Basil Davidson obituary - radical journalist and historian who charted the death throes of colonialism in Africa

Basil Davidson, who has died aged 95, was a radical journalist in the great anti-imperial tradition, and became a distinguished historian of pre-colonial Africa. An energetic and charismatic figure, he was dropped behind enemy lines during the second world war and joined that legendary band of British soldiers who fought with the partisans in Yugoslavia and in Italy. Years later, he was the first reporter to travel with the guerrillas fighting the Portuguese in Angola and Guinea-Bissau, and brought their struggle to the world’s attention.

For many years he was at the centre of the campaigns for Africa’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid, endlessly addressing meetings and working on committees. Extremely tall and with a shock of white hair, and possessing the old-fashioned courtesy of the ex-army officer that he was – or even of the country gentleman that he eventually became after his move to the West Country – he was an unlikely figure at many of these often incoherent and sometimes sectarian events, usually run by student activists and exiles.

Among his friends were the historians Thomas Hodgkin, EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm. The Palestinian scholar Edward Said placed him in a select band of western artists and intellectuals with a sympathy and comprehension of foreign cultures that meant that they had “in effect, crossed to the other side”.

Born in Bristol, Davidson left school at 16, determined to become a writer, though he first made his living by pasting advertisements for bananas on shop windows in the north of England. Moving to London, he found his way into journalism, working for the Economist and then as the diplomatic correspondent of the Star, a now defunct London evening paper.


keep reading here

09.08.2010 | par martalanca | Basil Davidson, journalist