Richard Owen Dudley was born in Cape Town and grew up in the house bought in 1852 by his great-grandfather in Palmboom Road, Newlands. The large house was shared by his father, Samuel, and an aunt and both their families.
In 1928, when Dudley was four, his older brother began school at St Andrews Mission in Newlands where their father was headmaster. However, because Dudley insisted on joining him he also began Sub A (now Grade 1). He then went on to secondary school at Livingstone High School in Lansdowne Road, Claremont where he became Headboy. In 1940, at the age of 15, Dudley enrolled at the University of Cape Town to study History and English. However, the school committee at Livingstone High School needed him to return and teach science thus they steered him towards studying science. Dudley thus studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry. He was awarded the class medal for Physics and in 1945 graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree (BSc), Masters of Science Degree (MSc) and Teachers Diploma. Dudley immediately began teaching at his alma mater, Livingstone High School. He remained at the school for 39 years.
In 1948, Dudley married Iris Atkins, a fellow teacher at Livingstone High School. They had three children, two boys – Gary and Russell; and a daughter, Nerine.
In 1943, with the establishment of the ‘Coloured Affairs Department’ (CAD), Dudley became involved in the movement against the growing racism of the government. In 1943, Dudley joined the Anti-CAD Movement and also became part of the formation of the Non European Unity Movement(NEUM). Along with IB Tabata, BM Kies, Goolam Gool, Hosea Jaffe and Alie Fataar, Dudley was instrumental in drawing up the NEUM’s Ten Point Programme, the Policy of Non-Collaboration and of Non-Racialism. Dudley, along with activists such as Fataar, Kies and Van Schoor also assisted in revitalising and radicalising the Teachers League of South Africa (TLSA).
When Dudley was just 30 years old, in 1958, he was appointed Acting Principal at Livingstone High School. In 1958 the teachers at the school voted to permanently make Dudley the principal of the school. However, this was opposed by the Department who did not want a principal who was so openly against racism. In response to this Dudley stated:
The government in this country wants the boys in the class here to go and work on the farms. My job is to keep them off the farms. They want the girls here to go and work in the farmer’s wife’s kitchen. I want to keep them out of the kitchen. I think that you’re worth far more and you’ve got a contribution to make.(Dudley in Wieder, 2008: 75)
Instead Dudley was made Deputy Principal and sometimes Acting Principal but he never became Principal of the high school.
In 1961, Dudley’s parents were forcibly removed from their family home in Newlands. His parents received R6200 for compensation. During the 1960s, Dudley was banned and prohibited from taking part in any political activity. His banning order was continually renewed. In the early 1970s, Dudley, his wife Iris and their three children were also forcibly removed from their home in Harfield Village as the suburb had been zoned for White people. In 1979, Dudley’s daughter died which was a severe blow to the family.
In 1984, Dudley resigned from Livingstone High School to concentrate on his political activities. In the same year he became President of the New Unity Movement (NUM). In 1994 Dudley made the decision not to vote in the first democratic elections in South Africa.
On 11 November, Dudley and his wife Iris were invited to lunch with President Nelson Mandelaand his wife Graca Machel at Grenadendal, Rondebosch. President Mandela had hoped that Dudley could persuade Coloured voters in the Western Cape to vote for the African National Congress(ANC). In 1998, due to an illness, Dudley was forced to retire from politics soon after he was elected Honorary Life President of the NUM.
In November 2008, Dudley’s wife Iris died.
On 7 April 2009 Dudley was awarded with an honorary Doctorate of Education (D.Ed) from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Due to his ill health, the award was presented to him at his home.
Dudley died on 31 May 2009 at Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic. His memorial service was held at Livingstone High School on 6 June 2009.
• Wilson, F. 2009. Citation for the late R.O. Dudley, D.Ed. Honoris Causa[online]. Available at www.uct.ac.za[Accessed 9 August 2012]
• Independent Online, (2009), Veteran academic mourned by scholars[online]. Available at www.iol.co.za[Accessed 9 August 2012]
• Nasson, B. (2010) “R.O. Dudley: Teacher, Educator and Political Dissenter(1924-2009)” in South African Journal of Science, 106 (9/10) [online]. Available at www.sajs.co.za[Accessed 9 August 2012]
• Hommel, M.(2012). “Chapter 5: Friendly Antagonists” in Conversations and Soliloquies: A Window on South Africa. USA: Library of Congress
• Fataar, A. (1990) “The Greed and Waster that is Capitalism” in Apdusa Views, Is. 37 [online]. Available at https://apdusaviews.co.za[Accessed 9 August 2012]