- John Daniel (1944–2014)
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The editors of Transformation have been deeply saddened by the death of their colleague John Daniel on July 25, 2014. John had a remarkable life and career that involved him in a range of important and memorable events in the last extraordinary transformational half-century of South African history. He made an enormous contribution to constructing a better society.
The son of liberal schoolteachers, John’s first important political role was that of a leader of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), serving as president of the Pietermaritzburg chapter. The 1960s were a low point in the history of the South African opposition to apartheid, but among the imaginative initiatives John took was inviting US Senator Robert Kennedy in 1966 to come to South Africa. Kennedy had unimpeachable anti-Communist credentials to which the government could hardly object but he was equally committed to civil rights reform in the USA and an enemy of the South African racial dispensation. It was a visit that included memorable speechmaking by John, heartening the opposition in the middle of a politically deathly period.
For his pains, John received a one-way pass out of the country in 1968. He chose to study politics at Western Michigan University. Here he came under the ambit of Howard (not Harold!) Wolpe, who had written an excellent dissertation on the politics of the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt. Later Wolpe entered the US Congress and became especially known for his championing of African issues and notably the anti-apartheid legislation of the 1980s. John went on to doctoral studies at what is now Buffalo University. Here a close friend was JM Coetzee who mused with John about whether he might not shift from literary criticism to a growing passion for writing fiction himself. While working on his PhD, John came back to this part of the world to teach at Waterford School in Swaziland, a haven for families who wanted [End Page i] an alternative to the values typical of South African schooling in an integrated setting.
From 1975 with his degree in hand, John continued to teach at the new University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Amongst many people whom he knew from that time it was a particularly distinguished former student, our Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela who remembered him fondly, speaking at the memorial service in his honour at the University of the Witwatersrand. She was one of many South African students John taught there and for her he symbolised those white people who gave so much to destroy the apartheid system.
Swaziland was a very conservative little country, newly independent but it became a place of encounters, passage and plots for the insurgent ANC after the independence of Mozambique. This allowed John to develop as a teacher of politics, to connect and help support ANC exiles and activities underground and also to write surreptitiously under the unlikely pseudonym of Isobel Winter about the Swaziland monarchy and its operations. These years of intense political involvement were among those he remembered as amongst the most important of his life. The Swaziland authorities, backed as they were by the apartheid state, finally decided that they could dispense with his services and packed him off on yet another one-way ticket in 1984.
Here another facet of John’s career had a chance to develop as disaster turned to opportunity. In Swaziland, John and his American wife, Cathy, started a bookshop. In London, his old friend Rob Molteno now brought him onto Zed Press, then and now a committed press devoted to readable discussions of third world public issues of considerable note. John’s first book while at Zed in the 1980s was that by Mzala (pseudonym of ANC activist Jabulani Nxumalo), Gatsha Buthelezi, Chief with a Double Agenda, on the Inkatha leader. John here learnt the publishing trade from which South Africa would later benefit: Here we are thinking of his remarkable turnaround of the HSRC Press as well as his critical work for us at Transformation.
But there really is more. On finally being able to return legally to a postapartheid South Africa...