Richard Ernest Van der Ross was born in 1921, he studied at the University of Cape Town where he received M.A., B.Ed., and Ph.D. degrees. For some years he was principal of a teacher training school. He became inactive in SACPO soon after its founding. In 1961 he was one of the leaders of the Coloured "convention" movement, which organised a widely representative meeting of Coloureds at Malmesbury near Cape Town. Although accused by some critics of fearing African domination, he insisted that he favored contact with African groups while calling for organisation among Coloureds in order that they might be able to cooperate as respected allies. The "Malmesbury Convention" repudiated governmental bodies such as the Union Council for Coloured Affairs. Later in the 1960s, discouraged by the futility of opposition to the basic direction of the government's policy, he argued that apartheid should be opposed and demands made within this framework. In 1966 he took part in establishing and became the first president of the Labour Party of South Africa, which has contested elections for membership of the council. He resigned in 1967 to become an assistant education planner in the Department of Coloured Affairs. For a short period during 1969-1970 he was the first editor of the Cape Herald, a newspaper for Coloured people. In 1975 he became rector of the University of the Western Cape.

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