Dave Kitson

Ian David ‘Dave’ Kitson, born 25 August 1919, was an activist and campaigning member of the African National Congress and South African Communist Party who served almost 20 years in prison for plotting to bring down his country’s apartheid regime.

He studied mechanical engineering at Howard College, Durban, and, graduating in 1942, he served as a sapper with the South African army. After the war he moved to London, his father’s country of birth, where he was active in the engineering union TASS and Secretary of the Communist Party branch in Hornsey. TASS sponsored him for a two year scholarship at Ruskin in 1952.

He went on to marry Norma Cranko, a South African who was also active in the Communist Party, and together they returned to South Africa in 1959.

After Sharpeville, where police fired on unarmed protesters, killing 69, he joined the ANC’s sabotage campaign. When the campaign’s leadership was decimated following mass arrests, David became a member of the high command, directing the revolutionary struggle. 131 days later he was arrested.

Whilst in captivity, David suffered interrogation and his wife Norma was held for three weeks. He was given a 20-year sentence (for sabotage and membership of the Communist Party).  

David continued to learn in prison, acquiring further degrees. He was philosophical about his plight as “a casualty of the conflict”. Norma divorced him, moved to Britain, and married fellow South African Sidney Cherfas. Norma would later divorce Sidney and remarry David when he was released.

Norma founded the controversial City of London anti-apartheid group, whose confrontational protests were not approved by the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s national leadership. The ANC and the South African Communist Party told Kitson to denounce his wife, which he refused to do. They were expelled from the Party, suspended from the ANC and his old union, TASS, withdrew the offer of a lectureship at Ruskin. (The then-leaders of the ANC and South African Communist Party who had him expelled were posthumously revealed to have been agents of the South African state.)

Having been ostracised, David and Norma moved to Zimbabwe. At the behest of Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, they would eventually be reinstated by the ANC and honoured as “veterans of the struggle”.

He died on 9 November 2010.

You can view archive footage from British Pathé of the demonstration for his release at the UK anti-apartheid rally at Trafalgar Square in 1969.

View here

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