Edward 'Eddie' Roux: Night Schools and Adult Education in the Early 20th Century

Edward Roux (1903-1966) authored the famous Time Longer than Rope (first published in 1948). The book recounts the English colonial genesis of Apartheid. It was one of the first historical accounts to record Africans as active and self-conscious agents of struggle. He did not write about Africans as passive victims of oppression, but rather as organized and mobilized against their oppression. Roux incorporated some of the themes in his night school lessons. At the time of writing in the 1940s, it was ground breaking work and can be seen as one of the first ‘people’s histories’ or ‘histories from below’, which are integral in challenging dominant ideas in society and in the work of popular education.

Edward Roux was born in 1903 in then Northern Transvaal. Influenced by his socialist father, Roux helped to form the Young Communist League in 1921 and was active in the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) from 1923 to 1936. He was the editor of Umsebenzi, the CPSA newspaper. From 1936 to 1946, he focused his energies as an educator/author. In his later years he returned to his scientific career as a botanist, working at the University of Witswatersrand, before his banning orders prohibited his movements. He died in 1966. Edward Roux is credited with making significant contributions towards adult non-formal education and for working to make reading materials accessible for non first language English readers: “His educational interventions for adults in the context of the 1930s and 1940s remain a unique and remarkable achievement, as does that of The African Bookman during the same period” (Alexander, 1989, p. 91).

From the age of 16, Roux attended meetings of International Socialist League, which became the CPSA in 1921. He was influenced by S.P. Bunting and tried to Africanise the socialist movement, working with the ICU. T.W. Thibedi started one of the first Communist Party night schools in 1925. This was in response to the newly urbanized African workers who had little formal education and knowledge of the structure of capitalist society. A large number of African leaders emerged from the night schools, such as Moses Kotane and Thomas Mbeki. The classes were often led by white party members, and focused on reading, writing, simple arithmetic and discussion topics relevant to the working class. The night schools were Roux’s introduction to adult education. In 1934 he wrote The Mayibuye Reader, for the Communist Party night schools. In the foreward, Roux (1934) wrote: “I take it for granted that what Africans need in the struggle for liberation is not merely knowledge in general but political knowledge in particular”.

Roux was the editor of Umsebenzi – the CPSA newspaper. During this time, he became aware of the need for literacy, accessible language, and content that readers could relate to. Roux altered the newspaper to make it more accessible and popular amongst ordinary African workers. However, in subsequent years, the CPSA was plagued by purges. Roux was often isolated and the newspaper was taken off his hands and filled with rhetoric that ordinary workers could not understand or relate to. By late 1935 Roux, Kotane and Gomas were heavily isolated and he withdrew from the CPSA in 1936.

In 1937, he resumed teaching at a night school – this time at St Philip’s Church in District Six, through the People’s Club. Roux taught English reading and writing, and arithmetic. He tried to make English accessible to African readers. In the 1940s, he wrote extensively on education and reading, working with the African Bookman and Julian Rollnick, to create literature suitable for adult African readers. Some of the publications include: The Easy English Handbook, (1944); The Cattle of Khumalo (1943); and Colour and Cleverness (1944).

Roux emphasized the importance of useful/purposeful education – a tool for better living, not an abstract goal. He did not view education as neutral even after he left the CPSA. Education is part of the struggle for a better life. He advocated the need to learn how to read and educate oneself, given the situation of Bantu Education: “reading … is the easiest way to self-education” (Roux, 1942, p. 7). He advocated the importance of learning English, despite it being language of oppressor. In The Easy English Handbook, he developed a basic English vocabulary through which to communicate.

His writing focused on subjects related to the experience of the reader: “things nearest to the hearts of the people – cows, land, the colour bar, police, persecution, beer, etc.” (Roux, 1935, p. 10). This is exemplified in The Cattle of Khumalo where he uses narrative to communicate factual information of import and relevance to the everyday lives of African working class. In Colour and Cleverness, Roux uses a discursive, questioning style to dispute assumed ‘facts’ about race. He presents rational arguments for the oppressed to use in opposing racism. The aim of the book was to inform, deepen understanding and ultimately contribute towards mental liberation.

In 1948 the African Bookman shut down but materials were used far and wide, even outside of South Africa, for years to come. Roux received banning orders in 1950 and 1964. The banning orders forced him to resign from his university post, prohibiting publishing, attending gatherings, being quoted, or leaving Johannesburg.He died in 1966.

Throughout the different aspects of his life and work, Roux maintained the conviction that through education and critical thinking, Africans could liberate themselves from oppression: “liberation depended upon a critical awareness of one’s situation” (Alexander, 1989, p. 32). Roux possessed an overriding belief in the value of education and “Underlying this belief [was] a constant thread of deep human compassion and tolerance coupled with an uncompromising commitment to human rights” (Alexander, 1989, p 4). Roux’s work is an example of some of the first adult education initiatives that tried to combine education with a belief in freedom from oppression, and to make education useful to the everyday needs of the people.



Alexander, L. (1989) Edward Roux’s Adult Education Initiatives in the 1930s and 1940s. Thesis for Diploma for Educators of Adults, University of Cape Town.

“Edward “Eddie” Roux”. South African History Online. http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/edward-eddie-roux

Gerhart, G. and Karis, T. (ed.) (1977) From Protest to Challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol. 4 Political Profiles 1882 – 1964. Hoover Institution Press: Stanford University.

Roux, E. (1934) The Mayibuye Reader: An Easy English Reading Book for Africans. Johannesburg: The Communist Party.

Roux, E. (1935) Adult Education for Africans. Unpublished document.

Roux, E. (1942) Education through Reading. Johannesburg: South African Institute for Race Relations.

Document Type: 
Conversations with Educators