1st Edition

The Man behind the Beard Deneys Schreiner, a South African Liberal Life

By Graham Dominy Copyright 2024

    Deneys Schreiner was an academic, a scientist and a man of strong liberal principles, with a good sense of humor and widespread interests in the sciences, arts and public affairs. In his steady way, he transformed the University of Natal and the community around it. Between the 1960s and 1980s, Schreiner supported and initiated several endeavors to promote constitutional futures other than those imposed by the apartheid government. One of the most significant was the Buthelezi Commission, which he chaired.

    This biography sets out the context of the times in which Schreiner lived and his life from his ancestors to his tenure as Vice-Principal. This book is created with extensive archival research, supported by interviews with family members, former colleagues, friends, and journalists. Schreiner was a man who made a considerable contribution to the struggle for democracy in South Africa. And then there is the story of his beard, once described as a potent symbol of his presence and implacable integrity.

    Print edition not for sale in Sub Saharan Africa.

    Foreword by Blade Nzimande



    Introduction: Almost to the Top of the ‘Greasy Pole’

    1 Beginnings

    2 From Boyhood to Battle via Wits (1923–42)

    3 ‘Up North’: The Army and the Shaping of His Character (1943–5)

    4 Science and Romance: The Cambridge Years (1945–51)

    5 Research on a Cold War Campus: Pennsylvania State College (1951–2)

    6 Launch into Liberalism and Academia: Johannesburg (1953–9)

    7 Science Faculty and Family: Pietermaritzburg (1959–75)

    8 Academy and Activism (1959–75)

    9 Pietermaritzburg Vice Principal: Challenges and Tragedy (1976–87)

    10 Vice Principal: Protests and Political Engagement (1976–80)

    11 ‘Toughest One Yet for Prof Schreiner’: The Buthelezi Commission (1980–2)

    12 Aftermath of the Buthelezi Commission Report: Deneys’s Predictions Fulfilled (1982–7)

    13 Jennifer’s Trial and Retirement Years (1987–2008)

    Conclusion: Drawing the Strands Together

    Select Bibliography



    Graham Dominy is Research Fellow in the Department of History at the University of South Africa. An archivist and heritage specialist, he was the National Archivist of South Africa for more than a decade. More recently, he worked at the Oman Across Ages Museum in Muscat as a Knowledge Centre and Collections Specialist.

    ‘An insightful historical account of the life and times of Deneys Schreiner. Not only should the story of Deneys be told because he belonged to the illustrious Schreiner family of social activists, but also because of his role at critical periods in the history of our country and his contribution to the inauguration of a democratic South Africa.’

    Blade Nzimande