Alan Keith Brooks was born on 18 May 1940 in Bristol, United Kingdom. His father was a doctor by profession. His family moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he grew up. After completing high school, Brooks with the help of the Beit Scholarship, went to the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he registered for a law degree. He subsequently became a lecturer in the African Studies department. While he was at UCT he came under the influence of Professor Jack Simons, who was one of the leading Marxist intellectuals in South Africa, and a former Central Committee member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). However, Brooks’ political turning point was the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 where 69 people were killed in a demonstration organised by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) against pass laws. Brooks was part of a generation of white students who were angered and politically radicalised by the massacre.
Brooks played an important role in the struggle against the apartheid inside and outside the country. He first joined the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) and was later recruited into theAfrican Resistance Movement (ARM) which was formed by members of the LPSA. In 1962 he joined the banned SACP in Cape Town. Despite opposing views in organisations that Brooks joined, he was able to handle his dual membership. This is because he retained membership of the ARM which was opposed to Communism.
As a result of his activities in the ARM, Brooks was arrested and detained in July 1964. While in detention he was tortured and subsequently spent two years in prison. After his release, he was deported to Britain in 1966 since he was a British citizen. He then furthered his studies by registering for a master's degree at the University of Sussex Brooks with assistance from a United Nations scholarship for the Victims of Apartheid. His thesis focused on the SACP. At Sussex, he became a fellow student with Thabo Mbeki, and the two also became part of the same cell of the SACP in London.
Brooks became a political organiser of the African National Congress (ANC) and the SACP, through the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). While in exile, Brooks worked with closely Peter Hain in what was known as the ‘Stop the Seven Campaign’. This campaign resulted in the disruption of the South African Springbok rugby and cricket tours in Britain in 1969 and 1970. In 1971 Brooks was sent to the Lenin International School in Moscow, where Mbeki also studied for two years.
After the outbreak of the Student Uprising on 16 June 1976, students left the country in numbers for exile. During this period, the ANC sent Brooks, Pallo Jordan and Ronnie Kasrils to the German Democratic Republic as political commissars to instruct young South Africans who had left the country to join the uMkhonto we Sizwe military wing of the ANC. In the late 1970s Brooks and his family joineda Frelimo school near the Swaziland border in Mozambique.
Together with Jeremy Brickhill, he wrote a book about the history of the young people's uprising of 1976, which was entitled Whirlwind before the Storm, published by International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) in 1980. That same year he was mandated to set up a research department of the ANC at its exile headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. This was followed by a controversial report he compiled for Oliver Tambo, the ANC president. In the report he was highly critical of the management of the Department of Information and Publicity (DIP) by Thabo Mbeki and Sizakele Sigxashe. He described the DIP as being in chaotic, and also provided a general critique about the conditions of the ANC’s affairs in Lusaka.
The crisis described by Brooks in Lusaka resulted in him abandoning Lusaka and his duties. On arrival in Britain, he resigned from the SACP, and subsequently joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) where he was appointed as managing director of books and periodicals at the party’s London bookshop, called the Central Books. During the 1980s, when the cold war was at its peak in Africa, he administered the Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Information Centre in London. After the ANC and SACP were unbanned in 1990, Brooks did return to South Africa, but chose to stay in the Britain.
In the 1990s he worked for the United Nations (UN) in Somalia, as part of its Demobilisation Advisory Team. Afterwards, he returned to his home in London where he became a case-worker for asylum seekers. This also led to him taking an interest in Zimbabwe, and thus, becoming a member of the organising team in annual Open Forums on Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Britain Zimbabwe Society. There he became more vocal on his public opposition of the Mugabe regime.
Brooks married Sarah Darling with whom he had two daughters, Lucy and Jenni. After the couple divorced, Brooks had another daughter named Ruby with Joni McDougall.
Brooks died in London on 10 May 2008.