Dorothy Alexander was born on 7 August 1938 in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, the third of six children[1]. One of her siblings was Neville Alexander. Since her father was disabled, the Cape Education Department allowed her mother to become a permanent teacher. (At the time, married women were not usually permitted to hold permanent positions in government employment.) Alexander was brought up in a strict Catholic household, and completed her Junior Certificate at the Holy Rosary Convent, Cradock in 1953. She subsequently trained as a teacher in Uitenhage, also in the Eastern Cape.

Alexander started teaching in Middelburg and soon became involved in the Teacher’s League (TLSA) of South Africa. In January 1960, she moved to the Garden Village Methodist School in Maitland, Cape Town, and remained there until 1963.

After Neville’s return from studying in Germany in 1961, they both began to attend lectures on international politics. Dorothy went on to join the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA), serving on its finance committee. Soon after joining,  however, she became disillusioned with its executive and helped to establish an APDUSA dissident group of in Landsdowne. They soon discovered that a similar study group had already been established in Athlone. This included Dorothy’s brother Neville, Elizabeth van der Heyden, and Lionel Davis. Dorothy also became a member of this study group, which became known as the National Liberation Front (NLF). In 1963 she was arrested and charged with sabotage, along with other members of the NLF. She served a five-year sentence and was banned on her release. This led to her exile in Germany, where she still lives.   


[1] Information from Cape Supreme Court (CSC), Criminal Cases Record, Case 457, 1963, 1/1/1 573-576.

  • Scanlon, H. 2007. “Representation and reality: Portraits of Women’s Lives in the Western Cape 1948-1976”. HSRC Press: Cape Town.

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