George Rudé, 7 July 1983
Charles van Onselen is a South African historian teaching at the University of Witwatersrand who, from his earliest years, has been immersed in the realities of South Africa’s past and its present-day social and political problems. He was born in 1944, the son of a police detective and an Afrikaner mother of working-class stock. He grew up in Johannesburg and its adjoining townships and, from a young age, lived face to face with the barrack-like buildings that once housed the black mineworkers. Miners came to dominate both his early life and his historical perspectives. One of the first jobs he took was in the Free State gold fields, where he worked as an ore-setter. He studied for his first degrees at Rhodes University, Grahamstown and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and then went on to St Antony’s College, Oxford in 1974 to do a PhD on the theme of ‘African Mine Labour in Southern Rhodesia, 1900-1933’.