His father Derrick Robert McBride and mother Doris were teachers at a Clairwood school. His maternal grandparents were Collin Campbell van Niekerk, a White Afrikaner, and Grace, a Coloured daughter of a Zulu-speaking mother and a Coloured father.
His father opens a workshop 'Utility Services'. At some point in 1978/79 his father begins burglar guards, fire-staircases and other light engineering steel work, where McBride assists. Robert is also involved in the collection of payment from customers, and has many encounters with gangs.
December 1980, Robert McBride receives his school leaving results, expecting high marks in Maths and Science. The results are poor and for the first time he stands up to his father, explaining the results by saying that he had to work for in the family business.
In 1981 McBride gains entrance to the University of Natal and begins studying Mechanical Engineering. He fails his first semester at university and subsequently drops out. He again works with his father for 3 months and then as a dock shiftworker for another 4 months.
Robert McBride works as an instrument fitter for Sasol for 6-7 months. He is trained at the oil parastatal's Secunda plant in the eastern Transvaal (now called Mpumalanga). Here he meets fellow worker Thomas Matjeke a trade unionist who talks often of the ANC and Frelimo.
McBride is badly burned in a gas bottle explosion at work and is hospitalized in Bethal. He is fetched by his father after an estrangement lasting several months. For the rest of the year he works with his father. Doris, Robert's mother, obtains a gun for protection against gang attacks. Prior to this Robert owned an illegal firearm.
McBride obtains a copy of the Bob Marley "Survival" album, banned in South Africa, and instantly relates to the revolutionary lyrics.
McBride gets close to Rashaad "Ricky" Leonard, a childhood acquaintance. Through him he is introduced to "Soledad Brothers - the prison letters of George Jackson", who was an African-American associated with the Black Panther movement. It becomes one of the most influential books McBride ever reads.
Mcbride enrols at Bechet (Coloured) Teacher Training College and gets elected to the Student's representative Council the same year.
Robert McBride assaults a plain-clothes policeman who, with 2 others, attempts to rob his mother's diner. Later, in a separate incident, he kills one of a group of attackers with his mother's pistol while returning from walking some of his mother's employees home at night. The assailant was a youth of about 18. He reports the matter to the local police station.
Robert McBride and other students form the Bechet branch of the Azanian Students' Organisation (AZASO), a student wing of the United Democratic Front (UDF). McBride meets Vincent James, active in the Congress of South African Students (COSAS).
In June 1986, an ANC armed terrorist wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cell, led by Robert McBride, planted a bomb in a car outside the popular "Why Not" bar and Magoo's Bar on Durban’s busy beach-front. Three innocent defenceless women died and 71 were injured in the bomb explosion, which became known as the Magoo’s Bar bombing.
McBride taped together more than 100 pounds of explosives, attaching a mine with a 15-minute timer as his trigger, and swaddling this propulsive charge with bags of machine-gun bullets and metal scraps for shrapnel. He secreted his lethal contraption in the spare-wheel well of a powder-blue Ford Cortina, which he parked one busy Saturday night on a crowded beach-front esplanade in Durban.
McBride, the bomber, was out of earshot when his device exploded into two busy bars called Magoo's and the Why Not, killing three women, wounding 71 people, and inaugurating a new stage in the ANC's war against innocent South African civilians.
Robert McBride was sentenced to death three times for his part in the attack.
These acts of terrorist war against defenceless civilians still stands for many South Africans as a reason for withholding forgiveness and reconciliation.
In an interview with Bill Keller (1992), he noted with pride that South Africa's reconciliation process came close to breaking down over his case, which is remembered with particular horror by most.
South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that McBride may be called a murderer, although he had received amnesty for the incident.
On March 9, 1998, (Four years after the ANC had taken over the government of the country), McBride, then a high-ranking official in the Department of Foreign Affairs, was arrested by the Mozambican police in Ressano Garcia, Mozambique, for allegedly smuggling weapons from Mozambique to South Africa. He maintained he was working with the South African National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and was later released by the Mozambican authorities. McBride was appointed Chief of the Metropolitan (metro) Police for Chief of Ekhuruleni Municipality in 2003.
On December 21, 2006, McBride rolled his vehicle at high speed on the R511 near Pretoria and witnesses at the scene said he appeared to be heavily intoxicated.
It did not help matters when the outspoken McBride, not known for keeping his temper, apparently threatened bystanders who were watching the drama unfold.
In an unexpected turn of events, three police officers - Patrick Johnston, Stanley Segathevan and Itumeleng Koko - who had hurried McBride away from the scene on that December 21 night in 2006, seemingly turned their backs on their old boss and obtained court interdicts protecting them, so they said, from McBride and other officials.
The Sunday Times reported (quoted here) that court was told of the following threat by McBride: 'If anyone of you co-operates with the police or gives any statements which directly incriminate me in any criminal activities I will rape your wives before I kill them, kill your children, and thereafter kill everything that moves at your homes, including your cats and dogs’.
Judge Moroa Tsoka ordered McBride to stop threatening, harassing and intimidating the three senior colleagues who allegedly gave damning evidence against him.
South Africa's Police Minister nominated Robert McBride for the position of head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid)
"We believe Mr McBride's appointment as head of Ipid will help this important institution to achieve [its]... mandate," the SA Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said.
The minister added that, "Mr McBride was the successful candidate following the shortlisting, interviewing processes, as well as Cabinet's endorsement,"
The Minister said the SA Cabinet decided to recommend McBride as IPID executive director at a meeting on Wednesday 13 November 2013.
AfriForum pays homage to Magoo's bomb victims