Edgar Brookes

Edgar Harry Brookes (1897–1979) was a Liberal Party senator in Parliament for 15 years, representing the blacks of Zululand (Brookes 1956, 190) between 1937 and 1952. He was national chairman of the Liberal Party between 1963 and 1968 (Webb 1979, 40). In the Senate, he edified the chamber with Institute of Race Relations reports, himself having been a co-founder of that organization and its president in 1933. Brookes likened “himself to a second-rate J. H. Hofmeyr,” referring to the historical leader of South African liberals whom he greatly admired (Webb 1979, 39).

Although less critical of government policy than were Margaret Ballinger and Donald Molteno, his counterpart native representatives in the House of Assembly, by 1947 Brookes had demanded qualified common roll franchise for black South Africans at every level of government (Lewsen 1987, 102). That is, black South Africans would be part of the general electoral list rather than be limited to electoral rolls defined by race.

Early life

Bookes was born in England on 4 February 1897. Four years later, his family moved to Pietermartizburg in the then Colony, later South African province, of Natal. His father served in the British Army stationed Pietermartizburg during the 1890s, and was engaged in the “alleged misconduct” of the Zulu king, Dinuzulu. Dinuzulu’s son, Mshiyeni, who acted as a regent for his nephew Cyprian during a succession crisis, later asked Brookes to stand as a candidate for the Senate seat representing the non-white people of Zululand (Brookes 1977, 1, 74).

Brookes attended school at Maritzburg College and matriculated in 1911, at the age of 14 (Brookes 1977, 2).

In 1913, at the age of 16, Brookes spent a week at an Anglican mission in Umlazi, Natal. The soft segregation of congregants along racial lines, with whites having reserved seats at the front of the church, did not sit well with Brookes, leading him to change seats to sit amongst the Zulu congregants. Brookes later admitted that this his views thereafter shifted because of “ambition, intellectual arguments and plain sin”, but the experience still had an important effect on him (Brookes 1977, 10-11).

First World War

Brookes was a sergeant during the First World War, serving in the South-West African campaign. Despite only hearing gunfire once, Brookes was awarded three medals for his service. He described Rupert Brooke as his “war poet” (Brookes 1977, 11).


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