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Patrick van Rensburg was born in Durban in December 1931. His parents separated when he was young and he was raised by his grandmother. She was an Afrikaner woman who was married to Lagesse, a Frenchman, who hailed from Mauritius. His grandmother was placed in a concentration camp by the English during the Anglo-Boer war. This grandmother accepted the Roman Catholic faith of her husband, Patrick was brought up as a Catholic and they spoke English in the home. As a child Patrick was known by the surname Lagesse.

It was only in his later teen years that it dawned upon him that he was and Afrikaner. After his studies he joined the civil service and started to appreciate the cause of the Afrikaner, who seemed to be confronted by the whole world. He served as South African Vice-Consul in Leopoldville, Belgian Congo from February 1956 until he resigned his post in May 1957, in protest against the apartheid policies of the South African government. One of the triggers were reading the book by Chester Boules, Africa's challenge to America, in it he read the following description of apartheid, "Racial prejudice sanctified by religion and philosophy, formalized by law and institionalize in the mores of the nation." He subsequently joined the Liberal Party of South Africa, and worked with Patrick Duncan. In September 1958 Van Rensburg became the organizing secretary of the Liberal Party in Transvaal. His Afrikaans surname added to the news value of his break with the Apartheid government. On 1st June Albert Luthuli was banned for five years under the Suppression of Communism Act. Van Rensburg then suggested they organise a protest meeting at the steps of Johannesburg Library with himself, Jack Unterhalter and Jack Lewsen as speakers. Van Rensburg's turn in being the Liberal party secretary came to an end at the end of June. On 11th June Patrick van Rensburg and guest speak Robert Resha of the ANC was to address some invited Afrikaner students whom they hoped would be introduced with Liberalism. Van Rensburg moved to Britain in mid-1959 and became the "first director" of the campaign to boycott South African goods in Britain and the Netherlands which preceded the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The first edition of Boycott News carried the headline 'A Direct Appeal From South Africa'. In November 1959 Patrick van Rensburg had written to Chief Lutuli asking him to send a statement calling 'freshly and clearly' for a boycott. The South African Liberal Party had been split on the issue, but in November the Party's National Committee passed a resolution approving the boycott 'both here and overseas, as a legitimate political weapon'. So the message carried in Boycott News was signed jointly by Chief Lutuli and Dr G. M. Naicker, Presidents of the African and Indian Congresses and by Peter Brown, National Chairman of South Africa's Liberal Party. It said that an economic boycott was one way in which the world at large could 'bring home to the South African authorities that they must either mend their ways or suffer for them'. He called for boycotts early January 1960. There was outraged back in South Africa amongst Afrikaners, Die Vaderland called him a 'slangmens' - a 'snake-person', they also referred to him as the 'aarts Liberalis' (arch Liberalist). The Liberal Party back in South Africa were thrown in turmoil not knowing whether to support Van Rensburg's call for boycott or not. Patrick wrote in November 1959 to Chief Lutuli asking him to send a statement calling 'freshly and clearly' for a boycott Returning to South Africa his passport was confiscated and after the Sharpeville shootings he was forced to flee the country. On 30 March 1960 he fled South Africa and found political asylum in Swaziland. From there he went to Bechuanaland and the Ghanian government flew him in September 1960 to Accra.

Newspaper article 20th September 1958

After a brief spell in Britain, where he wrote and published Guilty Land, van Rensburg took up residence in Bechuanaland, which on independence became Botswana and of which he became a citizen in 1973. In Botswana he founded the Swaneng Hill School near Serowe, and following its success, two other schools in association with the Botswana government, as well as the Swaneng Consumers Cooperative and the Brigades Movement. His experience with the schools and Brigades through the 1970s led to his establishment of the Foundation for Education with Production (FEP) in 1980.

Van Rensburg's education approach was radically different from usual practice. The school was seen as a centre of development and thereby of better learning. The curriculum included practical subjects like agriculture, building, carpentry, metalwork, technical drawing and typing. New academic subject matter was introduced in Development Studies, and all students were encouraged to apply the knowledge and skills they were acquiring in socially useful productive work. In an effort to bring schools within the reach of ordinary people, costs were lowered by the Brigades, which were self-help education and training organizations producing goods and services both for themselves and for public sale to help finance teaching and training.

In building on these early experiences, FEP sought to create a new blend of theory and practice in education, to be spread internationally. The Foundation devised and held workshops on various aspects of the concept and practice of education with production. It organized conferences - mainly in Southern Africa but also as far a field as the Caribbean - that involved Ministries of Education, liberation movements, non-governmental organizations, teachers' institutions and the 'world of work'. FEP publishes a journal and occasional papers and has engaged in and promoted research.

The Foundation now concentrates on:
(a) identifying appropriate production and socially useful activities to link to education, and
(b) identifying a related body of curriculum content and aims, in such subjects as Cultural Studies, Development Studies, Environmental and Social Studies, Language in Use, Applied Mathematics and Applied Science and Technology. Arrangements to examine these subjects have been concluded with reputable certification institutions, while FEP has also published text books and trained teachers in the subjects offered.

In the mid-1980s, van Rensburg revived a newspaper and turned it into what has become today a successful and widely read national weekly, Mmegi (The Reporter). Since 1990, he has been able to return to South Africa, where he has been active in propagating the concept and practice of education with production in several forms. All these activities are rooted in FEP's core perception of its approach to education, training and production as a cornerstone of community development.

In 1981 he received the "The Right Livelihood Award", for more information:

Patrick has a son Mothusi van Rensburg

Other documents:
Depot KAB
Source BCS
Type: Leer
Vol No 6
System 04
Ref 26967
Part 1
Description: Objectionable Literature. P van Rensburg: Guilty Land.
Starting 1962
UWC-Robben Island Mayibuye Archives
MCA 7 - 1714 : Patrick Van Rensburg Interview
Oral history interview with Patrick Van Rensburg conducted by Hilda Bernstein in Mazimbu, Tanzania. Transcript only (Volume 17, p.11)

Catalogue of the archive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, 1956-98
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Correspondence of Patrick van Rensburg, 1959-61
Shelfmark: MSS AAM 5

P van Rensburg. (1974). Report from Swaneng Hill. Uppsala, Sweden: Dag Hammarskjold Foundation.

Maritz van den Berg, Liberal Party of South Africa 1958 to 1966 (Unpublished paper taken from his diary entries, minutes of meetings and newspaper clippings)

Jürgen Streich
Is writing writing a book about the Right Livelihood Award and it´s recipients that is to be published in December 2004. One of the chapters is going to feature Patrick van Rensburg.

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