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Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust
Unit F
Colstine Terrace
88 Belvedere Rd
PO Box 44907
Tel: +27 21 674 0361
Fax: 086 670 6772

Email: [email protected]


About Harold Wolpe

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 with apartheid.

Early life

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 Nicholas.

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 border.

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 instant hero.

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.

Click 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).