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Alan Paton

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Alan Paton
Alan Paton
Alan Paton
Native name
Born(1903-01-11)11 January 1903[1]
Pietermaritzburg, Colony of Natal
(in modern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
Died12 April 1988(1988-04-12) (aged 85)
Botha's Hill, South Africa[2]
Notable worksCry, the Beloved Country;
Too Late the Phalarope, The Waste Land
SpouseDorrie Francis Lusted, 1928–1967
Anne Hopkins, 1969–his death[3]

Alan Stewart Paton (11 January 1903 – 12 April 1988) was a South African writer and anti-apartheid activist. His works include the novels Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), Too Late the Phalarope (1953), and the short story The Waste Land.



Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg in the Colony of Natal (now South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province), the son of a civil servant[4] (who was of Christadelphian belief) and his wife.

After attending Maritzburg College for high school, Paton earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal[4] in his hometown. He also got a diploma in education. After graduation, Paton worked as a teacher, first at the Ixopo High School, and subsequently at Maritzburg College.[4]

While at Ixopo he met Dorrie Francis Lusted.[4] They married in 1928 and remained together until her death from emphysema in 1967.[4] Their life together is documented in Paton's memoir Kontakion for You Departed, (1969). They had two sons, Jonathan and David.

In 1969, Paton remarried, to Anne Hopkins. This marriage lasted until Paton's death in 1988.[5]

Paton was a strong Christian. His faith was one of the reasons he was so strongly opposed to apartheid.[6]

Early career


Paton served as the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for young (native African) offenders from 1935 to 1949. He introduced controversial "progressive" reforms,[4] including policies on open dormitories, work permits, and home visitation. The young men were initially housed in closed dormitories; once they had proven themselves trustworthy, they would be transferred to open dormitories within the compound. Men who showed great trustworthiness would be permitted to work outside the compound. In some cases, men were permitted to reside outside the compound under the supervision of a care family. Fewer than 5% of the 10,000 men who were given home leave during Paton's years at Diepkloof ever broke their trust by failing to return.

Later career


Paton volunteered for military service with the British Commonwealth forces during World War II, but was refused by the South African authorities. After the war he took a journey, at his own expense, to tour correctional facilities across the world. He toured Scandinavia, Britain, continental Europe, Canada, and the United States. During his time in Norway, he began work on his seminal novel Cry, the Beloved Country, which he completed over the course of his journey, finishing it on Christmas Eve in San Francisco in 1946.[4] There, he met Aubrey and Marigold Burns, who read his manuscript and found a publisher: the editor Maxwell Perkins, noted for editing novels of Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, guided Paton's first novel through publication with Scribner's.

Paton published numerous books in the 1950s and became wealthy from their sales.

On 11 January 2018, a Google Doodle honored the author on what would have been his 115th birthday.[7]

Opposition to apartheid


In 1948, four months after the publication of Cry, the Beloved Country, the right-wing National Party was elected to power in South Africa. Black South Africans did not receive the vote until 1994 so were unable to oppose this directly. The legislature soon passed laws to formally establish apartheid, a system of racial segregation.

Paton, together with Margaret Ballinger, Edgar Brookes, and Leo Marquard, formed the Liberal Association in early 1953. On 9 May 1953, it became the Liberal Party of South Africa, with Paton as a founding co-president,[8] which fought against the apartheid laws introduced by the National Party government. Alan and his wife Dorrie at times sought shelter from the police, at the safe house of Colin Webb.[9]

Paton served as President of the LPSA until the government forced its dissolution in the late 1960s, officially because its membership comprised both Blacks and Whites. Paton was a friend of Bernard Friedman, founder of the Progressive Party.[10] Paton's writer colleague Laurens van der Post, who had moved to England in the 1930s, helped the party in many ways. The South African Secret Police were aware that van der Post was providing money to Paton and the LPSA, but they could not stop it by legal procedures.

Paton advocated peaceful opposition to apartheid, as did many others in the party. Yet, some LPSA members took a more violent stance. Consequently some stigma attached to the party, not just within South Africa, but also outside the country. The South African government confiscated Paton's passport when he returned from New York City in 1960, where he had been presented with the annual Freedom Award.[5] His passport was not returned to him for ten years, making it impossible for him to travel to speak to other countries.

Paton retired to Botha's Hill, where he resided until his death. He is honored at the Hall of Freedom of the Liberal International organisation.[11]

Other works


Paton continued to explore racial themes and apartheid in his second and third novels, Too Late the Phalarope (1953) and Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful (1981), and his collected short stories, Tales From a Troubled Land (1961).[5]

Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful was built on parallel life stories, letters, speeches, news and records in legal proceedings. Its fictional characters interacted with some historic figures, such as Donald Molteno, Albert Luthuli and Hendrik Verwoerd. The novel is classified as historical fiction. It gives an accurate account of the resistance movement in South Africa during the 1960s.

"Paton attempts to imbue his characters with a humanity not expected of them. In this novel, for example, we meet the supposedly obdurate Afrikaner who contravenes the infamous Immorality Act. There are other Afrikaners, too, who are led by their consciences and not by rules, and regulations promulgated by a faceless, monolithic parliament."[12]

Paton was a prolific essay writer on race and politics in South Africa. In Save the Beloved Country, he discusses many of the noted figures and issues on different sides of South Africa's apartheid struggle.

His Anglican faith was an important factor in his life and work: the title of one work is Instrument of Thy Peace.

Paton also wrote two autobiographies: Towards the Mountain deals with Paton's life leading up to and including the publication of Cry, the Beloved Country (an event that changed the course of his life). Journey Continued takes its departure from that time onwards.

He also wrote biographies of his friends Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr (Hofmeyr), and Geoffrey Clayton (Apartheid and the Archbishop). Another literary form that interested him throughout his life was poetry; the biographer Peter Alexander includes many of these poems[clarification needed] in his biography of Paton.[5]

Paton's work includes travel writing, The Lost City of the Kalahari (2006), and a complete selection of his shorter writings, The Hero of Currie Road.

The Alan Paton Award for non-fiction is conferred annually in his honour.



Cry, the Beloved Country was twice adapted for films, has in 1951 and 1995. It was the basis for the Broadway musical Lost in the Stars, which was adapted by American playwright Maxwell Anderson, music by Kurt Weill).

Selected works


Awards and honours

  • In 20 April 2006 he was posthumously awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold "Exceptional contribution to literature, exposing the apartheid oppression through his work and fighting for a just and democratic society."[14]

See also



  1. ^ Paton, Alan (1988). Journey Continued: An Autobiography. Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9780192192370.
  2. ^ "Alan Stewart Paton". South African History Online. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  3. ^ Paton, Alan (1988). Journey Continued: An Autobiography. Oxford University Press. p. 151. ISBN 9780192192370.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Liukkonen, Petri. "Alan Paton". Books and Writers. Finland: authorscalendar.
  5. ^ a b c d Herbert Mitgang (13 April 1988). "Alan Paton, Author Who Fought Against Apartheid, Is Dead at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  6. ^ Terry Philpot (15 November 2003). "Remember the Beloved Country". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  7. ^ Avakian, Talia (10 January 2018)."Google Doodle Celebrates South African Author and Anti-Apartheid Activist Alan Paton", Time. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  8. ^ "Formation of the Liberal Party of South Africa". Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archive. University of KwaZulu-Natal. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  9. ^ Guest, Bill (2017). Stella Aurorae: The History of a South African University (PDF). Vol. 2: The University of Natal (1949–1976). Pietermaritzburg: Natal Society Foundation. Retrieved 20 April 2024.
  10. ^ "A mixture of ice and fulfilled desire – Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source". Mg.co.za. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  11. ^ Alan Stewart Paton, South Africa (1903–1988) Archived 26 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Liberal International website
  12. ^ Post-Colonial African Writers, ed. by Pushipa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, 1998
  13. ^ "Umuzi – The Hero of Currie Road – Detail Page". Umuzi-randomhouse.co.za. 27 May 2008. Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  14. ^ "South Africa honours 27 outstanding citizens". www.iol.co.za. Retrieved 24 August 2020.

Further reading