Benson, Mary

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises the drafts, research notes and transcripts for interviews used by Mary Benson for her publication The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress of South Africa (London, Faber & Faber, 1963). Also includes articles on famous African leaders written by Z. K. Matthews, and newspaper cuttings and pamphlets concerning political protest in South Africa.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Benson was born in South Africa in 1919. After a period spent travelling in Europe and the United States she enlisted in the South African Women's Army as a Personal Assistant and was sent to the Middle East, Italy, Greece and Austria. Following the War she became secretary to the film director, David Lean. On reading Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country in 1948, she became friendly with the author and determined to involve herself more fully in South African politics. From 1950-1956 she assisted the radical Anglican priest, Rev. Michael Scott and helped to found the African Bureau in London. In 1957, Mary Benson became Secretary of the Treason Trials Defence Fund. Her biography of Tshekedi Khama was published in 1960 and then in 1963 The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress of South Africa. In May 1963 she became the first South African to testify at the Committee on Apartheid at the United Nations, risking imprisonment on her return by calling for sanctions. In February 1966 she was banned and placed under house arrest until she went into exile later that spring.

Mary Benson's other writings include a novel, At the Still Point (1969), South Africa: The Struggle for a Birthright (an update of African Patriots) (1966), and Nelson Mandela (1986). She also edited Athol Fugard's Notebooks (1983) and has written a number of radio plays.


The papers have been into the following sections: Drafts of The African Patriots; research notes for of The African Patriots; edited transcripts of interviews used for The African Patriots; articles, lectures and correspondence relating to the ANC and South Africa; material relating to South Africa and the Commonwealth; newspapers and cuttings 1952-1968; press cuttings relating to South Africa and the Commonwealth c 1961; press cuttings and pamphlets concerning political protest in South Africa c 1964-1974, and press cuttings concerning political protest, especially the Treason and Rivonia Trials c 1958-1962.

Conditions Governing Access


Acquisition Information

Donated in 1976 as part of the Southern African Materials Project, organised by the Centre for International and Area Studies.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist for the South African Materials Project (SAMP) arranged by MS number. For an alphabetical listing of all SAMP materials (including material deposited at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies) refer to The Southern African Materials Project, compiled by Brian Willan, edited by Patricia M. Larby, London: University of London, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 1980.

Separated Material

Associated Material held elsewhere: Papers relating to Mary Benson's biography of Tshekedi Khama held at Rhodes House Library, Oxford, OX1 3RG; Correspondence and papers (c 1964-1982) held at London University, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 27-28 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DS.

Conditions Governing Use

No publication without written permission. Apply to archivist in the first instance

Related Material

Related Collections at SOAS: Microfilm [M3233], includes transcripts of Mary Benson's interviews with Rev. James A. Calata, Christopher Gell, Albert Luthuli, Rev. Zaccheus Mahabani, J. B. Marks, Z. K. Mathews, Robert Matji, Thomas Mbeki, Donald Molteno, Dr. James Moroka, Thomas Ngenwya, Lilian Ngoyi, Rev. Tantsi, Walter Sisulu, M. B.Yengwa and an E. Cape ANC leader; [MS 418621] Typescript of On trial for their lives: the accused at Rivonia, by Mary Benson. Part of the Southern African Materials Project; [MS 380249] Papers relating to the Africa Bureau. Part of the Southern African Materials Project.

Geographical Names