Former anti-Apartheid activist, professor and member of parliament Ben Turok will be remembered as a determined man who expressed his views without seeking popularity or position, said former Constitutional Court judge, Albie Sachs. Turok passed on Monday, 9 December.
“I feel very heartsore. Ben and I associated before the Freedom Charter was adopted. We belonged to a Cape Town group called the Modern Youth Society…we couldn’t call ourselves the Socialist Youth Society and certainly not the Communist Youth Society, so we used the term ‘Modern’… We were forthright – we loved arguments, debates, ideals, challenges about the world, everything from politics to art to language. This was a friendship that goes back to 1952,” said Sachs.
“Ben was very determined, he expressed his views and wasn’t looking for popularity, but for truth and understanding.”
Turok was one of the contributors to the Freedom Charter and reportedly obtained three degrees in engineering, philosophy and political science respectively.
“He had very strong social foundations and was a very self-contained person. He was a forceful debater and a marvellous friend. Some people live with [self-] doubt but he lived with critical assurance – he’d always revise his ideas,” said Sachs.
Sachs says that Turok was huge fan of revolutionary-style education with a degree of informality – essentially education without the pomposity of formal university education. Sachs explained that Turok knew that people who had very little formal education were capable of, and had, very deep and creative thoughts about the world, humanity and relationships.
“[Ben] helped to reconfigure what it meant to be a professor – not somebody who is pompous and speaking from books and ideas of what other professors had said…he believed everybody was capable of thinking profound thoughts.”
Turok was born in Latvia in the year 1927 and came with his family to South Africa in 1934. He was a long standing member of parliament for the African National Congress (ANC) and served as the director of the Institute for African Alternatives as well as the editor of the New Agenda.
As a result of his anti-Apartheid activities within the ANC, Turok spent three years in prison during the 1960s.
“Ben was amongst the bravest of the brave.” – Former Constitutional Court judge, Albie Sachs