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RIP Martin Legassick (1940 – 2016)

Martin Legassick and Peter Alexander
Towards Socialist DemocracyArmed Struggle and DemocracyThe Struggle for the Eastern Cape, 1800-1854The Politics of a South African FrontierThe Struggle for the Eastern Cape, 1800-1854

Acclaimed historian and lifelong activist Martin Legassick died yesterday at the age of 76, after a battle with cancer.

Legassick was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and moved to South Africa in 1947. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, and completed his PhD at the University of California.

Martin LegassickWhile working at universities in the United Kingdom and Tanzania, Legassick became active in the ANC and the South African Congress of Trade Unions in exile. In 1979, however, he was suspended from the ANC with a group of other activists, allegedly for creating a faction, and co-founded the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC, which later became the Democratic Socialist Movement. He was later expelled from the ANC.

Between 1981 and 1991 Legassick worked full-time as an anti-apartheid activist. He returned from exile after the unbanning of the ANC and returned to academia, although he remained involved in activism and politics.

In 2007 Legassick exchanged a famous series of public open letters with then-Minister of Housing Lindiwe Sisulu about the N2 Gateway project. In 2009 he was arrested while supporting the Macassar Village land occupation near Cape Town.

Between 1992 and 2005 Legassick lectured in the History Department at the University of the Western Cape, and was an Emeritus Professor of that institution. He wrote extensively on South African history, from the precolonial period to the present day.

South African History Online has shared a tribute by Noor Nieftagodien:

Martin Legassick has passed away at 76 (1940 – 2016)

“Comrade Martin Legassick passed away this morning, 1 March 2016, after a protracted and brave fight against cancer. Despite ill-health and excruciating pain, he completed his final book project at the beginning of this year.

Comrade Martin was a revolutionary socialist, brilliant scholar, teacher and mentor. He was an outstanding scholar and a pioneer of radical revisionist history in South Africa. From the 1960s when he was a university student, Martin immersed himself in the struggle against apartheid, including mobilizing some of the first international student demonstrations in the United States. In the mid-1970s he became a founding member of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC (MWT of the ANC) and left his academic post to work as full-time political activist. He served on the editorial committee of the journal, Inqaba yaBasebenzi, and newspaper, Congress Militant. For this, he was expelled by the ANC in 1985. On his return from exile, Martin continued to play a leading role in the MWT of the ANC and simultaneously became active in working class struggles in the Western Cape. He was also appointed professor of History at UWC, where he continued his excellent scholarship and mentoring of students. When anti-eviction struggles exploded on the Cape Flats, he spent most of his time working with activists, contributing to build these new movements of the working class.

Evenings and weekends were dedicated to meetings and political education classes. After the Marikana massacre, he immediately travelled to the platinum mines to show solidarity and to be part of the movement emerging there.

Similarly, he stood by the farm workers under the leadership of CSAAWU. He lived for the struggles of the working class. From 2008 he also dedicated some time to efforts to rebuild the socialist left, especially in the form of the Democratic Left Front and was hopeful that the United Front and a new trade union movement would galvanise the working class in co-ordinated struggles against poverty, inequality and racism. When I met on his birthday in December last year, he wanted to know about the new wave of students’ struggles and, despite physical weakness, was excited about the prospects of a new generation of activists emerging from this movement.

Hamba Kahle Comrade Martin

Noor Nieftagodien

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