Anti apartheid activist Dr. Richard Turner is assassinated

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Richard Turner

Sunday, 8 January 1978

A passionate lecturer pioneering the teaching of radical political philosophy, Dr. Richard Turner was assassinated. Turner met his untimely death on the night of 8 January 1978 when he was shot through a window of his home in Durban and died in the arms of his 13-year old daughter, Jann.  After a lengthy investigation concerning his murder, no one was held responsible for his death. Many strongly believe that he was assassinated by the security forces.  Turner's murder came in the wake of renewed attacks on the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). NUSAS was a federation of students with a predominantly white membership that was at the centre of the controversy with Steve Biko's South African Students Organisation (SASO). In response to SASO's condemnation of NUSAS, Turner was convinced that the onus was on whites in general, and white students in particular, to adopt a more radical and resolute stand against racism. He encouraged political activism by whites in the aftermath of the 1969 departure of Blacks from NUSAS.

 In fact, at the time of his death, NUSAS had already started exploring possibilities of cooperation with black students following the Soweto Revolt two years earlier. This, evidently, is what Turner had advocated for. In April 1977 NUSAS and the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) were considering working together in joint initiatives that would increase the pressure on the government. Several meetings were held and in one of these, held in Diepkloof, Soweto, the entire NUSAS and SSRC Executive Committees were detained. This marked a renewed onslaught on student activists in the period following the Soweto Revolt in 1976 and 1977. The assassination of Turner was therefore part of an orchestrated campaign by the security forces to curb further student unrest. His death added to a bleak political situation in South Africa as the country was still mourning the death of Steve Biko who died in police custody on 12 September 1977.

References:
• Coleman, M. (ed)(1998). A Crime Against Humanity: analysing the repression of the apartheid state, Johannesburg: Human Rights Committee, p. 247.
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.

Last updated : 17-Dec-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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