Patrick van Rensburg

Masego, Liz and Pat on picnic
309 – Masego, Liz and Pat on picnic – 1964

Patrick van Rensburg – December 3, 1931 to May 23, 2017

This is an extract from ‘A Thumbnail Biography’ by Tom Holzinger.

‘At the age of twenty-one, van Rensburg joined the (South African) Department of External Affairs; in February 1956 he was appointed vice-consul to the then-Belgian Congo. Fellow diplomats introduced him to Western humanism and antiracial ideals, even as his own government enacted apartheid. He resigned his post fifteen months later. Upon reflection, van Rensburg entered politics and began to organize for the nonracial Liberal Party, displaying leadership beyond his years. In 1959 he traveled to Britain and unexpectedly helped launch the Boycott Movement against his own country’s racial policies. The South African establishment condemned him fiercely.

When he returned to South Africa in March 1960—one week after the Sharpeville massacre — his passport was confiscated. Within weeks he was forced to flee to Swaziland, Bechuanaland, and finally London. Here he received a British passport and met his fiancée, Elizabeth Griffin (1938– ). Early in 1962 he published Guilty Land: The History of Apartheid, which made a strong impression on Western audiences.

Immediately afterward, van Rensburg and Griffin left for Bechuanaland and settled in the tribal capital of Serowe, home to Seretse Khama. On 29 June they married. In February 1963 they founded Swaneng Hill Secondary School, which soon became widely known for its policies of non-racialism, self-help, community service, voluntary student labor, and a progressive curriculum that included practical subjects and development studies. It became an educational model in the region for some two decades.’

Read all of this document here :- A Thumbnail Biography.

Used by permission of the author. Published in Dictionary of African Biography, Emmanuel K Akyeampong and Henry L Gates Jr, editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780195382075. Volume 6, pages 113-114.

Other Links

Patrick van Rensburg’s writing

  • Guilty Land. London: Penguin, 1962. ISBN B0000CL9AT
  • Read the first five pages of Guilty Land here.
  • Read PvR’s thoughts after over 40 years:- NoGuiltyLand
  • Read PvR’s thoughts about the San people:- SanMinority
  • Report from Swaneng Hill. Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1974. ISBN 91-85214-01-9
  • The Serowe brigades: Alternative education in Botswana. Macmillan- Bernard van Leer Foundation, 1978. ISBN 0-333-23594-0
  • With Andrew Boyd. Atlas of African Affairs. London: Methuen, 1962. ISBN 0-416-64770-7.
  • Van Rensburg has written a number of titles for the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation including: ‘Making Education Work- The What,Why and How of Education with Production.’

Read Patrick’s Obituaries and Tributes.


We have made every effort to make this website accurate but a document of this type is prone to mistakes and omissions, for which we apologise.  If you spot any errors let us know about them by contacting us here :- Contact



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