In Memory: Madi Gray

12 Apr 2024
Madi Gray
12 Apr 2024
Madi Gray and Mike Popham
Two of Varsity 1968 editors: Madi Gray (news) and Mike Popham (chief)

It is with sadness that UCT learned of the passing of the legendary Madi Gray, who played an active role at UCT and in South Africa as an anti-apartheid activist. Madi was an editor on the UCT student newspaper Varsity, and was a leading participant in the 1968 Archie Mafeje sit-in in the Bremner Building. Later, Madi worked for the SA Institute of Race Relations in Soweto.

Madi Gray was born in Cape Town, where she grew up, attended school and went to university. Her parents were immigrants from Germany, who came to South Africa during the inter-war period. As a child, Gray became aware of the difference in the treatment of people, based on colour. She enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where she studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree, studying sociology, psychology, anthropology and German. She then went on to do an honours degree in psychology. She got a bursary for a couple of years but had to find part-time work so that she could continue to study. As a result, she did not have very much time to do more than sign the odd petition and participate together with many others in political demonstrations.

Her interest in journalism led her to join the editorial board of the university newspaper, Varsity. In 1968, the year that she was the news editor, the students had a sit-in and occupied the administration buildings for ten days. At the time, Gray was a member of  the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).

During the 1970s Madi helped feminist demonstrations in London for the right to abortion. She helped run the ANC representative office in Stockholm, Sweden. Her phone was tapped by the Swedish secret service, and she was the object of attention of apartheid spies. Madi volunteered with many solidarity groups such as the Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau, CFMAG. Madi and Bertil also spent a period working in newly-independent Mozambique.

After democracy came in 1994, Madi returned to South Africa, and re-invented herself as a tourist guide, specialising in Swedish tourists. She took a leading part in organising the Spirit of ’68 sit-in’s 40th reunion and helped set up the Spirit of ’68 Bursary fund which the sit-in veterans established.

After holding a combined 80th-81st birthday celebration, Madi passed away from a relapse of cancer. She is survived by her daughter Nandi, and two granddaughters.


“Madi’s qualities of courage, humour and gentleness are rarely found together.” – Mike Popham