Cecilia Makiwane was born in 1880 at the MacFarlane Mission in the Victoria district of Alice in the Eastern Cape. Her father was a teacher and a minister and so she was taught at home before she even entered school. She later attended the Lovedale Girl’s School where she obtained a teacher’s certificate.
In 1898, an experimental nurse’s training school was opened for black nurses at the Lovedale Mission Hospital and in 1902 a three-year nursing course was introduced at Lovedale College. In 1903, Makiwane enrolled, even though she had her teacher’s certificate.
On completion, she and the other student she enrolled with were sent to Butterworth Hospital for further training to prepare them for the Colonial Medical Council examination. She sat for her final examination for general nurses of the Colonial Medical Council on the 19 December 1907.
On the 7 January 1908, after passing her exams, Makiwane was registered as the first black professional nurse.
In 1912, Makiwane took part in what was probably the first women’s anti-pass campaign. In this campaign, a petition was signed by some 5000 black and coloured women in the Free State was sent to Louis Botha asking for the pass laws to be repealed.
She resumed work with the Lovedale Hospital and served the hospital for many years until she was granted long leave due to ill health.
After leaving Lovedale, she joined her sister, Majombozi, in Thaba ‘Nchu where she died in 1919 at the age of 39. A statue of Cecilia Makiwane was erected by the nurses of South Africa at the Lovedale Hospital in 1977 and a hospital in Mdantsane Township in the Eastern Cape has been named after her.
In 2002 the government introduced the Cecilia Makiwane Nurse's Recognition Award for healthcare professionals in her honour.