Ben Turok

Posted by Jeeva Rajgopaul on

Biographical information

Ben Turok


Surveyor, lecturer and secretary of the COD, arrested for treason in 1956, trade union organiser, elected unopposed to represent Africans of the Western Cape on the Cape Provincial Council, convicted under the Explosives Act

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Date of birth: 
26 June 1927
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Leading member of the South African Congress of Democrats. He was born in Latvia in 1927 and came with his family to South Africa in 1934. After graduating from the University of Cape Town in 1950, he worked as a surveyor and a lecturer at a London Polytechnic Institute. Returning to South Africa in 1953, he joined the COD and in 1955 became its secretary for the Cape western region, acting as a full-time organiser for the Congress of the People. He was arrested for treason in 1956 and stood trial until charges against him were withdrawn in 1958. Although served with a banning order in 1955, he remained active as a trade union organiser and was elected unopposed to represent Africans of the western Cape on the Cape Provincial Council 1957.

He became national secretary of the COD in 1958, and served for a period as secretary of the consultative committee of the congress alliance. His wife, the former Mary Butcher, was also prominent member of the COD and later served a six months' sentence for aiding the illegal ANC. During the 1960 emergency, Turok evaded arrest and went underground to help re-establish Congress organisation. In 1962 he was convicted under the Explosives Act and sentenced to three years in prison.

After his release he was placed under house arrest but escaped via Botswana. After three years in Tanzania he moved with his family to Britain, where he was editor of Sechaba until 1972. He is now on the faculty of London's Open University, for which he wrote a lengthy study in 1975: "Inequality as State Policy: The South African Case." His writings also include "South Africa: The Search for a Strategy," in The Socialist Register 1973 and a booklet, Strategic Problems in South Africa's Liberation Struggle: A Critical Analysis (1974).

He was the Director of the Institute for African Alternatives. He is currently an ANC  Member of Parlaiment.

• From Protest To Challenge, Political Profiles Volume 4, p161

Last updated : 26-Jun-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 15-Oct-2011

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