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Patrick van Rensburg

Author: Kevin Shillington

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Patrick van Rensburg (1931–2017) was an anti-apartheid activist and self-made ‘alternative educationist’ whose work received international recognition with the Right Livelihood Award in 1981.

Born in KwaZulu-Natal into what he described as ‘a very ordinary South African family that believed in the virtue of racism’, Patrick van Rensburg was to become a rebel with several causes. In his case they were, initially, the fight against apartheid and, later, a unique contribution to education, which, as he would tell his audience when he accepted the prestigious Right Livelihood Award, ‘as I saw it then, was a necessary tool of development’.

Exiled from South Africa because of his involvement in the boycott campaign in London that gave birth to the Anti Apartheid Movement, Van Rensburg went to Serowe in Botswana (then Bechuanaland), where he founded co-operatives, provided vocational training and was one of the earliest people to espouse the discipline of development studies.