By Alex Beresford (University of Leeds)
Professor Vic Allen, 1923-2014
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 77 (Winter 2015/16), pp. 62-63]
University of Leeds Emeritus Professor Vic Allen passed away peacefully on 26th October, 2014, at the age of 91.
Vic initially came to the University as a lecturer in industrial relations in 1959, becoming senior lecturer in 1963, reader in 1970 and professor in 1973. His early work focused on social theory but, as a committed Marxist, his driving passion was the furtherance of workers’ struggles, in the UK and also across Africa.
In the 1960s Vic was asked by the International Labour Organisation to produce a report on the state of labour struggles across sub-Saharan Africa. As an enthusiastic activist-academic, Vic accepted, only to be imprisoned for six months for his work with unions in Nigeria, for which he was accused of trying to overthrow the Nigerian state!
Later in his career, Vic worked closely with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in South Africa to produce a comprehensive and detailed three volume history of the union. As a result of his access to key union officials and archives, this history of the NUM stands out as one of the strongest and most insightful produced to date. In it, Vic explicates the intersections between capital, state and class power. While it details the brutal oppression of black miners, it nonetheless offers an inspiring account of their struggles against the great injustices of apartheid.
Through his connections with NUM, Vic met with Fidel Castro in a secret meeting between South African activists and the Cuban government in 1988. In the early nineties, Vic was summoned by his close friend, Cyril Ramaphosa (now Deputy President of South Africa), to join him on a trip to Johannesburg airport. To Vic’s surprise, Nelson Mandela was waiting for him in the back of the car and the two of them shared a long conversation about politics and a pastime they had both previously shared – boxing.
Vic’s work with NUM was extremely influential. As a mark of gratitude and respect, he was given the Kgao ya Bahale award at a ceremony in London in 2010 by a delegation led by the then NUM President Senzeni Zokwana, General Secretary Frans Baleni, former NUM President James Motlatsi and former General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa. The award, which is the highest honour bestowed by NUM, was given to Vic ‘in recognition of his life’s work to help strengthen solidarity and working class consciousness.’ At the award ceremony, Vic was hailed by his South African comrades as a ‘true internationalist’; a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life’s work to workers’ struggles and who was highly regarded by all those he engaged with.
I will always remember the warmth and generosity of Vic’s spirit. He personally helped me to establish links with the NUM for my own research, for which I will be forever grateful.
Vic was married three times and leaves behind six sons and daughters, nine grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.
Cartoon by Ken Gill of Vic Allen
Edited to add: Thanks to Kate Carey, LUCAS is able to offer a selection of Vic Allen’s works at a special reduced rate -for more information please see here