David Craighead: Political activist against apartheid

David Craighead achieved eminence in Britain as an actuary, after his mistreatment by an authoritarian, anti-democratic government in his home country had forced him to leave South Africa in his late forties and start again in a new and far larger field.

Born in Benoni, in the old Transvaal, where both his parents' families had been pioneers, Craighead suffered the death of his father when only 11 and was sent to a distant Catholic boarding school and on to the University of the Witwatersrand to a BSc degree and a Rhodes Scholarship (for the Transvaal) in 1938. He visited Germany, en route to Oxford, and hearing Hitler speak, was set on a political course that made him an implacable opponent of the racist, anti-democratic policies that lay ahead for South Africa.

The Second World War broke out in his time at Queen's College, Oxford, and he went down with a BA in Mathematics in 1941, returning home to join the South African Air Force and serve until 1946 as a lieutenant, instructing in navigation and engineering, with service in the war zone in North Africa.

He also served as an actuarial adviser and statistician to the Governor General's National War Fund until 1949 when, having qualified as an actuary, he joined the African Life Assurance Co.

The government of Field Marshal Jan Smuts – segregationist but with prospects of change – had fallen the year before, when Smut's United Party narrowly lost its first post-war general election to the Afrikaner Nationalists. The latter, many of whom had supported the Nazis throughout the war, immediately introduced the apartheid policy which was to do infinite damage to the African people and ethnic minorities and their relationship with the white population.

Many, like Craighead, lost faith in the United Party when it failed to win the 1953 election and to oppose "Nat" policies on firm, liberal principles. He joined the Liberal Party of South Africa, founded a few months later, and became a close friend of its later leaders, Alan Paton and Peter Brown.

He served on the Transvaal provincial committee and became its chairman, campaigning not only in comfortable northern Johannesburg suburbs but also among "blue-collar" Afrikaners and in African townships, where the Liberals' "non-racial democracy" (which they brought into the South African political phrasebook) received short shrift from the former and limited support from the latter.

In the post-Sharpeville state of emergency, the Liberals had a new, greater role to keep up the fight against apartheid, with the black congresses banned. At the 1960 party congress in Cape Town, held in defiance of the emergency, he chaired a commission to devise strategies for the new circumstances and in 1961 became National Deputy Chairman (for the Transvaal). H.F. Verwoerd's government did not ban the Liberal Party, but destroyed it by picking off its leaders, some of them strongly anti-Communist, with "banning orders" under the Suppression of Communism Act, and finally by making non-racial party membership illegal.

Political trials and jailings among the former black Congress members multiplied and Craighead took on the chairmanship of the Defence and Aid Fund which, with mainly British financing, organised and paid for legal defence, and supported, the families, of those on trial or jailed for political offences. During this period, Craighead travelled throughout South Africa investigating and processing cases until April 1965 when the blow fell, and he too was "banned". The South African Institute of Race Relations Survey commented drily: "In letters to the press, party members pointed out that Mr Craighead is a practising Catholic and highly unlikely to be a Communist."

Banned from work and social life, confined to Johannesburg, silenced, and reporting regularly to the police, Craighead had become a non-person. His company moved him to England, on a one-way "exit permit", to set up and manage the Southampton Insurance Co in 1966.

He moved on in 1970 to become a consulting actuary and in the Eighties made his mark in the profession, pioneering new computer software development for Lloyd's syndicates, showing the way to many with his book Financial Analysis in a Re-insurance Office (1989). He founded and chaired the London Market Actuaries Group in the 1980s, and in 1997 the Institute of Actuaries awarded him the Finlaison Medal in recognition of his service to his profession.

In 1969 he married, as his second wife, Kathleen Scales. The home in which the Craigheads lived, in St John's Wood in north London, became a welcoming centre for friends and colleagues.

In the 1990s they moved to Totnes in Devon but David, in his seventies, retained a few clients who brought him to London, to meetings with friends, to meetings of Lomans Trust, the South African educational charity founded by Sir Robert Birley after his Visiting Professorship of Education at Wits University (David was Treasurer for many years), and to the Catholic organisations he supported.

Randolph Vigne

David Hepburn Craighead, actuary and political activist: born Benoni, South Africa 28 December 1918; National Vice-Chairman, Liberal Party of South Africa 1961-65; chairman, South African Defence and Aid Fund 1964-65; married 1947 Thelma Joyce Vine (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1964), 1969 Kathleen Scales (two stepsons, one foster-daughter); died Totnes, Devon 2 August 2008.

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