Jean Clarice Middleton was born in Durban, South Africa on August 30, 1928. She first attended the Durban Girls’ College. She then went on to receive a Master of Arts degree from Natal University, which is now the University of KwaZulu-Natal. After earning her degree, she decided to become a teacher. She married Harold Strachan who was also an anti-apartheid activist. Middleton moved to Johannesburg when she became heavily involved in anti-apartheid activism. She joined the Congress of Democrats (COD) in hopes that she could make a change.[1] They met at small “tea parties.”[2] This is when she was invited to join the South African Communist Party (SACP). Making a change would not be easy for Middleton. The apartheid government was in search for radicals. She lost her job teaching at the state school when the police found out about her involvement. Another member of the Congress of Democrats offered her a job at his private college. She was eventually imprisoned for her involvement with the SACP along with other members of the anti-apartheid movement.[3]  When she got out of prison, she was put under house arrest and banned under the Suppression of Communism Act.[4] Since she could no longer teach or even associate with more than one person at a time she decided to move to London. She taught English there along with having joined an anti-apartheid movement and editing the ANC journal Sechaba. She moved back to South Africa when Nelson Mandela was released in 1991 to edit a communist paper called Umsebenzi.[5] She then moved back to England to write for the Morning Star. Middleton died of pneumonia on December 14, 2010 having lived a long and fulfilled life. Her contributions did not end though as she left the proceeds from her London home to the paper and the SACP.

Middleton joined the COD in the early 1960s. The COD launched in Johannesburg in January of 1953.[6] Even though they did not recruit “non Europeans” they wanted to help bring change to South Africa. Bram Fischer, was the chairperson of the COD at the time. He was quoted saying “What is urgently needed is a body of Europeans who will ally themselves with these organisations [referring to the African National Congress, Indian Congress and Coloured Peoples Congress]– a body that will not seek to bargain or buy off non-Europeans, but will march with them to the attainment of their legitimate democratic demands.”[7] The Congress of Democrats imagined this to be the only way even if it was disliked by some.

She joined her Area Committee of the COD at a time where they were becoming less selective. The idea was that as recruitment increased security would as well. She joined after becoming good friends with Hilda Bernstein.[8] They even kept a secret that two potential recruits refused to join. Middleton eventually recruited a member who would betray them. Gerard Ludi was the first policeman to join the party.[9] Even though the recruiting process was becoming less strict and this could have happened to anybody in the party, it ultimately landed on her.

Middleton’s home was used on many occasions as a meeting location. The police eventually found out when a man named Petr Beyleveld betrayed her for his freedom. They started to record the meeting and even installed a one way mirror above the door across her flat to see who else would go to the meeting. On March 1, 1964 police officer Constable Schroeder saw a woman slip an envelope under the door of Jean Middleton’s flat.[10] This woman was later identified as Molly Doyle. Schroeder was told to break into her home and confiscate the envelope. Special agent Ludi went undercover as a member of the Communist Party. He gathered evidence through tape recordings and mail intended for the group.[11] This was enough evidence to eventually have Middleton admit she was a part of the group.

Eventually she and 14 others were arrested and charged for this. All the woman that were sentenced were held in Barberton prison. Middleton later recalled how she and the prisoners spent most of their time in isolation. They were not allowed to speak to one another nor were they allowed to talk to the other prisoners. Another reason the political prisoners felt so isolated was because Barberton itself is very isolated from the rest of South Africa. It is not close to any major city, so Jean never really got a chance to speak to any visitors about the conditions.[12]

However bad Middleton’s situation at Barberton was she made it her priority to tell the people that the black prisoners suffered much worse conditions. Middleton would wash some of their clothes during her time there. She said, “they did very hard work it seemed in a hot climate, would not be stained with blood but caked with blood from clogging and that sulphur ointment, caked.”[13] Middleton and her colleagues never suffered from these conditions. Even in prison segregation caused by the apartheid government continued. Whites were held to a different standard than blacks.

Upon being released from prison, Middleton continued to fight apartheid by revealing prison conditions. One instance of this is when she wrote about the murder case at Barberton in January of 1984. Three prisoners had died of heat exhaustion for working in temperatures over 30 degrees Centigrade (86 Fahrenheit). 44 other prisoners were hospitalized.[14] These prisoners were forced to work no matter the condition they were in. One was a person with a disability; one was blind and two of them had asthma. Cases like this hadn’t made it to the public because of the Prisons Act that protected the Prisons Department from unwanted publicity. It was clear that these prisoners did not just die from heat exhaustion, but the prisoners that had survived did not want to say what had happened as they were scared of the reprecussions. These prisoners were facing cruel and unfair treatment for no reason. The reason for these prisoners was not heat exhaustion but the beating they took for not being able to work in such poor conditions. Although the judge took the side of the prisoners and not the warders his ruling was quite lenient. The man that killed a prisoner with his truncheon was only given two years.[15]

 In her article about this murder in Sechaba, Middleton writes about how differently black and white prisoners were treated. She even says that all black prisoners could suffer a violent death. Although black men are the only ones that are taken out in work teams, not one of the deaths recorded put the prison at fault.[16] Her article in Sechaba makes the people aware of what actually goes on in these prisons and puts pressure on a prison like Barberton to change their ways.

When Jean Middleton got out of jail, she was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. She was unable to take part in anything related to the anti-apartheid movement nor was she allowed to teach anymore. This is what ultimately led her to leave South Africa for England. Middleton like many others was placed under this act because she was not willing to live under government that stood for white supremacy. The act violated many of her rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom to earn a living.[17] When the bill was first introduced it was called the Unlawful Organizations Bill and did not have much support behind it.[18] The bill was ultimately passed as the government was afraid of the consequences that came with opposing the bill.

The African people obviously were not happy with the bill and responded accordingly. The National Executive Committee of the African National Congress held an emergency meeting. They decided that a National Day of Protest and Mourning would be the best response. Walter Sisulu who was serving life in prison on Robben Island was quoted saying “the African people are equally determined that they are not going to remain in that position forever.”[19] A national strike was supported by the South African Indian Congress who also felt that the bills sole purpose was to impose a “fascist dictatorship.”[20] The National Day of Protest was held on June 26, 1950. It was the first nationwide strike. Both Africans and other non-white groups participated. June 26th is now regarded as Freedom Day. The Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the Congress of the People of 1955 were both launched on this date.

The apartheid government used the Suppression of Communism Act to control those attempting to gain political power for years. It was amended over 80 times in order to remain in existence.[21] All those that oppose the act, or the apartheid government have been forced into exile or jail. The Suppression of Communism Act created a new class of people called statutory communists. These people are usually placed in prison and have no freedom of speech. The only visitors they are allowed to speak with are the Special Branch police who are not the friendliest.[22] This is just another example of how far the apartheid government is willing to go to keep their power. If it were not for people like Jean Middleton to oppose their rules and speak their mind, they would have stayed in power for much longer.

Like many other anti-apartheid activists, Jean Middleton put the cause before herself. She strongly believed in the cause and was willing to help in any way she could. Even when facing time in prison she stuck by the cause. Middleton like many others was cruelly punished for trying to make South Africa a better place. The treatment she received while in prison is nothing anyone should experience. However, when she got out, she was determined to let the world know just how much worse black Afrikaners were being treated. She even wrote about it in a newspaper article, so everyone had access to the truth. The apartheid government did everything they could to suppress people like Jean Middleton. But thanks to her persistence she helped make a difference. Although she will not be talked about in history, her contributions should never be forgotten.

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


[1] South Africa History Online. (2012). Jean Clarice Middleton. Retrieved April 06, 2020, from

[2] South Africa History Online. (2012). Jean Clarice Middleton.

[3]South Africa History Online. (2012). Jean Clarice Middleton.

[4] D. Herbstein. (2011, January 03). Jean Middleton obituary. Retrieved May 04, 2020, from

[5] Herbstein. Jean Middleton obituary.

[6] David Everatt. The Origins of Non-Racialism: White Opposition to Apartheid in the 1950s. Johannesburg: Wits Univ. Press, 2009.

[7] Everatt. The Origins of Non-Racialism.

[8]T. Simpson. (2017). The ANC and the liberation struggle in South Africa essential writings. Google Books. Accessed April 20, 2020. London, UK: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

[9]Simpson. (2017). The ANC and the liberation struggle in South Africa essential writings.

[10]Z. Nkosi. (1964, December 31). The "Fischer" trial.

[11] Nkosi. “The ‘Fischer’ Trial.”

[12]Jean Middleton. (1997). Truth and Reconciliation Commission Special Hearings - Prisons. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from

[13] Middleton. (1997). Truth and Reconciliation Commission Special Hearings - Prisons.

[14] African National Congress (Lusaka, Zambia). Sechaba, Jan. 1984, 1984. doi:10.2307/al.sff.document.0037.0509.000.000.jan1984.

[15] African National Congress (Lusaka, Zambia). Sechaba.

[16] African National Congress (Lusaka, Zambia). Sechaba.

[17] Massabalala B. Yengwa, The Suppression of Communism Act. {New York}: United Nations, 1972.

[18]Yengwa, The Suppression of Communism Act.

[19]Yengwa, The Suppression of Communism Act.

[20] Yengwa, The Suppression of Communism Act.

[21] Yengwa, The Suppression of Communism Act.

[22] Yengwa, The Suppression of Communism Act.

  • African National Congress (Lusaka, Zambia). Sechaba, Jan. 1984, 1984. doi:10.2307/al.sff.document.0037.0509.000.000.jan1984.
  • Everatt, David. The Origins of Non-Racialism: White Opposition to Apartheid in the 1950s. Johannesburg: Wits Univ. Press, 2009.
  • Herbstein, D. (2011, January 03). Jean Middleton obituary. Retrieved May 04, 2020, from
  • Kalmer, H. The Bram Fischer Waltz. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2016.
  • Middleton, J. (1997). Truth and Reconciliation Commission Special Hearings - Prisons. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from
  • Nkosi, Z. (1964, December 31). The "Fischer" trial.
  • Simpson, T. (2017). The ANC and the Liberation Struggle in South Africa essential writings. London, UK: Routledge.
  • South Africa History Online. (2012). Jean Clarice Middleton. Retrieved April 06, 2020, from
  • Yengwa, Massabalala B. The Suppression of Communism Act. New York: United Nations, 1972.