Ben Turok. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Ben Turok. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

He drafted the economic clause of the 1955 Freedom Charter which essentially calls for the country’s wealth to be "transferred to the people", helped form Umkhonto weSizwe in 1960 and was jailed for sabotage, before skipping the country and going on to edit the ANC’s mouthpiece, Sechaba.

Yet Ben Turok, who died this week aged 92, was no apparatchik.

Way back in exile, he openly took issue with the leadership of the liberation movement, which he believed was becoming increasingly authoritarian. And, over a matter of principle, he quit the SACP in 1976.

As an ANC MP he abstained from supporting the Protection of State Information Bill (known as the secrecy bill) for which he was hauled before the ANC’s disciplinary committee for "counter-revolutionary" tendencies — laughable considering he was the last of the Communist Party’s underground leaders, which included such red stars as Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer and Ruth First. He was also one of the first ANC figures to decry president Jacob Zuma’s corrupt rule.

Turok was among the last of a generation of SA freedom fighters with integrity. Humble, courteous and thoughtful, he actually believed in the values of freedom, equality and social justice. He was never shy to raise uncomfortable questions — a quality increasingly rare in a party that values obsequiousness above critical thought.

His death leaves the movement he dedicated his life to bereft of intrepid independent-minded cadres. The ANC, and SA, are poorer without him.