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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist


Trade unions mourn death of Wits academic Eddie Webster

The professor dedicated his life to sociology, economics, politics and labour research, and contributed to worker struggles and laws.


Tributes continued to pour in yesterday for academic and leading anti-apartheid activist Prof Eddie Webster.

Webster, who dedicated his life to sociology, economics, politics and labour research – and contributed immensely to worker struggles and laws – unexpectedly died of a heart attack at the age of 82 this week.

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Mourning his passing, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) described Webster as a “resourceful activist who contributed to the working-class struggle”.

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Cosatu national spokesperson Matthew Parks said Webster’s contribution had “left an indelible mark”.

Vavi said Saftu “will remember Eddie Webster as a patriot of the working class, devoted to it until his last breath”.

“He placed the study of the black working class and its independent trade unions at the centre of sociological studies.

“Arguably, he is the founder of South Africa’s industrial sociology. Among some of his initiatives to develop industrial sociology was the foundation of the Society, Work and Politics Institute and the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits University,” he said.

“The research capacity he was devoted to in trade unionism was aimed at helping trade unions to formulate policy, debate with their counterparts and to improve the position as labour – its power and living conditions of the entire social class of toilers.

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“He bridged access to the universities for ordinary working-class activists – particularly providing access to the most prestigious Wits University for many generations of black trade unionists and community activists,” said Vavi.

Parks said Webster was “passionate about research – in particular the evolving labour landscape and left an indelible mark in the study of the sociology of work and labour in South Africa.

“His was a life well-lived and he was proud that he dedicated it to workers’ struggles.

“May his impeccable works and indomitable spirit continue to inspire workers and guide our labour laws for years to come.

“It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to a comrade who contributed so much to the development of workers’ struggles and our progressive labour laws through his voluminous research and collaborations with the labour movement.”

Webster obtained a BA honours degree and a university education diploma from Rhodes University, an MA in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford University and a bachelor of philosophy degree from York University. He obtained his PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Webster wrote several books, over 100 academic articles and numerous research reports.