Hugh Lewin was born in 1939 in Lydenburg, Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), South Africa, to English missionary parents.
At university he joined the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA). At about this time he was approached by a friend who asked him to become a member of the “National Committee for Liberation”, a secret sabotage group.
After graduating from Rhodes University, he worked as a journalist at the Natal Witness, Drum and Golden City Post.
In July 1964 he was held under the country’s 90-day detention law and later sentenced, with other members of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), to seven years’ imprisonment for protest sabotage activities against apartheid.
Upon his release in 1971, he left the country on a "permanent departure permit". He spent 10 years in exile in London, followed by 10 years in Zimbabwe.
After his return to South Africa, he became director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg. He also served as a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) committee on human rights violations in Gauteng, in the 1990s.
He won the 2003 Olive Schreiner Prize for his prison memoir Bandiet Out of Jail. While in prison, he secretly recorded his experiences and those of his fellow inmates on the pages of his Bible. On his release, these writings were published in London in 1974 and remained banned in South Africa until it was published in 1989.
He also won the 2012 Alan Paton Award for Stones against the Mirror, a personal memoir. The judges described the book as a "beautifully written and intensely personal story of friendship, betrayal and struggle"
Stones against the Mirror — a story of friendship and betrayal in the struggle against apartheid — was also awarded a special prize for its importance in increasing awareness of human rights by the International Human Rights Book Award jury two years later.
Hugh Lewin died on 16 January 2019 at his home in Killarney, Johannesburg, Gauteng. He was 79 years old.
Gerber, J. (2019). Anti-apartheid activist and award-winning author Hugh Lewin dies, from News24, 2019-01-17, online. Available at https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/anti-apartheid-activist-and-award-winning-author-hugh-lewin-dies-20190117 . Accessed on 17 January 2019|Timeslive. (2019). Anti-apartheid author Hugh Lewin dies 17 January 2019 , from Timeslive online. Available at https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2019-01-17-anti-apartheid-author-hugh-lewin-dies/ . Accessed on 17 January 2019
- My betrayer, my friend 15 April 2013 by Hugh Lewin - Sunday Times Lifestyle online
- A life of constant reckoning by Kylie Thomas 28 June 2011 – Mail & Guardian online
- ARM (African Resistance Movement): 1964 – Adrian Leftwich & Hugh Lewin - Posted by GilesFiles online, 18 May 2011
- Hugh Lewin, 1939–2019, RIP, Jennifer Malec, Johannesburg Review of Books online, 17 January 2019