Jessie Yasmin Duarte was born on 19 September 1953, one of nine children, in Newclare, Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) to Julie and Ebrahim Dangor. She completed her Standard Ten (Grade 12) at the Coronationville Secondary School, Johannesburg.

Duarte started her professional career as a Management Accountant.

In 1979 Albertina Sisulu recruited Duarte to establish women's structures throughout the country. By 1981 she was serving as the provincial secretary of the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW), which was a United Democratic Front (UDF) affiliate.

During this period, she worked with Reverend Beyers Naude to set up and administer a scholarship fund to educate and skill the African National Congress (ANC) and UDF activists to develop a progressive core of public servants. She was detained without trial in 1988, released and placed under restriction orders until the State of Emergency was lifted.

In 1990 Duarte was appointed to the ANC’s Interim Leadership Core and elected to the Gauteng Provincial Executive Council (PEC). She served in this provincial cabinet as the Safety and Security MEC after the 1994 election and quit the position after admitting to driving a state car without a driver’s licence.

She was the Personal Assistant to both former President Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu until 1994. During South Africa’s negotiations for democracy, from 1991-1994, Duarte was a member of the Regional Executive Committee of the ANC; she subsequently served as a special assistant to Nelson Mandela (1990-94); was on the ANC National Executive Committee (1997-1999); a member of the provincial cabinet (MEC, Safety and Security) for Gauteng (1994-1998); and was ambassador to Mozambique (1999-2003).

Upon her return as Ambassador, she was appointed as the National Spokesperson of the ANC before being deployed as Chief Operations Officer in the Presidency, South African Government until she resigned in April 2010.

Duarte was a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee since 2002. She was elected Deputy Secretary General of the ANC at the organisation’s 53rd National Conference at Mangaung, Free State Province in December 2012.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe announced that Jessie Yasmin Duarte had passed away on 17 July 2021 in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

South African Communist Party (SACP) spokesperson Alex Mashilo said:

Duarte devoted her life to the struggle for liberation and social emancipation, the national democratic revolution. He also said Duarte revived her membership of the SACP a while ago and was a member of the SACP in good standing at the time of her passing. Mashilo said not only was Duarte the ANC deputy secretary general, but she was also a member of the Alliance Secretariat [ANC, SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions – Cosatu], and convened the meeting of the Alliance political council and gave leadership guidance to its drafting team. As a tribute to Duarte, the SACP called for the intensification of the struggle against patriarchy, a struggle comrade Jessie was passionate about. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has designated Duarte’s funeral as a special official funeral category 2.

The ANC’s treasurer-general, Paul Mashatile, said:

The ANC had declared from Sunday [17 July 2022] a week of mourning for Duarte. Provinces of the ANC have been directed to fly the ANC flag at half-mast. Each province is expected to organise a provincial memorial service during this period.

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