Martin Legassick

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Martin Legassick (1940~) is an eminent and world renowned South African historian and theoretician[1] and a lifelong activist.[2][3][4]

Legassick was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1947 he and his parents emigrated to South Africa. In 1960 he became a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He later completed his PhD at the University of California.

He then worked at universities in the United Kingdom and Tanzania, where he became active in the ANC and the South African Congress of Trade Union (SACTU) in exile. Together with Giovanni Arrighi, John S. Saul and others he developed an influential politico-economic analysis focusing on the contradictions engendered by the proletarianisation and dispossession of the Southern African peasantry.[5] According to Arrighi, "Martin Legassick and Harold Wolpe...maintained that South African Apartheid was primarily because the regime had to become more repressive of the African labour force because it was fully proletarianized, and could no longer subsidize capital accumulation as it had done in the past."[6]

In 1979, Martin Legassick, together with Paula Ensor, Dave Hemson and Rob Petersen, was suspended from the African National Congress for allegedly forming a faction. They regarded their suspension as undemocratic. They subsequently launched the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC.[7] The Marxist Workers’ Tendency was affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International, an international organisation of Trotskyist parties and the newspaper, The Militant.[8] Legassick was expelled from the ANC in 1985.[9]

In 1981 he left academia to become a full-time anti-apartheid activist.

After the unbanning of the ANC in 1990 he was able to return home to Cape Town where he returned to academia.[10]

He later became a prominent activist working with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign,[11][12][13] with Abahlali baseMjondolo,[14] with the Mandela Park Backyarders[15] and, more recently, the Democratic Left Front.[16]

In 2007 he was involved in an exchange of open letters with the then National Minister of Housing in South Africa, Lindiwe Sisulu.[17]In May 2009 he was arrested while supporting the Macassar Village Land Occupation near Cape Town.[18]

A dominant and consistent theme in Legassick's political work is the building of "a mass workers' party".[19][20]

Books by Martin Legassick[edit]

  • The Struggle for the Eastern Cape, 1800–1854: Subjugation and the Roots of South African Democracy, 2011[21]
  • The Politics of a South African Frontier The Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the Missionaries, 2010[22]
  • Towards Socialist Democracy, July 2007
  • Armed Struggle and Democracy : The Case of South Africa, July 2003
  • Skeletons in the Cupboard : South African Museums and the Trade in Human Remains, 1907–1917 by South African Museum, Martin Legassick, Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum, Ciraj Rassool January 2000,
  • Foreign Investment and the Reproduction of Racial Capitalism in South Africa by Martin Legassick and David Hemson, January 1976

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Ellis, External Mission: The ANC in Exile, Jonathan Ball, Cape Town, 2012, p. 157
  2. ^ South Africa's 'class apartheid'
  3. ^ Rebuilding trust in governance, in the Mercury
  4. ^ Public dialogue seminar on "Hani: A Life Too Short"
  5. ^ [Capital's Cartographer, Tom Reifer, New Left Review 60, November–December 2009, pp. 119–130]
  6. ^ The Winding Paths of Capital, Giovanni Arrighi, New Left Review 56, March–April 2009, pp. 61–94
  7. ^ Legassick, M, "Debating the revival of the workers' movement in the 1970s: the South African democracy education trust and post-apartheid patriotic history", Kronos (Bellville), vol.34 no.1, Cape Town nov. 2008,
  8. ^ see:'_International
  9. ^ History of Democratic Socialist Movement of South Africa,
  10. ^ 'The Past and Present of Marxist Historiography in South Africa' An interview with Martin Legassick by Alexander Lichtenstein, Radical History Review – Issue 82, Winter 2002, pp. 111–130
  11. ^ Housing battles in post-Apartheid South Africa: The Case of Mandela Park, Khayelitsha, by Martin Legassick, South African Labour Bulletin, 2003
  12. ^ Western Cape Housing Crisis: Writings on Joe Slovo and Delft – by Martin Legassick
  13. ^ A Day in the Life of a Street Paper Vendor, Street News Service, 22 November 2010
  14. ^ Siyanda – Mpola – Macassar Village: The War on the Poor Continues
  15. ^ Housing battles in post-Apartheid South Africa: The Case of Mandela Park, Khayelitsha
  16. ^ The Conference for a Democratic Left, Imraan Buccus, February 2010
  17. ^ Exchange of letters between Martin Legassick and Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu
  18. ^ Cape Argus, Cops, backyard dwellers clash in Macassar, 20 May 2009
  19. ^ Martin Legassick (2007) Towards Socialist Democracy. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, pg 538
  20. ^ Motala, E, "Martin Legassick : Towards Socialist Democracy, A review", Transformation, Sept 2008,;col1
  21. ^ John Boje Reviews The Struggle for the Eastern Cape, 1800–1854 by Martin Legassick, Books Live
  22. ^ The Politics of a South African Frontier The Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the Missionaries