|Dikobe Ben Martins was born on 02 September 1956, Alexandra Township, in Johannesburg and attended school at St Joseph’s School in Aliwal North, Bechet College in Durban and Coronationville High School in Johannesburg. A member of the Black Consciousness Movement in 1970’s, and produced ‘protest art’ T-shirts and posters in the 1970’s. In 1978 he was charged and acquitted for producing banned Steve Biko T-shirts. He also produced the poster distributed at Steve Biko’s funeral.
He attended art classes at Bill Ainsley’s Studio and at the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) with Johnny Rieberio, Fikile Magadlela and Thami Mnyele. In the 1980’s he produced numerous T-shirts and posters for the United Democratic Front. Between 1979 and 1983 he went to Botswana and Lesotho numerous times, where he remained in contact with Wally Serote, Thami Mnyele and Tim Williams who were living in exile, and who were members ofUmkhonto we Sizwe (MK) the liberation army of the African National Congress (ANC) and leading figures of the Medu Art Ensemble.
In 1979 he was recruited as a member of the ANC and later as a member of MK. He was made the chief coordinator of the visual art committee in South Africa for assisting artists to attend the Culture and Resistance Conference and Festival in Gabarone. From 1977 up to the time of his arrest in 1983 under the Terrorism Act he worked at the Community Care Centre and Edendale Lay Ecumenical Centre in Pietermaritzburg and ran art workshops and set up one of the earliest silk screen and poster making collectives at the Old Mill building in Printing Office street, in Pietermaritzburg. He was arrested in November 1983 and kept for seven months in solitary confinement and tortured by the security police during this period.
In 1984 while he was in detention and on trial, his book of poetry titled ‘Baptism of Fire’ was published by Ad Donker publishers. Before his arrest he had also contributed poetry, graphics and essays on art and culture to the Staffrider publication. Staffrider was one of the most important literary progressive presences of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It aimed at a popular grassroots readership rather than an elite readership and was consciously non-racial, in the segregated apartheid era. Staffrider had two main objectives: to provide publishing opportunities for community – based organizations and young writers, graphic artists and photographers; and to oppose officially sanctioned and establishment culture.
Martins is presently a Member of Parliament and the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. Martins has been a Member of Parliament since the First Democratic Elections held in South Africa in 1994. Prior to becoming a Member of Parliament, he was employed by the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist (SACP) after his release from Robben – Island and Johannesburg Prisons where he served eight years as a political prisoner (1983-1991).
He is a Member of the Political Bureau and Central Committee of the South African Communist Party; Member of Council of the Robben Island Museum and an Executive Committee Member of the Caversham Centre for writers and artists.
He holds a Master of Law (LLM) degree in International law from the University of Cape Town, a Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree from the University of Natal (now the University of Kwa Zulu Natal) and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from the University of South Africa (UNISA).
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