Dr Neville Edward Alexander (Posthumous)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Dr Neville Edward Alexander
Dr Neville Edward Alexander was an anti-apartheid activist, an intellectual and an educationalist who made a significant contribution to democracy in South Africa. He was born on 22 October 1936 in Cradock, Eastern Cape.
In 1953, he moved to Cape Town to attend university where he obtained a BA degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT), majoring in German and History. While at the university, Alexander participated in educational fellowships debating on national and international politics and helped to establish the Cape Peninsula Students’ Union. He continued his studies at UCT obtaining his Honours and Masters MA degree at UCT.
After completing his MA degree, Alexander won an Alexander Humboldt Stiftung scholarship to study at Tübingen University in (West) Germany. It was during this time that Alexander met many Algerian and Cuban students who introduced him to anti-colonialism and guerrilla warfare. By 1961, he completed his PhD in German literature. His political principles were fuelled by the Sharpeville massacre, which he learnt about while in Germany. He appreciated that although frustration can be self-defeating, it can also be at the root of constructive counter-action.
Alexander created the Yu Chi Chan Club (YCCC) to promote guerrilla warfare, and subsequently founded the National Liberation Front (NLF) to bring together people who were committed to the overthrow of the state, irrespective of their political ideology. As a teacher at Livingstone High School in Cape Town since 1961, he encouraged his students to apply critical thinking and independence of mind in their articulation of opinions.
In 1963, Alexander was detained, charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit sabotage. He spent 10 years in prison where he studied and obtained a BA honours degree in History. With former president Nelson Mandela, and Mac Maharaj, Alexander taught prisoners History, Law and Economics.
Once his ban ended, Alexander took up teaching part-time in the department of Sociology at the University of Cape Town. In 1990, he wrote a book titled Education and the Struggle for National Liberation in South Africa, in which he reiterated that efforts put into education would lead to the liberation of South Africa, not the other way round. He also headed the Workers’ Organisation for Socialist Action (Wosa) which was created to promote working-class interests.
In 2004, Alexander was granted the Order of the Disa by the Western Cape Premier for his long-standing commitment to socio-political issues and education. In 2008, he won the Linguapax Prize, granted annually in Barcelona, to highlight his contributions to linguistic diversity and multilingual education during International Mother Language Day observed annually in February.
Dr Neville Alexander passed away in August 2012 in Cape Town.