Isaiah Stein was born to a Coloured family in Durban in 1931, the son of a pastor and property developer. After both his parents died, during his teens, he moved to District Six, Cape Town, in 1948. There he became an amateur boxer, using the name "Boston Tababy". He was arrested for the first time for fighting a White opponent.
He also worked for and befriended a Jewish family in Cape Town, the Steins, who in due course adopted him. Stein took their surname. He got into property development and in the late 1950s He met his first wife, Lillian Jacobs.
Stein was forcibly removed from District Six to the ‘Coloured’ area, Athlone. He was among the first to be removed in this way under the Group Areas Act. He swiftly built homes that ensured some financial stability and gave him a base for his community activism.
Stein’s involvement in the struggle against apartheid became more radical after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, and soon he became the chief organiser of the Coloured People's Congress (CPC), an organisation allied to the African National Congress (ANC). The authorities saw him as a real threat. In 1964 Stein and his wife, Lillian, were dragged naked from their home and tortured by the authorities. Lillian was detained and only a 14-day hunger strike by Stein secured Lillian's release. Stein carried the torture scars on his legs for the rest of his life.
Stein was later the first struggle figure to be placed under 24-hour house arrest. On 1 February 1968, with Nelson Mandela jailed and the future looking grim, Stein and his family fled by ship to Southampton, England. Bishop of Stepney, Trevor Huddleston, welcomed Stein and with the help of another great priest-opponent of apartheid at the time, Canon John Collins of St Paul's Cathedral, found the family lodgings in London. Soon after settling down in London, Stein began working as a distribution manager for leading African literature publishers Heinemann.
The outlet for Stein’s political energy was the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC), formed in 1962. He was a fiery participant in demonstrations against South Africa touring teams to England. He became a natural choice to play a key role in the Sanroc, which was being run from London in the late 1960s. With the SANROC, he worked to ensure that apartheid South Africa was removed from the Olympic movement. Following South Africa’s expulsion from the Olympic movement in 1970, Stein represented the SANROC at meetings with the United Nations' Special Committee against Apartheid, the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa and other International Sports Federations. In this regard he attended the Olympic Games in 1976.
The Stein’s encouraged hard work and service in their children, who became accustomed to sleeping on the floor whenever various visiting struggle activists were allocated their beds. The couple later divorced, though remained close, and he later married a Cape Town person, Deborah Julius.
After freedom was achieved in South Africa, Stein made several trips home, to vote and to testify about his torture and imprisonment at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
He did not return for good, though, and expressed the misgivings commonly felt by exiles, he felt excluded from and disappointed by the post-apartheid reality. Stein once claimed that if he wrote an autobiography, it would be titled ‘All for nothing’.
Stein has ten children. Three of his sons went on to become professional footballers in England; Edwin Stein (Luton Town), Brian Stein (England and Luton Town) and Mark Stein who earned one England cap and starred for Chelsea in the early 1990s. Mark held the English Premiership football record for scoring the highest number of consecutive goals. This record was later broken by the Dutch soccer player, Ruud van Nistelrooy, who at the time was playing for the English football club, Manchester United. Edwin Stein was the first Black person to become a Manager of a football team, Barnet Football Club, in England.
Isaiah Stein died in London on 20 January 2011.
Canon Chivers, C (2011). Isaiah Stein: Activist who played a significant role in the overthrowing of apartheid, from the Independent, 7 February, [online], Available at http://www.independent.co.uk [accessed 16 February 2011]|Amato, C (2011). OBITUARY: Isaiah Stein: Exiled anti-apartheid activist, from Times Live, 13 February, [online], Available at http://www.timeslive.co.za [accessed 16 February 2011]|Skype conversation with Alistair Abrahams, London, 2014-01-16