Fonds BC1329 - The Colin Legum Papers

The Observer years Colin Legum’s political involvement in South Africa Resource materials - Africa Resource materials - other regions Resources by subject/organisation

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The Colin Legum Papers


  • 1926-2002 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

110 archival boxes

Name of creator


Biographical history

Colin Legum was born on 3 January 1919 in Kestell, a small town in the Orange Free State (now Free State) province of South Africa. After finishing his schooling, he entered journalism at the age of 16, working for the Sunday Express and later for the Daily Express. From humble beginnings as a copy boy and library assistant, he rose to crime reporter and political correspondent. Legum joined the Labour Party and edited its weekly paper, The Forward, and became active in local politics, serving on the Johannesburg City Council in various capacities between 1943 and 1948.

Following the Nationalist Party’s victory in the 1948 elections, Legum left South Africa for London. Whilst working for the Tavistock Institute, he came into contact with David Astor, editor of The Observer, and a fellow analysand. He began full-time work on The Observer in 1953, and became the paper’s (and Fleet Street’s) first Africa correspondent, contributing significantly to the paper’s anti-colonial policies. His extensive travels in Africa made him a recognised expert on the region, and his personal friendships with many African leaders (such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and Thabo Mbeki to name but a few) ensured that he always had access to people in the forefront of developments on the continent.

Throughout his life, Legum was an active opponent of colonialism and apartheid. He was involved in both the Africa Bureau and the Africa Publications Trust with Michael Scott and Mary Benson, amongst others. He became a popular spokesman on African affairs on both radio and television programmes, and lectured frequently, both in England and abroad. Apart from his extensive journalistic writings, he also authored and co-authored many books, and contributed to several academic publications. The publication of South Africa – crisis for the West (which he wrote with his second wife, Margaret, in 1964) resulted in the South African authorities banning them from South Africa.

Legum’s professional interests were not focused solely on Africa, though. An ardent Zionist and supporter of Israel, he travelled extensively in the Middle East and contributed many articles and essays on Jewish and Arab affairs. His personal interests included cultural affairs – art, music, and literature – and activities such as fly-fishing, gardening, and photography were enthusiastically pursued.

Legum left The Observer in 1984 (he was the associate editor at the time) when the paper was bought by Lonrho, which was owned by Mr “Tiny” Rowland. Rowland had extensive business interests in Africa, and Legum was concerned that this would adversely affect the paper’s editorial integrity and influence its stance on African matters. Legum then established his own syndicated publication, Third World Reports, and continued editing the highly-acclaimed Africa Contemporary Record. Following the unbanning of the ANC and other parties in 1990, the Legums returned to South Africa and in 1996 settled in Kalk Bay. Legum was awarded honorary doctorates by Rhodes University and the University of South Africa, and presented a course at University of Cape Town’s Summer School, and continued to write (his last book, Africa since independence, was published in 1999). However, despite his years of unflinching support, his contribution to the struggle against apartheid has been sadly unrecognised.

Legum’s first wife, Eugenie (nee Leon), died in 1953. The couple had one son, David (1943-1996). In 1960, Legum married Margaret Roberts, an economist and successful author in her own right. Three daughters were born to them. Colin Legum died on 8 June 2003; Margaret Legum died on 1 November 2007.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Donated by Mrs Margaret Legum

Scope and content

The Colin Legum Papers consist of the following series:

1. Series A
This brief series contains biographical and bibliographical material.
2. Series B
This series comprises an extensive collection of correspondence, both professional and personal. It bears testimony to the vast network of people Colin Legum was in contact with as a professional journalist and political correspondent. His personal acquaintance with many African leaders is clearly reflected (note the letters from Robert Mugabe in prison; from the Tambos; from Kenneth Kaunda and Milton Obote, to mention but a few); his influence in political circles is also evident (as seen from his correspondence with American senators, British politicians, and European leaders such as Olaf Palme). But the correspondence also bears testimony to the human side of Colin Legum: letters to and from political prisoners; money wired to people in need; help offered and obtained for African students in England, and so on. Much of the correspondence consists of letters written in answer to readers’ letters and queries, and reveals Legum’s willingness to educate his reading public on matters relating to Africa.
3. Series C
This series covers Colin Legum’s professional and personal interests. His early journalistic and political career in South Africa is reflected in correspondence and newspaper clippings. His anti-colonial and anti-apartheid work, along with his involvement with the Africa Bureau and Africa Publication Trust is well documented. So too are his cultural interests – theatre, art, and literature. He was acquainted with several African artists in exile (Gerald Sekoto and Bloke Modisane, for example).
4. Series D
This series comprises an extensive collection of Legum’s writings, and is quite literally an “A-Z” (Aden to Zimbabwe) collection of his prodigious journalistic and scholarly output. Newspaper articles, conference and seminar papers, academic articles, essays, notes and jottings – all are represented, ranging in date from the 1940s to shortly before his death in 2003, along with a microform collection produced by Altair Publishing in 1990.
5. Series E
This series is devoted to Colin Legum’s prolific lecturing and broadcasting activities. He was invited to lecture at many universities across Britain, Europe, Africa, and America. He lectured at military academies and participated in political forums and think-tanks, but was equally willing to talk to groups of school children. He appeared frequently on television programmes and on radio broadcasts. The broad range of organisations that invited him to air his views bears testimony to his status as one of the leading Africanists of his day.
6. Series F
This series consists of notebooks, diaries, and engagement calendars. The notebooks, filled with Legum’s often difficult-to-read writing, are a combination of interview notes, drafts, analyses, and other matters one would expect of a political journalist. They also include many notebooks filled with literary subject matter. An aspirant novelist, Legum filled many notebooks with ideas, characterisations, descriptions of places, unusual expressions, and so on. Few diaries are included, and are only sporadically filled.
7. Series G
This series comprises a collection of photographs and slides. Legum was an enthusiastic photographer, and many photographs originate from his extensive travels. Others are from press agencies, government information offices, and the like. Some photographs contain disturbing images and are flagged in the inventory. There are also many photographs and slides of family and friends.
8. Series H-J
These series consist of resource material – articles, clippings, essays, papers, etc. ¬– that Legum collected and used in his research and writings. Almost all the countries of Africa are covered (series H), as well as material from other regions and on a wide variety of topics (series I and J).
9. Series K
This series comprises miscellaneous items and memorabilia (such as stickers and lapel buttons).
10. Series L
This series contains a brief selection of documents originating with Margaret Legum. A few exemplars of her writings are included, as well as documentation from her work on the South African Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into media racism.


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An item-level finding aid is available in the Reading Room. An electronic copy can be requested; it is too lengthy to include fully on AtoM@UCT, where descriptions to file level are maintained.

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