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Alan Paton (1903 – 1988) (Formerly McDonald Road)

NOVELIST and liberal politician Alan Paton is perhaps best remembered for his work, Cry The Beloved Country (1948). By the time he died, in 1998, the book had sold 15 million copies and had been made into two films. Paton was the president and founder of the South African Liberal Party, which from 1953 opposed the National Party’s introduction of apartheid legislation. The Liberal Party, which offered a non-racial alternative to the government’s white supremacist policies, ceased to exist in 1968, with the introduction of the Prohibition of Political Interference Bill, which banned it. Paton came in for flak from a number of quarters. The government of the day harassed him, while some activists on the left considered the writer’s gentle, Christian-liberal solution to South Africa’s problems to be hopelessly inadequate. His opposition to international sanctions also drew criticism. Paton, who was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1903, found the magic of literature at an early age, reading Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and Rupert Brooke. He also read the Bible – his parents’ Christian faith and the Old Testament deeply influenced his writings. From his early childhood Paton witnessed the increase of white power at the expense of the black majority. After completing a science degree at the University of Natal, Paton worked as a teacher at Ixopo High, a whites-only school, and then at another high school in Pietermaritzburg. In Ixopo, Paton fell in love with Dorrie Francis Lusted, who was married. After her husband died, Paton and Lusted were married in 1928. She died in 1967 of emphysema. In 1969 Paton married his secretary, Anne Hopkins. Paton died on April 12, 1988, in his home, near Durban.

 
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STEPHEN BANTU BIKO (1946-1977) (Formerly Mansfield Road)

STEPHEN Bantu Biko was born in King William’s Town, the son of a government clerk. Biko had just entered Lovedale College, in Alice, in 1963, when his brother was arrested and jailed on suspicion of outlawed Poqo activities. It was a time of severe repression in the Eastern Cape, and Biko was also interrogated by the police and subsequently expelled from the college. Thus began his resentment of white authority. At the then Natal University’s medical school for blacks in Wentworth, he was elected to the students representative council. In 1967 he attended a conference of the student union, Nusas, at Rhodes University. The host university prohibited mixed accommodation and eating facilities for the conference, prompting Biko to slate the artificial integration of student politics and rejected liberalism as the empty gestures of people who really wished to retain the status quo. Biko was an exponent of the Black Consciousness philosophy which sprang from an increasingly literate African population in the major urban centres during the 1960s. In the wake of the urban revolt of 1976, and with the prospects of national revolution increasingly likely, security police detained Biko in August. He was taken to Port Elizabeth and on 11 September, 1977, moved to Pretoria. On 12 September he died in detention, the 20th person to have suffered this fate in just 18 months. He was just 30. Several newspapers did investigations and learned that Biko had died from brain injuries. It was also revealed that Biko had been assaulted before he was transported to Pretoria without any medical attention. Biko’s contribution to the liberation struggle has been commemorated with the unveiling of a number of statues in his honour, and the naming of streets both in South African and abroad. He has also been the subject of books and films.

 

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Ismail C Meer (1918-2000) (Formerly Lorne Street)

MEER was born in 1918 and grew up in the small town of Waschbank, where his father was a trader. Forced to go to work when his father’s business collapsed in 1930, Meer later continued his education at Sastri College, in Durban, and at the then University of Natal. In 1946 he completed a law degree at the University of the Witwatersrand. As a student, he helped to found the Natal Teacher’s Union and became involved in radical politics, eventually joining the South African Communist Party. While at Wits, where he was a contemporary and friend of Nelson Mandela, he became a supporter of Yusuf Dadoo, and when Dadoo became the leader of the Transvaal Indian Congress in 1945, Meer was elected the body’ secretary. During the Indian passive resistance campaign of 1946, he edited the weekly Passive Resister in Johannesburg and spent a month in prison for his participation in the campaign in Natal. A strong believer in closer African-Indian cooperation in the campaign, Meer helped in negotiations leading to the “Doctors’ Pact” of 1947 between Dadoo, GM Naicker, and A B Xuma. In spite of government bans on him and his wife Fatima, Meer established a successful law practice in Verulam. He was a participant in the 1952 Defiance Campaign, a vice president of the Natal Indian Congress in the mid-1950’s, as well as Natal President of the South African Congress of Trade Unions. He was among the Congress leaders arrested for treason in December 1956, but charges against him were dropped in early 1958. Meer died in 2000.