Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Michael Harmel (1915-1974): A South African Communist and His Discourse

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posted on 2021-12-08, 15:29 authored by Milan Oralek

This thesis explores the life and work of a South African journalist, editor, and activist Michael Alan Harmel (1915–1974), a political mentor and friend of Nelson Mandela. A resolute believer in racial equality and Marxism-Leninism, Harmel devoted his life to fighting, with “the pen” as well as “the sword”, segregation and apartheid, and promoting an alliance of communists with the African National Congress as a stepping stone to socialism in South Africa. Part 1, after tracing his Jewish-Lithuanian and Irish family roots, follows Harmel from his birth to 1940 when, having joined the Communist Party of South Africa, he got married and was elected secretary of the District Committee in Johannesburg. The focus is on factors germane to the formation of his political identity. The narrative section is accompanied by an analytical sketch. This, using tools of close literary interpretation, catalogues Harmel’s core beliefs as they inscribed themselves in his journalism, histories, a sci-fi novel, party memoranda, and private correspondence. The objective is to delineate his ideological outlook, put to the test the assessment of Harmel—undeniably a skilled publicist—as a “creative thinker” and “theorist”, and determine his actual contribution to the liberation discourse.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


McNeill, Dougal; McAloon, Jim