Raymond Suttner, based in Johannesburg, is a scholar and social and political analyst. He was actively involved in the liberation struggle against apartheid, both in legal political activities and illegal underground work. He served two periods of imprisonment and after release in 1988 was under house arrest, totalling 11 years.
At one point he was in the leadership of the African National Congress, South African Communist Party and the United Democratic Front. From the period of the rise of Jacob Zuma to ANC and state presidency Suttner was in disagreement with the directions taken by the ANC/SACP alliance and the ANC-led government. Although not having campaigned for Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency, Suttner has adopted an approach of critical support, in order to contribute towards outcomes that may advance democratic recovery.
As a scholar, Suttner has held positions at seven South African universities. He is no longer involved in formal teaching, but remains an emeritus professor at the University of South Africa.
Suttner holds BA, LLB degrees from the University of Cape Town and completed an inter-disciplinary PhD (history, sociology and political studies) at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 2007 he was awarded a D.Litt Honoris causa from the Netaji Subhas Open University in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, for contribution to the development of higher education.
In 1969 Suttner prepared a Master of Laws (LLM) thesis for presentation to the University of Cape Town. The work drew on the writings of Professor Jack Simons, the leading authority in African customary law. Simons was a “listed” Communist and under the laws at the time he could not be quoted. The supervisor, Professor Donald Molteno QC advised Suttner that he could not allow the thesis to be presented with quotations from Simons, infringing the law of the time. Suttner withdrew the work, rather than using Simons’s works without acknowledgement.
In 2017, the UCT law faculty approached Suttner and asked him whether he would be prepared to re-submit the work. That was done and it was examined and approved. He was awarded the degree on 13 December 2018
Suttner’s research interests include politics, history, sociology, gender and sexuality, law, criminology, questions related to identity and representation, interpreting the lives and legacies of Nelson Mandela and Chief Albert Luthuli and examining threats to South African democracy and emancipatory routes towards recovering and enhancing the democratic promise of 1994.
He has published Inside Apartheid’s Prison, 2001 (UKZN press and Ocean Press, which was runner up for the Alan Paton prize), The ANC Underground, 2008 (Jacana, and 2009, Lynne Rienner). Together with Jeremy Cronin he wrote 30 Years of the Freedom Charter (Ravan Press and Ohio University Press, 1986), banned for possession by the apartheid government and 50 Years of the Freedom Charter, 2006 (UNISA Press) and Recovering Democracy in South Africa was published by Jacana media in 2015, with a US edition published in hardback by Lynne Rienner. Inside Apartheid’s Prison was reissued in 2017, with a new introduction reflecting on political choices leading to Suttner pursing his political convictions outside of the ANC and SACP
Apart from over 85 articles in academic journals, Suttner presented the TB Davie Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town, in 1984, published as a booklet entitled, The Freedom Charter-the People’s Charter in the Nineteen Eighties. He also delivered the Harold Wolpe memorial lecture in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban in 2005, subsequently published in Development Southern Africa, leading to articles debating his ideas.
Currently Suttner writes a regular column for Creamer Media’s website: polity.org.za and is interviewed on video on current issues. These are found on the Polity website and YouTube. Almost all the articles are reprinted in the Daily Maverick and enca.com and many of these-published up till 2015- appeared in revised form in Recovering Democracy in South Africa, mentioned above.
Suttner is interested in music -western classical, Indian classical, choral music of various types, jazz, folk music, African American spirituals and songs of liberation struggles. He is interested in art and other cultural activities.
He follows a regular daily exercise ‘regime’ including aerobics, stretch exercises and mindfulness based meditation.
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