In 1971 Ensor completed her undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Natal. The next year she completed her honours degree also in economics from the University of Cape Town. During her undergraduate studies, Ensor became politically active. She became a leader in the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and active in the Wages Commission. When she moved to UCT she began assisting Gordon Young with the Wages Commission at the university. Ensor was eventually banned in 1973 under the Suppression of Communism Act by the apartheid government.
In May 1976 Ensor and her husband Robert Petersen decided to leave South Africa, via Botswana, for Britain where they lived in exile for 15 years. While living in England Ensor obtained an MSc in Education and a doctorate in mathematics education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Ensor became involved in the anti-apartheid movement in exile, joining the African National Congress (ANC) in London.
Ensor and Petersen also became involved specifically in the left wing political movement in England joining the British Militant Tendency. Ensor became John Gaetsewe’s secretary. Gaetsewe’s was the secretary South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). In the late 1970s Ensor was part of a group of five South African Trotskyites which included her husband, David Hemson, Martin Legassik and Peter Collins, who tried to capture and redirect the SACTU.
Along with Hemson, Legassick and Petersen, Ensor was suspended from the ANC in 1979. In 1985 they were expelled from the ANC for attempting to subvert the tripartite alliance and subsequently formed the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC. Ensor authored two books during this time, The Workers’ Movement, SACTU and the ANC (1979) and The Workers’ Movement, SACTU: A Struggle for Marxist Policies (1980).
Ensor eventually returned to South Africa in 1991 where she taught at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) for two years. In 1993 she moved to UCT’s School of Education. Ensor became Dean of the Humanities Faculty at the University of Cape Town in 2004. As an academic, her research focus has been on the sociology and science of education. Ensor’s work into mathematics and teacher-education has been widely published both locally and intentionally.
As a National Research Fund (NRF) rated researcher, Ensor served in various areas of the NRF appraisal system and has been a reviewer for various international educational journals. She also served as the president of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education.
• Equal Education 2012. “Staff Centre: Paula Ensor” in Equal Education [online]. Available at https://www.equaleducation.org.za [Accessed 26 November 2012]
• UCT 2012. “Deans, Humanities: Professor Paula Ensor” in University of Cape Town [online]. Available at www.uct.ac.za [Accessed 26 November 2012]