David Webster-Biography, Age, State of Origin

David Webster

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David Webster (1 December 1944 – 1 May 1989) was an academic and anti-apartheid activist. He worked as an anthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was a senior lecturer at the time of his assassination.

Webster was a founding member of the Detainees’ Parents’ Support Committee (DPSC) in 1981, a founder member of the Five Freedoms Forum, and a committed comrade in the United Democratic Front. Webster was also an active member of the Orlando Pirates supporters’ club and he assisted in the mobilisation and organisation of South African musicians during the Struggle in the 1980s.

He was a long-term ethnographic researcher and his work near Kosi Bay on the Mozambican border resulted in a number of peer-reviewed academic publications.

Webster was assassinated by apartheid security forces outside his home on 1 May 1989.

Early years

David Joseph Webster was born in 1944 in Northern Rhodesia, where his father worked as a miner in the Copperbelt. He studied at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, 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 taught for two years with Peter Worsley at the University of Manchester.

Webster was active in the political anti-apartheid movement, especially in the 1980s for the Detainees’ Parents’ Support Committee, an organisation advocating the release of political detainees held without trial in South Africa. 

His brother Eddie Webster, sociologists in Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, Wits. 


Webster was shot dead outside his house at 13 Eleanor Street in Troyeville, Johannesburg, by assassins in the employ of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a clandestine agency of the apartheid state.  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.  Barnard was released from prison on April 2, 2019, after his parole was approved by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha in March 2019.  Although Barnard was released, his life sentence was not commuted. Therefore, he will serve the remainder of his sentence in the community, and be monitored by the Community Corrections Office. 



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