Harold Wolpe, made famous by
the daring escape from an apartheid prison in 1963, is perhaps
best known for his astute scholarship, teaching and writing
on the political economy of South Africa and its relationship
Harold Wolpe was born in 1926
in Johannesburg to a Lithuanian-Jewish family.
Wolpe graduated from the Witwatersrand
University with a BA in Social Science and an LLB.
He married AnnMarie Kantor in
1955 and they gave birth to three children - Peta, Tessa and
Early political involvement
Wolpe was active in student politics,
joining the South African Communist Party (SACP).
He represented anti-apartheid
activists (such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Duma
Nokwe) whilst in practice as an attorney.
Wolpe was arrested and jailed
with hundreds of others after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre.
Arrest and escape
Following the apartheid government's
arrests at Lilliesleaf Farm in 1963, Wolpe went into hiding
and tried to flee South Africa, only to be captured at the
He escaped ingeniously with three
other comrades from Marshall Square Prison in Johannesburg
and, together with Arthur Goldreich, was driven to Swaziland.
Wolpe flew via a circuitous route
to the relative safety of Dar-es-Salaam, causing an international
embarrassment for the apartheid government and becoming an
Wolpe was cited as a co-conspirator
in the Rivonia Trial, which saw Mandela and many others of
the African National Congress (ANC) incarcerated for decades.
Harold spent almost thirty years
in exile in the United Kingdom.
Through a Nuffield Scholarship,
he was able to renew his interest in sociology and pursue
a career in academia.
After a stint in adult education
Wolpe taught at Bradford University, the Polytechnic of North
London, and Essex University.
He continued to be an active
member of the ANC and the SACP.
In 1990, Wolpe returned to South
Africa with AnnMarie, after the apartheid government granted
amnesty to former political activists.
Harold Wolpe is best known for
his sociological work on capitalism and apartheid (see Writings
of Harold Wolpe).
Grounded in Marxist theory,
his 1972 seminal essay, "Capitalism and cheap labour
power in South Africa: From segregation to apartheid"
changed the direction of opposition to the apartheid regime. Wolpe demonstrated - using
a concrete materialist base - that apartheid rested as much
on capitalism as it did on naked racist ideologies.
Wolpe began his research into
education policy in South Africa while in England, and was
invited to the University of the Western Cape to found the
influential Education Policy Unit upon his return from exile.
Wolpe made major contributions
to the policies on education, and particularly in higher education,
and published profusely on the subject.
here to read more about Harold Wolpe's intellectual legacy.
Harold Wolpe died unexpectedly
in Cape Town in January 1996.
He is remembered for his intellectual
rigour, activism to end apartheid, and analytical abilities.
The Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust
was established to continue Wolpe's work in research, publication
and instruction, and to stimulate intellectual debate in the
broader South African society (see Brief
history of the Trust).