Terence Albert Bell (Terry Bell) was born in Pretoria, Transvaal (now Gauteng), South Africa on 12 September 1942. 

He married his fellow exile, Barbara, in 1966 and together they have two children, Ceiren, an animator and university lecturer and Brendan, a photographer.

In 1961 Joe Gqabi recruited him “briefly and in error” into the then recently banned African National Congress (ANC). He subsequently joined the Congress of Democrats (COD).

Bell’s journalistic career in 1960s in South Africa spanned the Amalgamated Press (Germiston Advocate, Benoni City Times, Boksburg Advertiser), Johannesburg Star, Rand Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Sunday Express. He was the treasurer of the short-lived non-racial South African Journalists’ Union (SAJU).

As a political activist, he was a member of the New Africa Youth Forum (NAYF) that linked, informally, activists in Soweto, Fordsburg and “white” Johannesburg.  Bell was the head of an underground cell covering the South-West Johannesburg for COD activity and, independently, other areas.  He was also the Editor of underground publication, Combat, established through the NAYF with Yussuf Kajee (Joe), Mike Ngubeni and, as headline writer, Suleiman Babla Saloojee.

He was detained under the 90-day law in 1964.  He fled into exile to Zambia in 1965 and worked as the chief reporter on the Times of Zambia.  When the South African Police (SAP) requested for him to be extradited, Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda appealed for asylum in another country “for his [Bell’s]own personal safety”.  The United Kingdom (UK) Labour Party government granted asylum.

In London he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and studied, with other exiles, for a diploma in international affairs through University College.  In 1966 the apartheid government imposed banning orders on Bell and a fellow exiled journalist, Geoff Lamb, ensuring that nothing they wrote or said could be published in South Arica. Bell’s ban stayed in place until February1990.

While studying in London he edited the monthly Anti-Apartheid News, and worked as a sub-editor on the Daily Worker (subsequently Morning Star).  After graduation, he left London for Africa in a kayak (a story told in the book, A hat, a kayak & dreams of Dar).  

In Zambia he worked as journalist, editor and part-time adult educator.  Bell was forced to leave in 1970 when, with the ANC in crisis and under apparent South African pressure, work permits of ANC supporting members were not renewed.  ANC leader O.R. Tambo and Jack Simons suggested he take up a job in New Zealand to assist in starting an anti-apartheid movement in that country.  

Bell was the keynote speaker at the launch of the New Zealand Anti Apartheid Movement in 1972 of what became, in per capita terms, the largest such movement in the world.  Here he worked primarily as a journalist and editor and also a primary school educator, radio talk show host and occasional lecturer in alternatives in education.

In 1979 Tambo asked Bell, with Barbara, to relocate to Tanzania to establish the primary division of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco).  He jointly drafted, with Barbara, the first ANC primary school curriculum, (adopted by the third national education conference of the ANC in 1980).  

Following serious disagreements about the deviation in practice from the proclaimed policies of the ANC (in particular the use of often brutal and arbitrary corporal punishment) Terry and Barbara Bell resigned from Somafco in 1982.  The ANC then sent the family to London where they were shunned by the majority of exiles and not allocated to an ANC unit.  

 Because of the refusal of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) and the ANC to support the 1984 miners’ strike in Britain, the Bells, as “independent South Africans”, supported striking communities in Kent and the Midlands.  The ANC also refused to take up the campaign launched by the South African Metal and Allied Workers’ Union (Mawu) and supported by the International Metalworkers’ Federation, following the arrest of Mawu — and later, Numsa — leader Moses Mayekiso and four of his comrades (the “Alex Five”).  In consultation with Mawu/Numsa and the international federation, the Bells launched the Friends of Moses Mayekiso campaign that became perhaps the largest ever trade union based anti-apartheid protest.

Unbanned in February 1990, Terry Bell returned to South Africa in 1991 and settled in Cape Town with Barbara.  Neither renewed their ANC memberships on return and instead endeavoured to build a democratic socialist movement.  The slogan adopted for the 1994 elections being:  Vote ANC, but build a socialist alternative.

From 1992, Bell has edited, via the internet, the London-based Africa Analysis (until 2006) and, from 1996 contributed a weekly Inside Labour column to Business Report (until 2014) and then to Fin24 and City Press.  He continues to work as a freelance journalist, columnist, commentator and author.

Most recent publications

  • Unfinished Business — South Africa, apartheid & truth (2001 & 2003)
  • Lionel Foreman — A life too short (2008 - written/edited for Sadie Foreman)
  • Comrade Moss — a political journey (2009)
  • Right to Fight (2012)
  • Fordsburg Fighter (2016)
  • A Hat, a Kayak & Dreams of Dar (2017).

Tertiary qualifications

  • International law
  • Politics
  • Economics
  • History
  • Creative media practice.

Further reading list

Collections in the Archives