A FRIEND of Namibia, South African political thinker and activist Neville Alexander, died in a Cape Town hospital at the age of 75 yesterday morning.
While on a speaking tour in Germany a month ago, Alexander complained about chest pains. He then cut his tour short to return to Cape Town where he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
An old friend of Alexander’s, Otillie Abrahams, yesterday described him as a prolific writer and thinker.
“He was analytical in his approach to everything; he ascribed to the notion of fighting ideas with ideas. He had a great influence on what happened in Namibia,” Abrahams said.
Close family friend, Dr Shaun Whittaker said Alexander had shaped the political consciousness of an entire political generation.
“He never married and does not have any children because he was completely committed to the political struggle. This is a great loss to leftist politics which is now showing signs of revival. He will be sorely missed,” said Whittaker.
Alexander’s latest contribution to the southern African population was his work in education and his passionate advocacy of mother-tongue education.
Last year, Alexander met with Namibian parliamentarians to address them on mother-tongue instruction in Namibian schools.
Abrahams said that Alexander was instrumental in the establishment of the Jacob Marengo Senior Secondary School in Windhoek.
Since its establishment, he had seconded teachers belonging to the South African Council for Higher Education (SACHED) to teach at Jacob Marengo, which was a tutorial college at the time.
Whittaker said Alexander had retired as director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (Praesa), a project started by him as an independent research and development unit attached to the faculty of humanities at the University of Cape Town, to dedicate himself to writing.
There are currently two publications of Alexander at the printers. One deals with mother-tongue and second-language usage in schools. The other deals with post-apartheid South Africa and the crisis of capitalism.
He has also completed a compilation of all his writing and speeches he made during the course of his activist life.
Alexander was born in Cradock, Eastern Cape on October 22, 1936.
His most recent work focused on the tension between multilingualism and the hegemony of English in the public sphere.
He joined the African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa (Apdusa) which was established in 1960, but left the organisation the following year with the likes of Dr Kenneth Abrahams and Otillie Abrahams, Andreas Shipanga, and Fikile Bam.
They decided to go underground and formed the Yu Chi Chan (YCCC) – which means guerilla warfare – study group which supported an armed struggle against the apartheid South African regime inside the country.
This group was disbanded in 1962 and replaced by the National Liberation Front (NLF) which Alexander founded.
In 1963, Alexander and most members of the NLF was arrested and the following year, they were convicted of conspiracy to commit sabotage. Alexander was imprisoned at Robben Island between 1964 to 1974.
The Namibian: Firebrand activist Neville Alexander dies