Alan Paton


Alan Stuart Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1903, and studied at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, taking a B.Sc degree and a Higher Diploma in Education between 1919 and 1924. He is most famous as the author of Cry, the beloved country, written in 1946. This was followed by poetry, two more novels (Too late the Phalarope and Ah, but your land is beautiful), short stories (‘Debbie go home’ or ‘ales from a troubled land’), two biographies (Hofmeyr and Apartheid and the Archbishop) and his autobiographies (Towards the mountain andJourney continued).

Alan Paton was torn between being an author and a politician. He was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) in 1953, its National Chairman from 1956 to 1958, and its National President from 1958 to 1968. The LPSA closed in 1968 as a direct result of the Prevention of Police Interference Act, which made it a criminal offence for a person to belong to any non-racial political organisation. The members of the LPSA decided rather to close down than to become a whites-only political party, which was the only option. 

Alan Paton is also famous as a humanitarian, a reformer of the juvenile justice system (from his time as Principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory) and a fierce opponent of apartheid.


Alan Paton became acutely aware of the social problems of blacks in South Africa when he was principal of Diepkloof Reformatory from 1935 to 1948.  Cry, the beloved country, which he wrote in 1946, and which was published to great acclaim in 1948, was about some of these problems.  Although he wished to live a quiet life as an author, he felt a social and Christian commitment to become actively involved in the opposition to apartheid.  He disliked communism, but favoured liberalism. 

He became involved with meetings of groups of people with liberal ideals, and when these groups came together in 1953 to form the South African Liberal Association, he was elected one of the four vice-presidents, together with Margaret Ballinger, Edgar Brookes and Leo Marquard.  

In April 1953, the National Party increased its majority against the United Party, and on 9 May 1953, the Liberal Association decided to form itself into the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA).  The first president was Margaret Ballinger, with Alan Paton and Leo Marquard as vice-presidents.  In July 1953, the posts of vice-president fell away, Ballinger became Leader, Marquard became National Chairman and Oscar Wollheim the Deputy Chairman.  In 1956 Paton would replace Ballinger as Leader of the Party – he became National Chairman of the LPSA on 24 June 1956. For the thirteen years during which Paton was involved with the LPSA, he was stalked by the state.  Members of the Security Branch followed his car, sat in on his meetings, listened to his telephone calls, read his letters and searched his house. 

Due to his involvement with the LPSA, he was not able to devote as much time to writing as he would have liked.  For this reason, Peter Brown took over as National Chairman on 31 May 1958, when Paton became the National President, a role involving less day-to-day involvement.  Paton was to remain in this position, and was to address many LPSA meetings, and write many political articles, until the forced closure of the Liberal Party in May 1968.