Rabede was born in 1953 in Cato Manor.
Studying law at Zululand University in the ’70s, Rabede was active for a time in the Maoist leaning, Black Conciousness Movement of Azania.
He claims to have been inspired during that period by Malcolm X, Angela Davis (US Communist Party member), Martin Luther King, Fidel Castro and Albert Luthuli (ANC founder).
During the student uprisings of the mid ’70s, Rabede joined the ANC underground until 1977 when he was ordered to travel to Mozambique.
He spent two years as a journalist with Radio Freedom in Tanzania, broadcasting into South Africa, then moved to East Germany to study law at Karl Marx University in Leipzig.
Rabede gained his LLM in International Law in 1981. Subsequently worked in Zambia for the ANC’s international department, and in Lesotho, where he worked on organising underground ANC and South African Communist Party structures inside South Africa. Rabede also underwent military training with the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe.
Rabede spent 1985 at the Lenin International School in Moscow. Radebe claims that his studies in the then Soviet Union “shaped a new outlook in him, which emphasised the global dimensions of economic and political change“.
In April 1986, Radebe travelled illegally to Johannesburg from Lesotho. He was careless and was soon arrested and convicted under the Terrorism Act. He was sentenced to six years On Robben Island. He remained politically active in jail and when released in 1990, was head of the ANC’s political department.
On leaving prison, Rabede worked for the National Association of Democratic Lawyers until his election as chairperson of Southern Natal ANC in November 1991.
Elected to Parliament on an ANC ticket in 1994, Rabede was appointed minister of Public Enterprises by the new President Thabo Mbeki in June 1999.
Rabede lost his position on the SACP’s Central Committee in 2002, but remains a senior member of the Communist Party.