The great activist historian of Africa, Basil Davidson, passed away last week in the UK. BTW, if you’re wondering about his wider impact, most college students of introductory African history or African Studies courses in the West–particularly in the United States–would recognize Davidson from his 1980s documentary TV series “Africa” still favored by some of their professors.

Seriously, though, as activist Zackie Achmat wrote on his blog, Writing Rights, about Davidson’s impact on an earlier generation:

Basil Davidson’s work often romanticized pre-colonial Africa but without his work contemporary African studies would have taken generations to develop. … Reading Davidson’s work three decades ago was the equivalent of discovering a new continent of knowledge. Generations of activists who grew up fighting for freedom under apartheid developed an understanding of our continent that was different to the apartheid propaganda we learnt because of his scholarship.

It’s also worth reading journalist Victoria Brittain’s obituary “in “The Guardian” as well as a 1994 editorial by the UK Institute of Race Relations on the occasion of a special issue of the journal, Race & Class, on Davidson’s life work.

Sean Jacobs

Further Reading

Long live Ruth First

The great South African writer and activist, Ruth First, was assassinated by a letter bomb sent by the South African Security Police in Maputo, Mozambique on this day, 17 August, in 1982.