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Not to be confused with the anthropologist David Webster of Penn State University, or the social historian David Webster of the University of Toronto

David Webster (1945 – May 1, 1989) was a social anthropologist in South Africa who was murdered by covert forces of the Apartheid state.



David Webster was born in 1945 in what was then Northern Rhodesia, where his father worked as a miner in the copper belt. He studied at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where he was involved in student politics.

In 1970, Webster started teaching anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand. His doctorate had been written on a traditional topic of anthropology (kinship), but it was focused on a politically explosive field, namely migrant workers from Mozambique. In 1976, he was invited to teach for two years at the University of Manchester in the UK.

Webster was active in the political anti-Apartheid movement, especially in the 1980s for the Detainees' Parents' Support Committee (DPSC) in South Africa which tried to support the many thousands of people detained without trial by the government.

Shortly before his assassination, Webster had done fieldwork in the Kosi Bay area in KwaZulu-Natal, which was also used as a covert training area for official and unofficial armed forces linked to the South African government.

Webster was shot dead outside his house by a hit squad of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert government agency. The hit squad was paid R40,000 (at the time, equivalent to about US$8,000) for his murder. Ferdi Barnard, the man who pulled the trigger on the shotgun used, was later tried and found guilty in 1998; he was sentenced to two life terms plus 63 years for a number of crimes, including the murder of Webster.

Thousands of people attended his funeral service at St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral.


In 1992, the University of the Witwatersrand named a new Hall of Residence for students in David Webster's honour.

The David Webster Hall of Residence is now home to 217 Wits University students. It has been one of the best soccer playing residences at Wits by winning the league and the Baxter Cup in 2005/6. The House Committee for the Residence was Chaired by Ofaletse "Phiri" Moroka in 2006, Simon Tloubatla in 2005, Maphutha in 2004, and other student leaders.

External links


  • Webster, D & Hammond-Took, W D (eds) 1975. Agnates and affines: studies in African marriage, manners and land allocation. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. (=African Studies 34 (4))
  • Webster, D 1984. The reproduction of labour power and the struggle for survival in Soweto. (Carnegie Conference paper no.20) Rondebosch: Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit. ISBN 0-7992-0694-6.
  • Webster, D & Friedman, M 1989. Repression and the State of Emergency, June 1987-March 1989. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. (Published posthumously)
  • Webster, D 1991. Abafazi Bathonga Bafihlakala: Ethnicity and Gender in a KwaZulu Border Community. African Studies 50 (1-2) 243-271. (Published posthumously)
  • Frederikse, J 1998. David Webster. Cape Town : Maskew Miller Longman. ISBN 0-636-02255-2.
  • Stiff, P 2001. Warfare by Other Means: South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Alberton (South Africa): Galago. ISBN 1-919854-01-0.


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