President, Witwatersrand University Students’ Representative Council, Deputy Vice-President, Nusas, Nusas Chair, (University of Witwatersrand), Chair, Academic Freedom Committee, Chair, Arts Students Council, 1973, political activist, polit
Lives of Courage
Glenn Moss was born in Pretoria on 5 May 1952, the second son of Solly Moss, a salesman, and Phyllis Moss, a secretary. He went to Waterkloof Primary School and then attended Pretoria Boys High. On matriculating, at the end of 1969, he enrolled for a BA degree at the University of Witwatersrand, graduating with majors in Political Science, English and African Studies. He subsequently completed a BA Honours in Development Studies and a Master of Arts in Political Science, with a thesis on the 1976 student uprising in Soweto.
While at University, he served in numerous student leadership positions both on campus, and in the National Union of South African Students (Nusas). These included
President, Student Representative Council, 1973-74, Vice-president, Students Representative Council, 1971-72, Deputy Vice-President, Nusas (National), 1971, Chair, Nusas, (University of Witwatersrand), 1970-71, Chair, Academic Freedom Committee, 1971 and Chair, Arts Students Council, 1973.
Moss was closely associated with the development of radical politics on English speaking campuses during the first half of the 1970s, leading the ‘Release all political prisoners’ campaign at Wits University in 1974, and planning the ‘History of opposition’ campaign in the same year, which aimed to educate White students on resistance to Apartheid. As a result of his political activities, the Apartheid Government withdrew Moss’s passport in 1971 and he was unable to travel legally until 1986.
Moss was particularly involved in focusing attention on the vicious system of detention without trial, experiencing his first of many arrests in 1970 when he joined an illegal protest march to Johan Vorster Square Police Station calling for the release of political detainees. The march focused on the situation of ‘the 22’, who had been detained in 1969, charged, acquitted and then re-detained under the Terrorism Act. This group included a number of high-profile ANC supporters, including Winnie Mandela, Samson Ndou, Rita Ndzanga and Lawrence Ndzanga and Elias Shabangu who, the state claimed, were trying to revive the banned African National Congress (ANC).
He was actively involved in campaigning against torture and deaths in detention, chairing meetings of the Ahmed Timol Memorial Committee in 1973, which subsequently became the Human Rights Committee. He was a founding member and regular chair of the Detainees Parents Support Committee, set up to support the families of those detained in the security police’s 1981 clampdown on non-racial and Congress-aligned individuals and organisations.
Moss left university at the end of 1974 to become an organiser for the Industrial Aid Society, but was forced out of union organisation as a result of ideological and strategic differences between factions in the emerging trade union movement. Shortly after this, he was detained under Section Six of the Terrorism Act between August and December 1975, finally being charged as the first accused in the Nusas trial, which ran for a year, and ended in the acquittal of all accused. In this trial, Moss was accused of furthering the aims and membership of the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP).
He was one of the new generation of Nusas activists who were supportive of the emergence of Black Consciousness in the early 1970s, rejecting Nusas’s previous adherence to liberalism and organisational multi-racialism. He was part of a Nusas leadership group which continued to meet with the South African Students Organisation (Saso) leaders despite the separation between Nusas and Saso on traditionally White university campuses. Over time he became more associated with the ‘new left’ and socialism, increasingly arguing that racial oppression had to be understood through the prism of class structures of power. The use of socialist and democratic Marxist forms of analysis to understand South African society, and develop strategies to transform it, was one of the constant themes in his writing over two decades.
In 1977, Moss founded Work in Progress, together with Gerry Mare and Susan Brown, and remained editor of the magazine until 1988, when he was appointed to head Ravan Press, a leading anti-Apartheid publishing house based in Johannesburg. During this period, he served on the executives of numerous publishing and journalistic bodies, including the Association of Democratic Journalists, the Independent Publishers Association (which he chaired), and the African Publishers Network, where he represented South African publishing.
Between 1977 and 1985, he frequently worked for attorneys Shun Chetty and Priscilla Jana as a specialist consultant on political trials. He was a member of the defence team in a number of trials, including the Sedition trial arising from the Soweto student rebellion of 1976, the Silverton and Soekmekaar Treason trial of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) guerrillas, and defence preparations for the United Democratic Front (UDF) Pietermaritzburg Treason trial. He wrote a book, Political Trials in South Africa, 1976-1979, based on this work, and contributed a section on political trials to Work in Progress for over a decade, which was used as a monitor of political and military resistance to Apartheid.
Moss was a founding editor of the South African Review, and was involved in compiling and editing the first seven editions of this annual review of political and economic developments.
During the second half of the 1980s, Moss participated as a delegate to the Children’s Conference in Harare, the conference on a post-Apartheid economy held at York University, and the Culture in Another South Africa colloquium held in Amsterdam in 1987, where discussions between ANC and SACP leadership and internal activists and intellectuals took place.
He was the founding trustee for the David Webster Trust, set up following the assassination of Webster, a close friend and colleague. Through this, he was involved in investigations into Webster’s death and other political assassinations, which finally resulted in the Harms Commission of Enquiry, the judicial inquest into Webster’s death, and the subsequent conviction of Ferdi Barnard for murder.
In 1995, Moss joined the Central Statistics Service (CSS), a national government department, as a specialist consultant to the head and executive management, remaining with what became Statistics South Africa for 15 years to build its capacity in dissemination and analysis of data and information, data management, inter-governmental relations and strategic communications. In this capacity, he acted as a mentor and advisor to executive and senior managers.
Glenn Moss has recently (2013) completed a book on radical opposition politics in South Africa in the 1970s, which is scheduled for publication in mid-2014.