Dulcie September was a fierce and ambitious anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Her work with various resistance groups throughout her life, particularly the ANC, were incredibly influential in the fight against apartheid. However, despite the international recognition of September’s activist work and influence, her tragic death in 1988 was never fully investigated, and remains one of South Africa’s biggest mysteries. Dulcie September’s assassination not only ended her activism work, but attempted to erase her story from history. Through the study of Dulcie’s life, career as an anti-apartheid activist, and cause of death, we can ensure that Dulcie and hundreds of other activists like her, are given due credit for the free South Africa that exists today.

Dulcie September was born on August 30, 1935 in Althlone, a small suburb of Cape Town, South Africa.[1]  Because Althlone was located on the outskirts of white society, from a young age, September began to understand the inequality between her own family and her white neighbors.[2] This early exposure likely impacted the remainder of her life and activist work. September quickly became an accomplished young person, despite the political circumstances she was born into. September attended primary school at Methodist Mission in Cape Town. She then attended Athlone High School, and by 1954, had graduated high school and gone on to pursue a teaching career at The Wesely Training school.[3]  By 1955, September had completed her education at Battswood Training college with a teacher’s diploma.[4]  September was just 20 years old when she graduated, and had proven to be intelligent and driven, qualities that followed her throughout her career and activism.

The beginning of September’s teaching career paved the way for her political career. After seeing the way her students were treated under the apartheid education system, Dulcie became involved in the Teacher’s League of South Africa.[5] The Teacher’s League of South Africa was just one of the emerging groups of elite black South African professionals protesting inequality. The Teacher’s League was founded in the 1800s in support of a particular group of black South Africans, referred to as “Coloureds.” Coloured South Africans associated with the Teacher’s League had become increasingly frustrated with their inability to compete with white South Africans despite their education and skillsets.[6] As a part of this organization, we can conclude that September most likely identified with the Coloured social class because of her education level and career.

The league was unlike others in its independence of white influence, although similar to other organizations in goal. For an example, the African People’s Organization and South African Teacher’s Association both fought against inequality in schools as well. However, these anti-separatist organizations were more diplomatic in their approach. The SATA even included both black and white teachers in their membership. The League, on the other hand, determined that white and black South African education systems faced very different issues, and therefore should not work in unison.[7] The League promoted the idea of “race pride” and was less concerned with convincing Europeans of their equality and deserving of equal education and government funding, and more concerned with black South African teachers providing better education for students, despite insufficient government support.[8] September’s involvement with the Teacher’s League of South Africa likely shaped her approach to future activist work and political opinions.   

 Shortly after joining the Teacher’s League of South Africa, September joined several other activist groups, the Cape Peninsula Students’ Union, The Unity Movement of South Africa, and African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa or APDUSA.[9] September’s increased involvement with these groups marked the beginning of her evolution from an educated South African teacher to an international anti-apartheid activist. During this time of her life, September was exposed to other like-minded, educated black South Africans. However, she became dissatisfied with the largely negotiation-based activism in these groups. Along with other influential activists of the time, September founded a militant group of anti-apartheid activists. 

            In 1963, Dulcie September, Kenneth Abrahams, and Neville Alexander formed the Yu Chi Chan club, inspired by the Chinese Revolution.[10] The name itself was based on the Maoist term for guerilla warfare, and indicated this “club” intended on taking a more forceful and even militant approach to the apartheid government.[11] One of the group’s founding members, Neville Alexander, even declared that the purpose of the group was, in fact, “to overthrow the state.”9 The club reasoned that if the main revolutionary force in South Africa was comprised of non-white people, the state would either be forced to give black South Africans their freedom or collapse.

The Yu Chi Chan Club determined that the revolution in South Africa would be carried out through guerilla warfare, uniting political theory with military action.[12] The YCCC was not simply a group of rogue revolutionaries, but proved to be incredibly organized and skilled in their approach. The YCCC did not just theorize about militant action the way other activist groups did, they organized and strategized plans for militant action, a choice that was equally radical and dangerous.[13] A series of pamphlets was distributed by the YCCC, describing the system in which the group would collect money, set up military training systems, and distribute information. The group even divided South Africa into 50 “zones.” Each zone consisted of 5 “cells.”[14] The radical actions taken by this anti-apartheid group represented the increasingly frustrated and radical younger generation of black South Americans. In just over a year, the club disbanded and formed the NLF, or National Liberation Front in its place in 1963.[15]

            Armed resistance began to gain more and more support from other anti-apartheid activists. Even the ANC, the largest activist group in South Africa, started to embrace the idea of a militant approach to resistance, launching a military branch called the Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961. However, September’s work with the NLF was short lived. Ten members of the NLF, including September, were arrested in April 1964 and sentenced to five years in prison at Barberton Prison under the Criminal Procedure Act. Authorities claimed the NLF conspired to commit acts of sabotage and political violence.[16] Immediately upon her release in 1969 September was sentenced to a five-year banning order. This ban prohibited September from teaching, engaging in any political activities, and even participating in social events with friends and family.11

September served five years in prison and was just days from her ban being lifted when she applied to permanently exit South Africa.[17]  In 1973, September moved across the world to the United Kingdom. Here, she began teaching Madeley College of Education in Staffordshire. However, Dulcie’s activism for the people of South Africa did not end with her new life in the U.K. Instead, Dulcie began a new phase of her activism, this time on an international front.

While in Europe, September joined the Women’s League of the ANC. The league was formed in opposition to not just racial segregation, but the discrimination faced by women of color in particular. Many anti-apartheid activists promoted the end of discrimination against black men, but left women out of the argument.[18] Women’s groups like the ANC’s Women’s League became more and common, rallying that, “freedom cannot be won for any one section or for the people as a whole as long as we women are kept in bondage.”14  As a full time member of the ANC, September traveled frequently from conference to conference, negotiating and lobbying for her cause with some of the most powerful world leaders of the day.[19]  In 1983, September was offered the position of Chief representative of the ANC in France, Luxemburg, and Switzerland. This position was by far September’s largest undertaking, and if her life was not previously consumed with fighting for justice, it surely was now.

Before she could even begin her work as chief, Dulcie was required to travel to the Soviet Union for required military training.[20]  After training, the ANC used representatives like September to help rally support from major countries. The ANC hoped September would be able to mobilize sanctions from these governments, despite their reluctance to do so. Over the next two years, Dulcie helped to establish one of the largest anti-apartheid movements in Europe. However, in doing so, September began to tread on dangerous territory, no longer just threatening the apartheid South African government, but also powerful European governments.

Despite September’s successes in Europe, her work was far from effortless. Although September was successful in rallying verbal support for the ANC from European officials, she found it much more difficult to mirror this verbal support with action. France in particular proved stubborn in fulfilling its commitments to the ANC.

Although France’s left wing frequently publicly condemned apartheid, French state corporations extended no effort to stop trading with the apartheid government.[21] This frustrated September, as she felt the French anti-apartheid campaign was insincere and could not move forward while this trade still existed. France refused to agree to a coal boycott, the United Nation’s military boycott seemed to exist in words only, and France continued its involvement in peaceful nuclear cooperation with the apartheid state. France had agreed to an arms boycott with South Africa, however, they continued to routinely break this boycott. September determined that the next step to putting an end to this trade cooperation between France and South Africa was ending the illegal arms trade between the two countries.[22]

September began to delve into an investigation of illegal arms trades in France. Abdul Minty, September’s close friend and contact at the World Campaign against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa, began to work in close correspondence with September concerning this investigation.[23] Together, September and Minty compiled extensive evidence of  “sanctions busting, arms sales, oil sales and the companies and people involved.”[24] September’s research was not limited to France. She began to routinely visit Switzerland as well, where she discovered Swiss representatives were participating in nuclear meetings with South Africa and even more shocking, that Switzerland was routinely loaning money to South Africa. In a handwritten letter in her files, September wrote, “‘Switzerland – Loans to SA’ ‘Second largest investor in SA. Role in giving SA credit. Swiss banks have unofficial transactions in gold with SA.’”[25]

This information was groundbreaking, however, terrifying to September. Weeks before her death, September began to call her superiors asking them to come to Paris. Aziz Pahad, an ANC official stationed in London reported that Dulcie called him and expressed she felt threatened.[26] Maurice Cukierman, the ANC treasurer in Paris, claimed that September had received multiple death threats and even reported them to the French police. The French police took no action.[27]  During the time September began to express fear for her life, rumors were reported that the South African death squad was going to Paris.[28]  In 1985, September wrote a report detailing the escalating threats she was experiencing. She wrote that she suspected her phones had been tapped, that she had seen strangers photographing her in public, that her office had been broken into multiple times, and that she had been receiving mysterious phone calls.[29]

However, even the genuine fear for her life was not enough to halt September’s commitment to this investigation. September was tough and determined. “She was too stubborn,” Aziz Pahad said concerning September’s refusal to drop her efforts to expose these countries.[30]  The Anti-Apartheid Women’s newsletter described Dulcie as “a comrade who loved to see things done.”[31] It was September’s absolute dedication to the ANC and its purpose, her love for “seeing things done” that made her so successful as an activist. However, it was these very traits that also caused her death.

On the 29 of March, 1988 Dulcie September was shot dead in Paris, France.[32] As September opened the door to the ANC office, she was shot five times in the head by a .22 caliber rifle.[33] Police confirmed the homicide appeared to be the work of a professional. Dulcie’s death was international news. Newspapers around the world speculated on the killer. The Anti-Apartheid Women’s newsletter boldly stated that she was murdered by a hired killer of the apartheid regime.[34]  The ANC had a similar suspicion, and publicly blamed the South African Government for the murder.[35] However, South African officials pointed to internal strife as the cause of death.[36] France insisted September’s security requests were not ignored, while French politicians like M Andre Lajoinie blamed France for being complicit with September’s murder because they “prefer South Africa’s gold to supporting the struggle of the country’s black people.”[37]

September’s murder was investigated both publicly and privately to no avail.[38]  The ANC, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and French government each conducted their own investigation, each falling short, and unable to close the case of September’s murder.[39]  Recent investigations point to big oil, arms dealers, or even the French government as likely perpetrators of this crime, evidence leading investigators and historians to believe that the French government, at the very least, had knowledge of the attack prior to September’s death.[40]         However, September’s case remains open, waiting for the fulfillment of the ANC’s vow “that these murderers, who today arrogantly strut the globe . . . will be brought to justice. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be next year, but they will be brought to justice.”[41]

Even as Dulcie September’s life was ended early, her legacy remains visible in the freedom of modern South Africa. South Africa is indebted to Dulcie September and hundreds of other anti-apartheid activists for the freedom they experience today. Historians and scholars have the responsibility to continue September’s homicide investigation and study her remarkable activism career. By remembering Dulcie September’s determination and sacrifices, we can ensure history doesn’t forget the activist that helped to bring black South Africans to freedom.

This article forms part of the SAHO and Southern Methodist University partnership project

[1] “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum, Cape Town Museum, (May 4 2020), https://capetownmuseum.org.za/they-built-this-city/dulcie-september/.

[2] “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[3] Maggie Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?” African Studies 69, no 1. (April 2010): 178, http://dx.doi.org.proxy.libraries.smu.edu/10.1080/00020181003647272

[4] “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[5] Evelyn Groenink, Incorruptible: the Story of the Murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani (Pretoria: Evelien Groenink, 2018), 1.

[6] Mohamed Adhikari, “Coloured Identity and the Politics of Coloured Education: The Origin of the Teachers' League of South Africa,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 27, no. 1. (1994): 121, doi:10.2307/220972.

[7] Adhikari, “Coloured Identity and the Politics of Coloured Education.”

[8] Adhikari, “Coloured Identity and the Politics of Coloured Education.”

[9]“Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[10] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September.”

[11] Gavin Evans, “Neville Alexander,” The Independent, September 2012, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/neville-alexander-activis…

[12]“Yu Chi Chan Club Pamphlet No. III.” Yu Chi Chan Club Pamphlet No. III, n.d.

[13] “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[14] “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[15] “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[16] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[17] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[18] Melinda Laber, “Women's Resistance to Apartheid," The Review: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Research no 2 (1999): 31, <https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/ur/vol2/iss1/7&gt;.

[19] Laber, “Women's Resistance to Apartheid.”

[20]“Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist,” Cape Town Museum.

[21] “On the twisted trail of Dulcie’s death,” The Mail and Guardian, (April 23 2020), https://mg.co.za/article/1998-01-09-on-the-twisted-trail-of-dulcies-dea….

[22] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[23]Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[24]Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[25] “On the twisted trail of Dulcie’s death,” The Mail and Guardian.

[26] “On the twisted trail of Dulcie’s death,” The Mail and Guardian.

[27] Youssef Ibrahim, “Foe of Apartheid Is Shot Dead in Paris,” New York Times, March 1988, https://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/30/world/foe-of-apartheid-is-shot-dead-….

[28] Ibrahim, “Foe of Apartheid Is Shot Dead in Paris,” New York Times.

[29] September, Dulcie. Dulcie September’s Private Notes. Paris, France, 1985. https://www.scribd.com/document/359360953/2-DS-Notes-on-French-Arms-Sal….

[30]Ibrahim, “Foe of Apartheid Is Shot Dead in Paris,” New York Times.

[31] “News Briefings,” Anti-Apartheid Women’s Newsletter, Autumn 1988, no 36.

[32] Ibrahim, “Foe of Apartheid Is Shot Dead in Paris,” New York Times.

[33] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[34] Ibrahim, “Foe of Apartheid Is Shot Dead in Paris,” New York Times.

[35] Philip Jacobsen, “ANC woman shot in Paris street: France denies security plea was ignored,” The Times, March 1988.

[36] Jacobsen, “ANC woman shot in Paris street: France denies security plea was ignored.”

[37] Jacobsen, “ANC woman shot in Paris street: France denies security plea was ignored.”

[38] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[39] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[40] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”

[41] Davey, “Who Killed Dulcie September?”




  • Adhikari, Mohamed. “Coloured Identity and the Politics of Coloured Education: The Origin of the Teachers League of South Africa.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies27, no. 1 (1994): 101–26. https://doi.org/10.2307/220972.
  • Davey, Maggie. “Who Killed Dulcie September?” African Studies 69, no. 1 (April 1, 2010): 177–186. http://search.proquest.com/docview/855839905/.
  • “Dulcie September: Teacher, Struggle Ambassador & Human Rights Activist.” The Cape Town Museum. Cape Town Museum. Accessed April 22, 2020. https://capetownmuseum.org.za/they-built-this-city/dulcie-september/.
  • Evans, Gavin. “Neville Alexander: Activist Who Fought against Apartheid.” The Independent. September 1, 2012. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/neville-alexander-activist-who-fought-against-apartheid-8099840.html.
  • Groenink, Evelyn, and Pravin Gordhan. Incorruptible: the Story of the Murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani. Pretoria: Evelien Groenink, 2018.
  • Laber, Melinda. "Women's Resistance to Apartheid." The Review: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Research 2 (1999): 28-36. Web. [April 10, 2020]. <https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/ur/vol2/iss1/7>.
  • “On the Twisted Trail of Dulcies Death - The Mail & Guardian.” Mail & Guardian. Mail & Guardian, January 9, 1998. https://mg.co.za/article/1998-01-09-on-the-twisted-trail-of-dulcies-death/.