Edgar Harry Brookes

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Political activist, academic, lay clergy and member of the Liberal Party


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Smethwick, United Kingdom
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Location of death: 
Gillitts, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Edgar Harry Brookes was born in England on February 4th,1897 and emigrated to South Africa with his family in 1901.In 1920 he was hired to teach at the University of Pretoria while working towards a doctorral degree which he finished in 1924.A distinguished white academic and prominent Christian layman, he joined the Liberal Party in March 1962, after many of its leaders had been detained during the 1960 emergency and after the government had begun to use its banning powers against the main leaders of the party.

Brookes was 27 when he published a major work. The History of Native Policy in South Africa from 1830 to the Present Day (1924). While describing himself as a liberal, he supported at this time a paternalistic form of racial segregation and development. He later abandoned these views and moved toward acceptance of universal suffrage. He taught at the Afrikaans-speaking Transvaal University College (later the University of Pretoria), became active in the Joint Council and Oxford movements, and was principal from 1933 to 1945 of the influential missionary school known as Adams College, where Z. K. Matthews and Albert Luthuli were his colleagues andAnton Lembede and Jordan Ngubane were among the students. 

He was elected to the Senate in 1937 by Africans in Natal and served in Parliament for about 15 years and he was re-elected in 1943 and 1948.In 1945 he gave up the leadership of Adams College to devote himself full time to work of various government committees and commissions. In 1952 he became professor of history and political science at the University of Natal. In 1952 he survive a heart attack and after that he resigned from the senate and returned to teaching.In 1954 he became Professor in History and Political Science Department.

He was president of the 1961 multiracial conference known as the Natal Convention. Following the ban on Peter Brown in 1964, he became national chairman of the Liberal Party. In 1973 he dissented from the emphasis on groups and the criticism of traditional individualism in the political report of the Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society, proclaiming himself "an 'unreconstructed' liberal." He has written extensively and currently writes forReality: A Journal of Liberal and Radical Opinion.In 1979 he died.

• Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977). From Protest to challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol.4 Political Profiles 1882 - 1964. Hoover Institution Pres: Stanford University.
• Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) http://www.jacana.co.za/component/virtuemart/?keyword=from+protest+to+ch... (last accessed 27 September 2018)

Last updated : 27-Sep-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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