Fonds BC1538 - Neville Alexander Papers

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Neville Alexander Papers


  • 1944 - 2012 (Creation)

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2 cubic meters

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Biographical history

Neville Edward Alexander (NEA below) was born on 22 October 1936 in the small town of Cradock, South Africa. He matriculated at the Holy Rosary Convent in 1952, and went on to study at the University of Cape Town where he attained a bachelor of arts (BA) (majors in German and history) in 1958, a BA honours degree (German) in 1956, and a master’s degree (MA) (German) in 1957. As a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, he completed a doctoral degree at the University of Tübingen in 1961. On his return to South Africa, he tutored German language and literature at the University of Cape Town and taught German and history at Livingstone High School in Claremont, Cape Town. Already politicised in his early student years, he initially joined the African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA), but after being ejected from APDUSA in 1961 he and others formed a study group known as the Yu Chi Chan Club (YCCC). When this disbanded, NEA co-founded the National Liberation Front (NLF). In July 1963, along with other members of the NLF, he was arrested and convicted of conspiracy to commit sabotage. He spent the next ten years (1964-1974) as a political prisoner on Robben Island, where he was instrumental in establishing the “Robben Island University”. During the five years of house arrest that followed his release, he wrote One Azania, one nation. The national question in South Africa under the pseudonym “No Sizwe”. Following a stint as research fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, where he did research on Namibian history, he returned to Cape Town and took up a post at the South African Committee on Higher Education (SACHED), and from 1980 was director of SACHED’s Cape Town centre. He also lectured part time in sociology and educational methods at the University of Cape Town (UCT), as well as at other institutions such as Khanya College. He served as executive secretary of the Health, Education and Welfare Society of South Africa (HEWSSA) Trust, and co-ordinated the National Language Project. Between 1988 and 1991 he conducted post-doctoral research at UCT (February-June 1988) and was visiting professor for pedagogy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität (March-June 1990) and visiting fellow in the Southern African Research Program at Yale University (September 1990 to June 1991). In 1992 he established the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in Southern Africa (PRAESA), and served as director until his retirement in 2011. During this period, he was appointed chairman of LANGTAG (Language Plan Task Group) by the minister of arts, culture, science and technology, and was vice chairperson of PANSALB (Pan South African Language Board). His Workers; List Party contested the 1994 election. In 2008 he was awarded the Linguapax prize in recognition of his contribution to preserving multilingualism in Southern Africa. He died on 27 August 2012.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Neville Alexander’s archive has been donated to UCT Libraries in memory of Neville Alexander and Irmgard Bolle.

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Copyright in the material is held by the Estate of the late Dr Neville Alexander.

Conditions governing reproduction

Requests for permission to reproduce material from the papers for commercial purposes must be directed to the the Estate of Dr Neville Alexander. Requests can be routed through Special Collections (

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