The University of Johannesburg (UJ) joins York University in Toronto, Canada, its wider community, and the rest of the world in mourning the death of John S Saul, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Political Science. Prof Saul passed away on 23 September 2023 after a long struggle with cancer. Prof Saul was awarded the honorary doctorate by UJ’s Faculty of Humanities in April 2016.
In addition to being one of the most important social scientists of South Africa and the wider sub-region, John epitomised the University of Johannesburg’s commitment to academic excellence in pursuit of social justice. His life-long dedication to the progressive transformation of politics, society and university education in southern and eastern Africa was first evidenced by his lectureship at the University of Dar es Salaam from 1965 to 1972. He later returned to Canada to take up a post at Atkinson College, York University’s Adult Education division, where he was also in the Political Science department’s graduate programme.
The Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Prof Kammila Naidoo, conveyed her condolences, stating, “Prof John Saul’s scholarship has been a source of inspiration for academics and activists in Southern Africa for many decades. His work and central ideas continue to hold great relevance, influence, and critical importance in the present political context.”
In 1982, John taught for a year at the Centre for African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane University, where he took part in debates on contemporary politics and socio-economic issues. This led to the publication of Marxismo-Leninismo no Contexto Moçambicano in 1983 and A Difficult Road: The Transition to Socialism in Mozambique in 1985. It was at his farewell celebration that his friend, the South African scholar-activist Ruth First – also working at the African Studies Centre – was killed by a parcel bomb sent by apartheid agents.
Prof Saul played a founding role in Canada’s main anti-apartheid and southern African solidarity organisation, the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa – TCLSAC from 1972 to 1975 and the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Portugal’s African Colonies or TCLPAC, which produced the important magazine Southern Africa Report, from 1985 to 2000. His vast, illuminating, and committed scholarly body of work of over twenty books and innumerable articles and chapters illustrates his commitment to the combination of socialist ideals and academic integrity. It is fitting that the University of Johannesburg Press will publish his latest book, Revolutionary Hope vs Free-Market Fantasies – Keeping the Southern Africa Liberation Struggle Alive: Theory, Practice, Context.
Professor Saul’s contributions to southern African studies and socio-political transformation were recognised in Canada with the Canadian Association of African Studies’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, an honorary doctorate at the University of Toronto’s Victoria University in 2010, and in 2004 his election as fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Prof Saul’s partner Pat died in October last year, also having suffered a long time from cancer. Pat’s long and committed work towards education transformation in Tanzania and Canada will also be long remembered. John is survived by his daughter Joanne and son Nick, both born in Tanzania and now living in Toronto. Condolences to John’s family, his loved ones and his friends and colleagues, may his soul rest in peace.