Mary Benson (campaigner)

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Dorothy Mary Benson[1]
BornDorothy Mary Benson
(1919-12-08)8 December 1919[2]
Pretoria, South Africa[1]
Died19 June 2000(2000-06-19) (aged 80)[1]
London, United Kingdom
OccupationWriter and anti-apartheid activist[1]
SubjectsApartheid, Internal resistance to apartheid, African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, Albert Lutuli, Athol Fugard, Barney Simon

Dorothy Mary Benson (8 December 1919 – 19 June 2000)[3][4] was a South African civil rights campaigner and author.[5]

Early life[edit]

Born in 1919 in Pretoria,[4] Benson served in the South African Women's Army during World War II.[5] After the war, she was secretary to film director David Lean.[3][5]

Activism and writing[edit]

Benson became acquainted with the author Alan Paton, and read his novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), whose main theme was racial discrimination in South Africa.[5] This affected her greatly, and she became a campaigner for the rights of black South Africans.[4][6]

She worked with Michael Scott (who, in 1946, was the first white man to be jailed for resisting South Africa's racial laws),[7] becoming his secretary in 1950.[8] With Scott, Benson helped to found the African Bureau.[5]

In 1957, Benson was appointed secretary to the Treason Trial Defence Fund.[8] In 1961, Benson took on another secretarial role, moving to Natal to assist Chief Albert Lutuli when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.[1]

Through all this work, Benson became familiar with the African National Congress (ANC). She assisted Nelson Mandela's escape from South Africa in 1962,[8] and interviewed several prominent figures in the ANC, including Walter Sisulu and James Calata.[9] Based upon these experiences, she wrote the first general history of the ANC: The African Patriots (London: Faber & Faber, 1964).[9]

She testified to the United Nations Committee on Apartheid in 1963, and was the first South African to do so.[6] She was placed under house arrest and "banned" in 1966.[8] She subsequently left the country and lived in exile, settling in London, England.[4][1]

Benson's biography of Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela: the Man and the Movement (1986), was the second biography of Nelson Mandela to be written.[10] It was banned in apartheid South African upon its publication.[4]

Later life and death[edit]

Benson was close friends with the playwright Athol Fugard. She edited his Notebooks 1960–1977 (Faber and Faber, 1983) and wrote Athol Fugard and Barney Simon: Bare Stage, a Few Props, Great Theater (Ravan Press, 1997).[4][11][12]

She appeared as a castaway on the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs on 16 February 1997.[6]

A few months prior to Benson's death, Nelson Mandela visited her at her flat in London.[1][13]

Benson died on 19 June 2000.[4][5] Her papers, including correspondence with Semane Molotlegi and those relating to her biography of Tshekedi Khama, are archived in the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Oxford.[5] Other papers, including material relating to her biography of Nelson Mandela and correspondence with fellow anti-apartheid activists, forms part of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies archive collections held at Senate House Library.[14]


  • The Tragedy of Apartheid. Christian Action. 1958.[15]
  • The Badge of Slavery (The pass laws of South Africa). Christian Action. 1960.[16]
  • Tshekedi Khama. Faber and Faber. 1960.[17]
  • Chief Albert Lutuli of South Africa. Oxford University Press. 1963.[18]
  • African Patriots. The story of the African National Congress of South Africa. Faber and Faber. 1963.[9]
  • South Africa: The Struggle for a Birthright. Penguin, Harmondsworth. 1966.[9]
  • At The Still Point. Gambit, Boston, USA. 1969.
  • Nelson Mandela: The man and the movement. W.W. Norton & Co. 1986. ISBN 978-0393022964.[19]
  • A Far Cry: The Making of a South African. Viking, London. 1989.[9]
  • Athol Fugard and Barney Simon: Bare Stage, a Few Props, Great Theatre. Ravan Press, Randburg, South Africa. 1997.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Freda Troup; Ross Devenish. "Mary Benson". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 24 April 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  2. ^ "Mary Benson", ESAT.
  3. ^ a b Sarah Lyall (22 June 2000). "Mary Benson 80 Who Wrote of South Africa's Struggle". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Mary Benson; Anti-Apartheid Activist, Nelson Mandela Biographer". Los Angeles Times. 23 June 2000. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Mary Benson Papers". University of Oxford. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "Desert Island Discs - Castaway : Mary Benson". BBC Online. BBC. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Scott, Michael, South Africa, Anglican". Archived from the original on 7 August 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d Clover, David (16 December 2013). "No Easy Walk to Freedom: Nelson Mandela in the Archives". Senate House Library. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e Saunders, Chris (January 2012). "The ANC's 100 years: Some recent work on its history in historiographical context". Historia. 57 (2): 428–447.
  10. ^ Smith, David James (2010). Young Mandela. Hachette. p. 380. ISBN 9780297858461. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  11. ^ Athol Fugard Notebooks 1960–1977. 1983. OCLC 732883534. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via
  12. ^ a b Benson, Mary (1997). Athol Fugard and Barney Simon: bare stage, a few props, great theatre. ISBN 9780869755068. OCLC 37769896. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via
  13. ^ "Mary Benson". The Telegraph. 23 June 2000. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  14. ^ "Mary Benson Papers". Senate House Library. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  15. ^ The Tragedy of Apartheid. 1958. OCLC 886516463. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via
  16. ^ Benson, Mary (1960). The Badge of Slavery (The pass laws of South Africa). OCLC 10508718. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via
  17. ^ Benson, Mary (1960). Tshekedi Khama. OCLC 479530. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via
  18. ^ Benson, Mary (1963). Chief Albert Lutuli of South Africa. OCLC 2783640. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via
  19. ^ Benson, Mary (1986). Nelson Mandela: The Man and the Movement. ISBN 9780393022964. OCLC 13005582. Retrieved 22 October 2016 – via