Anti-apartheid activist Turok remembered

Professor Ben Turok

Struggle stalwart Ben Turok, of Noordhoek, has been remembered as a teacher, freedom fighter and an inspiration to many

The anti-apartheid activist, economics professor and former ANC Member of Parliament died on Monday December 9 at the age of 92.

Professor Turok was the founder of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Muizenberg and the director of the Institute for African Alternatives (IFFA).

In 2011, while serving as ANC MP, he faced disciplinary proceedings after publicly explaining why he broke party ranks and did not vote for the controversial Protection of Information Bill, aka the Secrecy Bill.

According to South African History Online, Professor Turok was born in Latvia in 1927 and moved to South Africa with his family in 1934. After graduating from UCT in 1950, he worked as a surveyor and a lecturer at the London Polytechnic Institute.

When he returned to South Africa in 1953, he joined the South African Congress of Democrats (COD) and in 1955 became the secretary for the Cape western region, acting as a full-time organiser for the Congress of the People.

He was arrested for treason in 1956 and stood trial until charges against him were withdrawn in 1958. Although served with a banning order in 1955, he remained active as a trade union organiser and was elected unopposed to represent Africans of the Western Cape on the Cape Provincial Council in 1957.

Professor Turok was one of the contributors to the Freedom Charter held at Kliptown, Johannesburg in 1955.

He became national secretary of the COD in 1958, and served for a period as secretary of the consultative committee of the congress alliance.

His wife, the former Mary Butcher, was also a prominent member of the COD and later served a six months’ sentence for aiding the illegal ANC

In 1962 Professor Turok was convicted under the Explosives Act and sentenced to three years in prison. After his release, he was placed under house arrest but escaped through Botswana.

After three years in Tanzania, he moved with his family to Britain, where he was editor of Sechaba until 1972.

While there, he joined the faculty of London’s Open University, for which he wrote in 1975: Inequality as State Policy: The South African Case.

His writings include South Africa: The Search for a Strategy, in The Socialist Register in 1973 and a booklet, Strategic Problems in South Africa’s Liberation Struggle: A Critical Analysis (1974).

He was a Member of Parliament from 1995 to 2014.

He continued to speak out against apartheid’s legacy, saying “no amount of talk about growth will help us” if the country didn’t address it.

“I live in Noordhoek and Masiphumelele is just up the road. It is an absolute scandal. You come to my house and everything works. And then 2km up the road you have a terrible situation. People can’t live like that,” he said in an interview with Carilee Osborne, a researcher at the Institute for African Alternatives, in Cape Town, in May.

Santie Wessmann of the Noordhoek Ratepayers’ Association said that Professor Turok and his wife Mary were active members of the association who always reached out when needed.

“Mr Turok will be remembered for his unwavering dedication and devotion to social justice. We would like to extend our sincerest condolences to Mary and the family,” Ms Wessmann said.

In a statement, IFAA staff said Professor Turok would be remembered as an icon of the struggle for justice and democracy, a man who throughout his life remained determinedly committed to equality, non-racialism and full human rights.

“He died still fighting; in his very last written statement, he asked if there was a way out of this mess and demanded to know what has happened to all the aspirations for creating a society which benefited all, including the poor and unemployed.”

Professor Turok leaves his wife, Mary Turok, three sons and grandchildren.