David Webster (anthropologist)

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For other people named David Webster, see David Webster (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with the anthropologist David Webster of Penn State University, or the social historian David Webster of the University of Toronto
David Webster
Mosaic, David Webster Park
Mosaic, David Webster Park
Born 1945
Northern Rhodesia
Died May 1, 1989
Fields social anthropologist
Institutions Rhodes University
University of the Witwatersrand
Alma mater University of the Witwatersrand

David Webster (1945 – May 1, 1989) was a South African social anthropologist.


David Joseph Webster was born in 1945 in Northern Rhodesia, where his father worked as a miner in the copper belt. He studied at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where he was involved in student politics.[1]

In 1970, Webster started teaching anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand. His doctorate had been written on a traditional topic of anthropology (kinship), but it was focused on a politically explosive field, namely migrant workers from Mozambique. In 1976, he was invited to teach for two years at the University of Manchester in the UK.

Webster was active in the political anti-Apartheid movement, especially in the 1980s for the Detainees' Parents' Support Committee (DPSC), an organisation advocating the release of political detainees held without trial in South Africa.[1]

Webster was shot dead outside his house by assassins in the employ of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a clandestine state agency.[2] The hit squad was paid R40,000 (at the time, equivalent to about US$8,000) for his murder. Ferdi Barnard, the man who pulled the trigger on the shotgun used, was later tried and found guilty in 1998; he was sentenced to two life terms plus 63 years for a number of crimes, including the murder of Webster.[3]

Thousands of people attended his funeral service at St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral.


The David Webster House where Webster lived with his partner Maggie Friedman and outside of which he was killed is now decorated in his memory.[4] A nearby park previously called Bloemenhof Park in Calence Street was renamed the David Webster Park on the 20th anniversary of his death.[1] There is also mosaic in the park by Jacob Ramaboya from the Spaza Gallery which commemorates his life.

In 1992, the University of the Witwatersrand named a new Hall of Residence for over 200 students in David Webster's honour.

The David Webster Hall of Residence is now home to 217 Wits University students.


  1. ^ a b c "David Joseph Webster". sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "The night Ferdi Barnard told me he killed", Nov 21 1997, Mail & Guardian
  3. ^ "Ferdi Barnard is found guilty of killing Webster", sahistory.org.za
  4. ^ "Webster’s house now a heritage site". The Star. 23 July 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 

External links[edit]


  • Webster, D & Hammond-Took, W D (eds) 1975. Agnates and affines: studies in African marriage, manners and land allocation. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. (=African Studies 34 (4))
  • Webster, D 1984. The reproduction of labour power and the struggle for survival in Soweto. (Carnegie Conference paper no.20) Rondebosch: Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit. ISBN 0-7992-0694-6.
  • Webster, D & Friedman, M 1989. Repression and the State of Emergency, June 1987-March 1989. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. (Published posthumously)
  • Webster, D 1991. Abafazi Bathonga Bafihlakala: Ethnicity and Gender in a KwaZulu Border Community. African Studies 50 (1-2) 243-271. (Published posthumously)
  • Frederikse, J 1998. David Webster. Cape Town : Maskew Miller Longman. ISBN 0-636-02255-2.
  • Stiff, P 2001. Warfare by Other Means: South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Alberton (South Africa): Galago. ISBN 1-919854-01-0.