Neville Alexander

September 22, 2012

World in View

by Gerry Emmett

We mourn the passing of South African revolutionary and scholar Neville Alexander. Born in the rural Eastern Cape, Alexander moved to Cape Town in 1953 to attend university. There he was introduced to revolutionary ideas. As he said, “I was forced to grapple seriously with the works of Marx and Trotsky…If you did not know Hegel, Marx, Shakespeare, the poets and English literature you were simply left out of things.” His political education was furthered during studies at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, Alexander returned to South Africa and began teaching. In 1964 he was sentenced to Robben Island prison after being accused of conspiracy to commit sabotage. This became his second and more profound university experience.

Alongside Nelson Mandela and other prisoners in the “University of Robben Island,” he said, “We taught one another what we knew, discovering each other’s resourcefulness. We also learned how people with little or no formal education could not only themselves participate in education programs but actually teach others a range of insights and skills.”

Alexander applied the lessons of both “universities” to the South African freedom struggle. He made serious efforts at dialogue with the Black Consciousness Movement, criticizing the possibilities he saw for it being co-opted by capitalism. Post-apartheid, he tried, through the Workers Organization for Socialist Action, to influence the African National Congress to deepen the “democratic project.”

Most importantly, though, the vision of freedom remained Neville Alexander’s goal.

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