Alexander Erwin (Alec Erwin) was born on 16 January 1948 in Cape Town to Dennis and Rosamund Erwin. Alec, as he became known, matriculated from Durban High School in 1965. He then went to study at the University of Natal and received a B.Econ Honours degree in Economics in 1970. After receiving his degree he became a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University between 1971 and he helped create the institute for industrial Education and in 1976 became acting director for the Trade Union Advisory Co-ordinating Council,a body established to assist nascent unions.Erwin was also a visiting lecturer at the Centre of Southern African Studies at the University of York for a year between 1974 and 1975. Between 1973 and 1975, Erwin served as a member of the Institute of Industrial Education.

After the 1973 Durban strikes, Erwin was part of the group of White activists from the National Union of South African Students(NUSAS) who participated and held positions in the African trade unions that were subsequently formed. In 1977, while lecturing, Erwin was elected as General Secretary for the Trade Union Advisory and Co-ordinating Council (TUACC) and quitting his academic post in1978. In 1979 Erwin was elected as General Secretary of the Federation of South African Trade Unions(FOSATU), a position he held until 1983. He was a Branch Secretary for the National Union of Textile Workers in 1981 for two years. Erwin became Education Secretary of FOSATU in 1983 and held that position until 1985. He then held the same position within the Congress of South African Trade Unions(COSATU) between 1986 and 1988. In 1988 Erwin was elected as a National Executive Officer of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and remained an Officer until 1993.

During the negotiations between the apartheid government and the anti-apartheid movement, Erwin was appointed as a member of the Development and Reconstruction Committee, a structure of the National Peace Accord Trust. In 1990 he became an Executive member of the African National Congress(ANC) Western Areas branch and in 1991 he was an Interim Executive member of the ANC’s Southern Natal region. As part of the new South African government, Erwin was appointed Deputy Minister in the Department of Finance. In 1996 Erwin was appointed Minister of Trade and Industry, a position he held until 2008.

 In his capacity as Minister of Trade and Industry, he became the President of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in May 1996 until February 2000. Between 29 April 2004 and 25 September 2008 Erwin became Minister of Public Enterprises in Thabo Mbeki’s government. When President Mbeki resigned in September 2008, Erwin was one of the Cabinet ministers who also submitted their resignation on 23 September.


Sithole, J. and Ndlovu, S., 2006. “The Revival of the Labour Movement, 1970-1980” in South African Democracy Education Trust The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2: 1970-1980. Pretoria: Unisa Press|

University of Leeds, 2008. “Cape Town, South Africa: Alec Erwin, Cape Town” in Centre for Innovation in Health Management [online]. Available at[Accessed 6 October 2012]|

Government Communication and Information System, 2009. “Profile Information: Mr Alexander Erwin” on Government Communication and Information System [online]. Available at[Accessed 4 October 2012]|

Who’s Who, n.d. “Alexander Erwin” on Who’s Who Southern Africa [online]. Available at[Accessed 4 October 2012]|Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) (last accessed 08 November 2018)

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