Saths Cooper

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Saths Cooper (1950-) Teacher, political activist, theatre theorist, actor, director and dramatist.


Sathasivian “Saths” Cooper was born on 11 December 1950 in Durban. He was the eldest child of Alimal and Appasamy Cooper. He was banned in March 1973.


Cooper matriculated from Sastri College, Durban in 1967.

The following year, he enrolled for a B. A. degree at the at the University College - an affiliate of the University of South Africa (UNISA) - Salisbury Island, Durban. As a student Cooper was against the motion which called for the imminent renaming of the College to University of Durban-Westville. He saw this as another form of segregating Black people along ethnicity.

While in prison he continued studying and obtained his B.A. degree in Psychology through UNISA. Upon his release he continued studying and completed his honours and masters in Applied Psychology through the University of Witwatersrand.


He was banned in March 1973. From this period on he became fully involved in politics, becoming a member of the founding committee of the Black People's Convention and from 1972 its secretary. He then became the first vice president of the Natal Indian Congress. and later (1976-1982) served a sentence under the Terrorism Act. From 1985-1986 also Deputy President of AZAPO. [Kruger, 1999: 136, 144]

Politics gained the upper hand in Cooper's life as he soon found himself liasing with other students from various universities. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Student Representative Council (SRC) in the University College. Through campus politics Cooper met frequently with Steve Biko, Harry Nengwekhulu, Strini Moodley and Barney Pityana, and it was through their discussions that the philosophy of Black Consciousness emerged. It was also this group that advocated that Black universities move away from the radical National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). In 1969 Cooper was suspended from the university for his political ideologies. However, although Cooper strongly refutes it, in 2003 there was a dispute on whether he was suspended for political reasons or for cheating in an exam. As an expelled student, Cooper could not take part in the launch of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) in 1969 and the following year the South African government denied him a passport to study overseas, where he had received a scholarship. Having been asked to assist the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1971, he urged other Indian activists to embrace the Black Consciousness ideology not to see it as as potentially leading to Black racism. At the launch of the Black People's Convention (BPC) in 1972 Cooper was elected as secretary. This forced him to resign his Vice-President position from the NIC, as it was increasingly difficult to balance his provincial and national positions. The following year he was banned and restricted to the Durban magisterial district for five years for his role in political activities. Cooper later took part in the Durban Strike of 1973, where he was arrested, charged and convicted for assaulting a policeman.

Cooper was instrumental in the organisation of the “ Viva Freelimo rallies ” held in South Africa in 1974. This resulted in him being arrested under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1976. He served his prison term at various places, among other Robben Island, and was released on the 20 December 1982.

While in prison he continued studying and obtained his B.A. degree in Psychology through UNISA. Upon his release he continued studying and completed his honours and masters in Applied Psychology through the University of Witwatersrand.

In February 1983, he re-entered politics and was elected Vice-President of the Azanian People's Organisation(AZAPO). He was again detained, in September 1984, with Aubrey Mokoape under Section 28 of the Internal Security Act , for carrying out the ideologies of banned organisation. After his release Cooper studied for a doctorate in Applied Psychology. Between 1990 and 2002 he was a practising psychologist. In 2003 he was appointed Vice-Principal of the University of Durban-Westville and steered the merger with the University of Natal. His stay was marred with controversy as he was accused, among other things, of appointing Indians to higher positions, firing those who spoke out against him, and embezzlement of funds. He also caused a stir by being singled out as the person who had requested phone-tapping Anand Singh's phone, as he suspected that information was being leaked to the University of Natal. Following the resignation of Road Accident Fund chairman, William Huma, having been acting chairperson, Cooper was appointed to the position.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

One of the founding members of TECON in 1969, serving on its executive, and director of SABTU (1972-73). Played the lead role of Nate in Requiem for Brother X in 1972. Wrote a speech on “What is Black Theatre?” and a sketch Before and After the Revolution which were both presented at an Mihloti sponsored Art Exhibition in Soweto on January 21, 1973. These were quoted as evidence in his treason trial when he was banned in March 1973.


Joyce, 1999; Kruger, 1997,

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