Obituary: Tony Morphet, academic and activist

Tony Morphet, who has died at 81, was a revered university lecturer, art critic and activist, the son of Yorkshire Dales farmers, who was a leading figure in shaping adult education in South Africa.

Tony Morphet

An influential supporter of the 1970s Durban Moment, in which the city became the centre of the struggle against apartheid, he addressed white students at the time of the uprising in Soweto, imploring them to understand the impetus behind it.

Born in the small town of Kokstad, Mr Morphet was the youngest child of William and Mary (nee Chapman) Morphet, of Nether Lodge Farm, Ribblehead. William had taken over the sheep business run by his parents, James and Annie Morphet, but had sailed to Africa because Mary told him she did not want to be a Yorkshre farmer’s wife.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Tony’s studies took him to the University of Natal, and at 17, he joined South Africa’s short-lived Liberal Party. After graduating, he moved to England with his first wife, Catherine Shallis, and they had a daughter, Alexandra.

He spent time as a literature teacher at Cranleigh School, in Surrey, and gained a degree from the University of London – also visiting his family’s old farm in the Dales – before returning in 1963 to South Africa to take up a position at Natal University. He was one of the young lecturers whose teaching challenged the country’s political status quo and energised the students, and in a landmark move, he persuaded the department to add JM Coetzee’s explosive anti-colonial novel Dusklands to the curriculum. He soon became a sought-after reviewer and commentator on the changing South African landscape.

In 1968 he married Fionna Dodds Miller and they had two children, Medina and Bruno. He is survived by his partner, his children and a brother.