The presidential guest house in Pretoria was named after former ANC president Sefako Mapogo Makgatho yesterday at a ceremony led by President Jacob Zuma.

“Today we are celebrating yet again the legacy of an outstanding South African, the Limpopo-born teacher, politician and journalist – Sefako Mapogo Makgatho,” said Zuma.

“His contribution to the freedom and democracy we enjoy today, in the early years of our struggle for freedom, is being recognised through the naming of the presidential guest house in his honour.”

Zuma said the presidency wanted visitors they received from all walks of life and from abroad to be inspired by Makgatho’s legacy. The naming was also in line with the national move to have symbols and place names reflect the country’s history and diversity.

Zambezi Drive, north-east of the city, was being renamed Makgatho Drive.

The nation should continuously pay tribute to men and women who committed their lives to fighting for human dignity, equality and freedom, he said.

Zuma provided some background on Makgatho, who he said appeared to have been a “regular visitor” to the Union Buildings. He met General Louis Botha, the first prime minister of the Union of SA, and other government officials there.

He had lobbied against the pass laws and the Native Land Act, which forbade land sales or purchases by blacks.

“President Makgatho believed in direct engagement with the oppressors who were sitting in the Union Buildings, in efforts to make them realise that they were destroying the country,” said Zuma.

“It is befitting that a residence linked to the Union Buildings be named after him.”

Nelson Mandela was so inspired by Makgatho that he named his son Makgatho Mandela after him. Sefako Mapogo Makgatho died in 1951, in Pretoria.

Born in then Pietersburg, now Polokwane, Makgatho led the SA Native National Congress from 1917 to 1924.

He had been a teacher, a trade unionist, journalist and political activist “of note”.

Makgatho rejected the authorities’ explanation for pass laws – that it would be easier to identify a black person if they carried a pass. He noted that the cost of getting a pass was filling the administration’s coffers for projects such as schools for white children, while the needs of black people were being neglected.

Zuma said that even if this history was “painful and uncomfortable” it could not be wished away.

“We must learn from it and build one united nation from the ruins of the divisions of the past,” he said. – Sapa