Alan Paton (1903 - 1988) was a South African author and anti-apartheid activist. He was born in Pietermaritzburg, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal, followed by a diploma in education. After graduation, he worked as a teacher, first at the Ixopo High School, and then at Pietermaritzburg College.
Paton served as the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for young offenders from 1935 to 1949. During this time, he introduced controversial progressive reforms at the reformatory, which allowed inmates to gradually attain freedom, up to and including residing off site. Of the more than 10,000 boys passing through the Reformatory during Paton's tenure, less than one percent attempted an escape.
This period at Diepkloof was critical in the deepening of Paton’s political consciousness. During this time he wrote a series of articles concerning crime and punishment and penal reform. Reflections on Diepkloof Reformatory is a collection of Paton’s writings, poetry and philosophy in relation to education and his work with young offenders, and provides a powerful insight into the complexities of South African race relations in the 1940s.
Paton’s seminal novel Cry, The Beloved Country, was published in 1948, just a few months before apartheid became official government policy. The novel explores the complex relationships between black and white South Africans, through the eyes of Reverend Stephen Kumalo, an elderly Zulu wrenched from the familiarity of rural Ixopo, to travel to Johannesburg in search of his missing son and errant sister. The novel was made into a movie in 1995, starring James Earl Jones as Reverend Kumalo. Paton wrote several other novels, short stories, and biographies, as well as two autobiographies, Towards the Mountain (1981) and Journey Continued (1988).
In 1953 Paton founded the South African Liberal Party, which fought against the National Party’s apartheid doctrine. He remained the president of the SALP until it was banned by the apartheid regime in 1968.