David Hepburn Craighead

Posted by tinashe on

Biographical information


An anti-apartheid activist, member and National Vice Chairman of the Liberal Party and Chairman of the South African Defence and Aid

First name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
28 December 1918
Date of death: 
2 August 2008
Ban information: 
Act No. 44 of 1950 Sec. 9 (1)<br><em>Issued Period(s)</em> [28 April 1967 to 30/4/1970]

David Hepburn Craighead was born on 18 December 1918, in Benoni, in what was known as the Transvaal Province (Gauteng). He was born to parents of English and Scottish descent. His father, who worked as a mine manager passed away when Craighead was 11 years old. He went to Christian Brothers College in Kimberley where upon completion he enrolled to study a Bachelor of Science (BSc.) degree at the University of Witwatersrand from 1936-1938. He went on to study a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Mathematics in 1941 at Oxford University through the Rhodes scholarship.

Craighead returned to South Africa and joined the South African Air Force and served until 1946 as a lieutenant, instructing in navigation and engineering, with service in the war zone in North Africa. He also served as an actuarial adviser and statistician to the Governor General's National War Fund until 1949 when, having qualified as an actuary, he joined the African Life Assurance Co. He joined the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA), founded a few months later, and became a close friend of its later leaders, Alan Paton and Peter Brown. He served on the Transvaal provincial committee and became its chairman.

At the 1960 party congress in Cape Town, held in defiance of the state of emergency, he chaired a commission to devise strategies for the new circumstances. In 1961 he became National Deputy Chairman (for the Transvaal) of the LPSA until 1965. H.F. Verwoerd's government did not ban the Liberal Party, but greatly weakened it by issuing banning orders under the Suppression of Communism Act to its leaders despite their strongly anti-Communist sentiment, and finally by making non-racial party membership illegal.

Craighead took on the chairmanship of the Defence and Aid Fund from 1964-65. The fund with mainly British financing, organised and paid for legal defence, and supported the families of those on trial or jailed for political offences. In April 1965 he was banned. Conditions of the banning order restricted him from work, confined him to Johannesburg, silenced, and compelled him to report regularly to the police. As a result Craighead’s political and personal work was severely restricted. His company moved him to England to set up and manage the Southampton Insurance Co in 1966. After his marriage to Thelma Vine ended in divorce, he married Kathleen Scales in 1969.

In 1970 he  worked as a consulting actuary and in the 1980s he made his mark in the profession, pioneering new computer software development for Lloyd's syndicates, showing the way to many with his book Financial Analysis in a Re-insurance Office (1989). He founded and chaired the London Market Actuaries Group in the 1980s, and in 1997 the Institute of Actuaries awarded him the Finlaison Medal in recognition of his service to his profession.

In the 1990s Craighead and his family moved to Totnes in Devon. Now in his seventies, he retained a few clients who brought him to London, to meetings with friends and of Lomans Trust, the South African educational charity founded by Sir Robert Birley after his Visiting Professorship of Education at Wits University (David was Treasurer for many years), and to the Catholic organisations he supported.

Craighead died on 2 August 2008. He is survived by Kathleen, a daughter, two stepsons and the two daughters from his first marriage.

• Herbstein, D. (2008) Obituary David Craighead:Anti-apartheid activist and innovative actuary’ from The Guardian, 27 August, [Online] Available at www.guardian.co.uk  [Accessed 25 October 2012]
• Vigne, R, ‘David Craighead: Political activist against apartheid’ from The Independent, 03 September 2008 [Online] available at www.independent.co.uk [Accessed on 25 October 2012]
• International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, from African Activist Archive [Online] Available at http://africanactivist.msu.edu [Accessed on 25 October 2012] 

Last updated : 04-Mar-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 19-Mar-2012