A part of South Africa’s film and theatre industry for six decades, Twala was a prolific actress whose contribution helped shape the evolution of the performing arts industry in the country.
In 2006 she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards for her peerless contribution to the performing arts. In 2018 she crowned that accolade with another Lifetime Achievement Award – this time bestowed by the Mbokodo Awards and dedicated to recognising exceptional accomplishments by South African women in various fields.
Manolis Glezos (9 September 1922 – 30 March 2020)
Manolis Glezos was a former anti-Nazi Greek resistance fighter. He was sentenced to death multiple times, confined to a prison cell for 16 years and awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963. In addition to his political activism, Glezos authored articles for Greek newspapers from 1942 (for which he was awarded the International Award of Journalism in 1958) and published six books, including From Dictatorship to Democracy and National Resistance 1940-1945. Determined to keep the issue of Hitler’s war crimes alive, he campaigned well into his 90s for German reparations as compensation for the atrocities Greeks suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Manu Dibango (12 December 1933 – 24 March 2020)
Manu Dibango, a Cameroonian musician and songwriter who played saxophone and vibraphone, was known as the founding father of funk music. He covered a variety of genres, from traditional African roots to jazz, soul, Afrobeat, reggae, gospel, French chanson, Congolese rumba, salsa, and solo piano. The use of the refrain “mama-say, mama-sa, mama-kossa”, on Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something”, earned Dibango substantial compensation two decades later.
Mario Molina (19 March 1943 – 7 October 2020)
Mario Molina was a Mexican chemist, ozone-hole investigator, Nobel winner, Montreal Protocol advocate and presidential adviser. In the mid-1970s, Molina helped to predict that global emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) could deplete stratospheric ozone. His prediction was confirmed in the 1980s by a group of scientists. Molina’s tireless advocacy and scientific diplomacy helped to bring about the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international agreement to phase out CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals.
Nyameka Goniwe (1951 – 29 August 2020)
Veteran Eastern Cape Activist, local government politician and social worker Nyameka Goniwe was a champion of the people. She survived the death of her husband, Matthew Goniwe, in one of apartheid-era South Africa’s most brutal extra-judicial killings and went on to campaign in vain for his assassins to be brought to justice. After her husband’s death, Goniwe was active in efforts to promote social change, particularly in rural areas of South Africa. She later became a mayor and speaker of the local municipality council in Cradock.
Dame Olivia de Havilland (1 July 1916 – 26 July 2020)
Actress Dame Olivia de Havilland’s career spanned more than 50 years and almost 50 feature films. She starred in prominent movies such as Gone with the Wind, a production that earned her one of her five Oscar nominations. Backed by the Screen Actors Guild, she took Warner Brothers to court in 1943 when it added time to her original contract as a penalty for turning down roles. The California Supreme Court ruled in her favour in what became known as the De Havilland Law, which loosened the grip studios had on their actors.
Lungile Pepeta (1974 – 7 August 2020)
Professor Lungile Pepeta was the executive dean of the health sciences faculty at Nelson Mandela University in Eastern Cape. “He left a proud legacy of speaking truth to power and a dream of creating a children’s hospital in the Eastern Cape,” writes Estelle Ellis. Pepeta was also chair of the Council for Medical Schemes. He was described by the council as a passionate and committed leader who embodied a spirit of service. “(He was one) who poured his life into the service of others through his chosen profession.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was associate justice of the Supreme Court of the US. An architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years in the nation’s highest court, becoming its most prominent member. For more than a decade, until her first judicial appointment in 1980, she led the fight in the courts for gender equality.
Saeb Erekat (28 April 1955 – 10 November 2020)
Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat was a tireless advocate for the Palestinian people in the Middle East peace process. Erekat led the Palestinians in on-off peace talks with Israel for many years as secretary general of the main Palestinian movement, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). He was also an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas.
Sir Sean Connery (25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020)
Two-time Academy Award winner Sir Sean Connery shot to international stardom as the first actor to portray fictional British secret agent James Bond on film, starring in seven Bond movies between 1962 and 1983. He also starred in noteworthy productions such as Marnie, The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would be King, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Cold War tale The Hunt for Red October.
Sir Harold Evans (28 June 1928 – 23 September 2020)
British-American journalist and author Sir Harold Evans was one of the most influential media figures of his generation. Evans served as editor of Britain’s Sunday Times for 14 years and was editor-at-large for Reuters at the time of his death. One of his most famous investigations exposed the plight of hundreds of British thalidomide children who had never received any compensation for their birth defects.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said (18 November 1940 – 10 January 2020)
Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said was the Middle East’s longest-ruling monarch, seizing power in a 1970 palace coup and pulling his Arabian sultanate into modernity while carefully balancing diplomatic ties between adversaries Iran and the US. He is best known for modernising Oman which, at the start of his rule, was a nation that was home to only three schools and had harsh laws banning electricity, radios, eyeglasses and even umbrellas.
Zindzi Mandela (23 December 1960 – 13 July 2020)
Zindziswa Mandela was a South African diplomat, poet and daughter of former president Nelson Mandela. She served as deputy president of the Soweto Youth Congress, was a member of the Release Mandela Campaign and was an underground operative in the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe. She was posted to Denmark as an ambassador in 2015 and had been designated to become South Africa’s head of mission in Monrovia, Liberia. DM/MC
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