Dawood Seedat: The Communist who insisted that there was 'no middle road to freedom’ by Goolam Vahed

Department of History University of KwaZulu-Natal - vahedg@ukzn.ac.za  

One of the most remarkable figures of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal – KZN) from the 1930s through to the early 1970s was Dawood Seedat (1916-1976).  The signposts that light up liberation history in South Africa in this period serve to illustrate Seedat's commitment to the Communist cause and the persecution he suffered. He was a member of the Liberal Study Group (LSG), the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), Stalin Memorial Committee, and India League, was imprisoned for his opposition to South Africa’s involvement in the Second World War, was a treason trialist (1956), arrested under the State of Emergency in 1960, and thereafter banned. He also toured (illegally), China, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe in 1951. Seedat married Fatima Seedat, an activist in her own right, who was one of the first women in Durban to volunteer for arrest during the Defiance Campaign of 1952. Through the period of intense repression Seedat somehow kept active, teaching new generations of activists in the ideals of Communism. This was linked to the idea of national liberation as the bridgehead to socialism and in this context Seedat saw no problem with also being a member of the Natal Indian Congress but as the Marxist that he was would have it, precisely the contradiction that powered the road to revolution. This paper traces some of the influences on Seedat, his ideas, role in the Communist Party and the NIC, and the consequences of his political involvement on himself and family. The names of SACP, NIC and African National Congress (ANC) stalwarts adorn the roads of Durban. One family name is strangely missing, is that of Dawood and Fatima. It is not for the want of trying as the paper details. What informs those who get recognised and those left out? In this time of a 100 years of the Communist Party, will the Seedats finally be recognised as pioneers of the ‘long road to freedom’. The family is pessimistic; for the last 20 years they have only been driven into dead-ends.  

Goolam Vahed - Biography

Goolam Vahed is a Professor in the Department of History at the University of KwaZulu Natal. His research interests include identity formation, citizenship, ethnicity, migration and transnationalism among Indian South Africans as well as the role of sport and culture in South African society in peer-reviewed journals. His most recent (co-authored) works include A History of the Present. A Biography of Indian South Africans,1994–2019 (Oxford) and Colour, Class, and Community. The Natal Indian Congress and the Struggle to Defeat Apartheid 1971-1994 (Wits, 2021 forthcoming).  E-mail: vahedg@ukzn.ac.za 

Everyday Communists in the South African Liberation Struggle: The Lives of Ivan and Lesley Schermbrucker by Alan Kirkaldy


This paper engages themes in a book currently in publication with Palgrave Macmillan. It explores the role of social movements in the liberation struggle of Southern Africa, through the lens of two ‘everyday communists’. Focusing on the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), the author explores the lives of Ivan Schermbrucker and Lesley Schermbrucker, whose contribution to the party was not known to the public like the roles of leaders such as Bram Fischer and Joe Slovo, but instead was much more clandestine. Their lives represent how ‘ordinary’ people could be drawn into the movement, rise above the constraints of their backgrounds and play significant roles based on stances more rooted in common decency and morality than in the writings of Marx and Lenin. The paper also sheds light on the interplay between transnational and national tendencies during the liberation movement, particularly between the 1940s and the 1960s. Although the CPSA had strong transnational influences and ideologies, many of its members were strongly influenced by African nationalism, or simply focused their ideas on fighting for change, democracy and equality within South Africa. The Schermbruckers changed their views in response to the shifting national and international political landscape, the rise of Stalinism, and the flight of South African activists into exile from the 1960s. Both fluent in African languages, Ivan and Lesley were unique amongst leftist white activists at the time, and were able to create relationships of trust with African members of the CPSA. Examining the tensions and conflicts that arose during the roles of ‘everyday communists’ in the struggle for liberation in South Africa, this paper provides fresh insights into ‘underground’ activism and the role of gender in the struggle.

Author Biography

Alan Kirkaldy is Associate Professor and Head of the History Department at Rhodes University, South Africa. His main research interests include environmental justice, mission history, history of the South African Communist Party and queer histories. Alan has lectured on African and environmental history since 1989, teaching courses which cover the South African Communist Party, the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, as well as other liberation movements and the machinations of the apartheid state. He has previously published monographs and books on the KalK Bay fishing industry and Venda History.

A Sabotaged Life: Marius Schoon & the Apartheid State by Billy Keniston

By any measure, Marius Schoon lived a hard life. Schoon was entrapped by an undercover police office, and spent twelve years in jail for attempted sabotage, as a result. While Marius was in Pretoria Central, his wife committed suicide. Nonetheless, when Marius Schoon was released from jail, the prison authorities admitted that, “Schoon has not deviated 1 inch from his political stance, I would reckon he is now even more hardened in his political sense than 12 years ago…I am convinced that if he is released from prison, he will immediately and surely again join his evil organizations and continue his devilish works, more determined than ever to achieve his goal.” As predicted, Marius Schoon continued on with his work for the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) underground, working in Botswana from 1977, and then Angola at the end of 1983. The brief time in Angola represents the deepest tragedy of Marius Schoon’s life, as his wife, Jeannette, and 6-year-old daughter, Katryn, were both brutally murdered by a parcel bomb sent by the apartheid state. Despite his multiple attempts to seek justice for these killings, the men that murdered Jeannette and Katryn received amnesty, and Marius died without any closure.

 My chapter will provide a brief summary of Marius Schoon’s life story, analysed in relation to the broader history of the ANC and SACP, both of which Schoon lived and died for. How can a life such as Marius Schoon’s – so full of tragic loss – be narrated within the context of the liberation struggle? What does his life story teach us about the nature of that struggle? What does the apartheid state’s relentless attacks against Marius Schoon teach us about the nature of apartheid repression?


Billy Keniston wishes he was born in a different country, in a different time. Rooted in a belief that history is a human need, and that the present system is undesirable, Keniston studies and writes in order to uplift the stories of people’s struggles for liberation. Raised white in the United States of America, his work focuses on the role of white people in fighting against racialism. For over a decade, Billy Keniston has studied the struggle against apartheid. This work includes an MA from the University of the Western Cape, a 2013 biography (published by Jacana) entitled Choosing to be Free: The Life Story of Rick Turner, and a soon to be defended doctoral dissertation, entitled “Explosive Thinking: Apartheid Repression & Resistance, 1969-1984.” Keniston was hosted by the History Workshop in 2019.

Slovo’s role in the Congress Alliance and contribution to the liberation struggle of South Africa

By Nkosinathi Theledi

Abstract: An exploration of South African historiography through the prism of Joe Slovo’s role in the Congress Alliance to the liberation of South Africa. Historical analysis of his role in the Communist Party of South Africa’s (CPSA’s) relationship with the African National Congress (ANC), the turning point in the South African struggle is provided.

The history of South Africa ever since 1910 has been a process of the whittling down of black people’ rights. The turning point in the South African struggle hailed from 1950 when the ANC became persuaded regarding the necessity for a united and multi-racial struggle against apartheid tyranny. In 1952 the ANC and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) jointly launched the Defiance Campaign – a mass Satyagraha after extensive discussions and preparations. This approach resulted in 8,000 people of all racial origins going to prison. The congresses of coloured and white people, and a non-racial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), were established and came to be part of the ‘Congress Alliance’. In 1955 the alliance organised a multi-racial Congress of the People which proclaimed the Freedom Charter declaring that South Africa belongs to its entire people and urging all the people to struggle for the total eradication of racism. No longer able to voice their opposition to the government's racial policies through the medium of public debate and open meetings, the ANC/SACP, formed Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961. The purpose designed to take up arms against the government which they felt would never change its policies unless it was threatened. Slovo’s role in the historical unfolding of the ANC-SACP alliance, his participation and leadership in Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), as well as in the formation of other united front organisations and alliances at different historical moments will be reflected.

Nkosinathi Theledi

Nkosinathi Theledi is currently the General Secretary of Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union [POPCRU], the position he held since 2009. He is the member of the Central Executive Committee of Congress of South African Trade Unions [COSATU], the position he occupied since 2005. He was previously the Deputy General Secretary from February 2005 until April 2009. He was within POPCRU structures since its inception in 1989 occupying various positions.

Academic Credentials

Current Studies: PhD at Rhodes University – Topic: “Joe Slovo’s Political Thoughts”

2015: M-Tech [People Management and Development], TUT, Topic: “Employment relationship satisfaction of constables in South African Police Services in Tshwane region”

2009: Public Management & Development [P&MD] – Wits University

2005: National Diploma: Human Resource – University of Johannesburg

2002: B-Tech: Labour Relations Management – Tshwane University of Technology [TUT]

2000: Specialised Human Resource Management – University of Johannesburg

CROSSING BORDERS: Portrait of the Peripatetic Communist Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo – “Mzala” (1955-1991)

by Ronnie Kasrils


This paper’s title derives from the “mobility studies” model, which has particular relevance in the treatment of biographies of members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). From its inception in 1921 its membership generally had travelled from Europe to settle in South Africa; soon to be joined by migrants flowing into the cities, including from neighbouring states. In later years, particularly after 1960 when African National Congress (ANC) leaders and uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) recruits travelled abroad, to mobilise international solidarity or to receive military training in various countries, the crossing of borders became far more commonplace. The numbers increased dramatically following the 1976 Soweto uprising. The subject of this paper, Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo – “Mzala”, as he was popularly called (1955-1991) - is treated as representative of that generation, and one of a number who joined the ANC, MK and in due course the SACP. The thrust of the paper is to demonstrate what shaped the life of young Africans of his generation, and how the physical and metaphorical ‘crossing of borders’ transformed him; as it did others.

Ronnie Kasrils is a South African freedom fighter (1960-1994), government minister (1994-2008), writer, public speaker and activist. His books include Armed and Dangerous: From Underground Struggle to Freedom (4th edition, 2013), The Unlikely Secret Agent (2010, winner of the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award), A Simple Man: Kasrils and the Zuma Enigma (2017), and Catching Tadpoles: The Shaping of a Young Rebel (2019), all published by Jacana.