One wouldn’t imagine that a member of ‘the last white parliament’ of South Africa would be heralded as a hero of the democratic movement, but anyone who knew Dr Alex Boraine, who sadly passed away this week at the age of 87, knows the truth of this statement. In the words of columnist and lawyer, Judith February,

Boraine’s legacy is one of fundamental decency; a wise and gentle man known for his fierce commitment to the things that matter most.

Rev Dr Alex Boraine, 1971
Rev Dr Alex Boraine, 1971

Born in Cape Town in 1931 Boraine chose theology as his field of study and was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1956. In 1962, he received his Masters Degree from Oxford University and, a mere four years later, completed his PhD in Theology from the School of Graduate Studies at Drew University in the United States. In 1970, Boraine was appointed the youngest-ever President of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, while at the same time holding the post of lecturer at the then University of Natal.

In 1972, Alex Boraine stepped down as President of the Methodist Church and began consulting for Anglo American, focusing on the training of black employees, and how to improve their working conditions. Realising the need to fight the system from the inside Boraine became a member of Parliament in 1974 as a representative of the Progressive Party (later the Progressive Federal Party – PFP). But after twelve years as an MP, Boraine believed that the country had reached an impasse and that it was necessary to take more active steps in the fight for a free South Africa. Together with Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, Boraine left government in order to establish the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (Idasa), which they co-founded in 1987.

Idasa immediately began talks with the then banned ANC, arranging the historic Dakar Conference, which took place in Senegal in July 1987. Speaking of the impact that the conference made, author and columnist, Max Du Preez, said the following:

The impact was purely symbolic, but significant…….It went a long way in undoing the demonisation of both sides. It subverted the ‘communist, terrorist’ narrative Botha and his men had imposed for so long on the white electorate. The Dakar initiative was followed up with several Idasa-organised meetings between the ANC in exile and business people, writers, students and other groups over the next three years. Talking had become fashionable.”

Dr Alex Boraine and Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the TRC's first hearing, April 1996, East London
Dr Alex Boraine and Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the TRC’s first hearing, April 1996, East London

But while there’s no doubt of the headway that Idasa, and organisations like it, made in the journey to democracy, it’s Boraine’s actions after 1994 for which he is most famous. He suggested to former president, Nelson Mandela, the idea of a commission and Dr Alex Boraine chaired the Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC) together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu from 1996 until 1998.

Speaking on the question of the success of the TRC in a 2014 interview, Dr Boraine stated that the TRC was just the beginning and that further work was needed:

Unless there was economic justice in South Africa, it (reconciliation) would be dead on the vine. Reconciliation is not some nice magic wand, some weak alternative to justice. Economic justice is the other side of the coin of reconciliation. Without the one you can’t have the other.

Dr Alexander Lionel Boraine passed away at his home in the early hours of Wednesday morning. He is survived by his widow Jennifer, his four children, their spouses and seven grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at the Anglican Christ Church in Constantia on Thursday the 13th December at 14h00.

Images courtesy of and

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