Cecil Williams (anti-apartheid activist)

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Cecil Williams
Cecil Williams, South Africa.gif
Born 1909
Died 1979

Cecil Williams (1909–1979) was an English-South African theatre director and anti-apartheid activist.


In 1999, a film about Williams, The Man Who Drove With Mandela, was released. [1]


Williams became a communist activist. [2] When the communists were debating how to respond to the government's demolition of the Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg, Williams and Jack Hodgson were among those calling for the protesters to use direct force. [3] He was a leading member in the establishment of the Congress of Democrats, and when the government declared a state of emergency following the Sharpeville massacre he was incarcerated in Pretoria prison. [4]

Sophiatown Place in Gauteng, South Africa

Sophiatown, also known as Sof'town or Kofifi, is a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Sophiatown was a legendary black cultural hub that was destroyed under apartheid, rebuilt under the name of Triomf, and in 2006 officially returned to its original name. Sophiatown was one of the oldest black areas in Johannesburg and its destruction represents some of the excesses of South Africa under apartheid. Despite the violence and poverty, it was the epicentre of politics, jazz and blues during the 1940s and 1950s. It produced some of South Africa's most famous writers, musicians, politicians and artists.

John Venner Hodgson (1913–1970) was a footballer who played in the Football League for Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town.

The South African Congress of Democrats (SACOD) was a radical, left, white, anti-apartheid organization founded in South Africa in 1952 or 1953 as part of the multi-racial Congress Alliance, after the African National Congress (ANC) invited whites to become part of the Congress Movement.

Williams had an apartment on one of the upper floors of a Johannesburg apartment building. [5] He allowed this apartment to be used as a meeting place between Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie Mandela when the former was in hiding. [5]

Williams had befriended a wealthy elderly white woman named Mrs Sharp, who bought him gifts and provided him with money; she gave him a large Austin Westminster car. [2] This car was sometimes used by Mandela, when he was pretending to be a chauffeur. [2]

Austin Westminster

The Austin Westminster series are large saloon and estate cars that were sold by the British manufacturer Austin from 1954, replacing the A70 Hereford. The Westminster line was produced as the A90, A95, A99, A105, and A110 until 1968 when the new Austin 3-Litre took its place. Essentially badge-engineered versions of the Farina Westminsters were also produced using the premium Wolseley and Vanden Plas marques. 101,634 Westminsters were built.


Mandela wanted to travel to Natal in order to meet with Albert Luthuli in order to discuss the ANC's relationship with the Pan-African Congress. [6] He was then based in Lilliesleaf, and set off with Williams in the latter's car; Mandela pretended to be a chauffeur. [7] They visited Durban, where Mandela met with Ismail Meer and his wife Fatima Meer, and then drove to Groutville, where Mandela met with Luthuli. [8] Driving back to Johannesburg on the afternoon of Sunday 5 August, they were overtaken by a police car while passing Howick. The police car, soon followed by two others, flagged Mandela and Williams down; Mandela hid his pistol and notebook between the two front seats. [9] Mandela informed the police that his name was David Motsamai, although they replied that they were aware of his real identity and that he and Williams were under arrest. [10] The police drove the pair to Pietermaritzburg, locking them in separate cells. [11]

The Pan-African Congress — following on from the first Pan-African Conference of 1900 in London — was a series of seven meetings, held in 1919 in Paris, 1921 in London, 1923 in London, 1927 in New York City, 1945 in Manchester, 1974 in Dar es Salaam, 1994 in Kampala, and 2014 in Accra that were intended to address the issues facing Africa as a result of European colonization of most of the continent.

Durban Place in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Durban is the third most populous city in South Africa—after Johannesburg and Cape Town—and the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Located on the east coast of South Africa, Durban is famous for being the busiest port in the country. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism because of the city's warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches. Durban forms part of the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, which includes neighboring towns and has a population of about 3.44 million, making the combined municipality one of the biggest cities on the Indian Ocean coast of the African continent. It is also the second most important manufacturing hub in South Africa after Johannesburg. In 2015, Durban was recognised as one of the New7Wonders Cities.

Fatima Meer was a South African writer, academic, screenwriter, and prominent anti-apartheid activist.

Williams was subsequently placed under 12-hour house arrest. [12]

Later life

After his release Williams fled South Africa. He later lived in Glasgow, where he worked as a theatre director and campaigned with the Glasgow group of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. [13]

Personal life

Williams was gay. [2] Mandela biographer Martin Meredith described Williams as "a debonair figure". [4]

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  1. Louise Jury (15 May 1999). "Film celebrates gay hero who drove with Mandela". The Independent.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Smith 2010, p. 199.
  3. Smith 2010, p. 124.
  4. 1 2 Meredith 2010, p. 213.
  5. 1 2 Smith 2010, p. 166.
  6. Simpson 2011, p. 170.
  7. Simpson 2011, pp. 170–171.
  8. Simpson 2011, p. 171.
  9. Meer 1988, pp. 201202; Simpson 2011, p. 171.
  10. Meer 1988, p. 202.
  11. Simpson 2011, pp. 171–172.
  12. Meredith 2010, p. 227.
  13. Filling, Brian (2016). The Glasgow Mandela Story (2nd ed.). ACTSA Scotland. ISBN   978-0-9556538-5-8.


Meer, Fatima (1988). Higher than Hope: The Authorized Biography of Nelson Mandela. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN   0-241-12787-4. 
Meredith, Martin (2010). Mandela: A Biography. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN   978-1-58648-832-1. 
Sampson, Anthony (2011) [1999]. Mandela: The Authorised Biography. London: HarperCollins. ISBN   978-0-00-743797-9. 
Smith, David James (2010). Young Mandela. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN   978-0-297-85524-8.