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Archive of Ronald Press


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Papers of Ronald Press concerning his life as an activist and trade unionist in South Africa and in exile in Britain. The papers include certificates, correspondence and articles by Press on subjects including science, Marxism, trade unionism, Southern African politics and his work for Umkhonto we Sizwe. There are also some photographs, video tapes and badges and some papers relating to trade unions and World War I from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


  • Creation: 1893-2006


1.5 Linear metres (10 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

English and a little Afrikaans

Conditions Governing Access

Audio-visual material is currently closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 5708/1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 5708/1-10

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 5708, 5710, 5711


Archive of Ronald Press.

Biographical / Historical

Ronald Edwin Press was born in Johannesburg on 22 August 1929. He was educated at the Marist Brothers Observatory school and the University of the Witwatersrand where he completed a PhD. in chemical engineering in 1952. His first job was as a chemist for African Film Productions and then at the Chamber of Mines Research Laboratories. He worked as a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand for most of 1955 until he was dismissed due to his political activities.

Press learnt about trade unionism and activism at home. His father was secretary of the Cinematograph Workers Union for over twenty years and his mother worked for the Trades and Labour Council. Press became active in the Congress of Democrats and joined the underground South African Communist Party in 1955. The following year he became general secretary of the South African Textile Workers Union.

Press was Accused No. 60 at the Treason Trial which began in December 1956 when 156 people were arrested, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Helen Joseph and Rusty Bernstein. The trial lasted until 1961 when all the defendants were found not guilty and in February 1962 Press left South Africa. After working in Ghana from 1963 to 1965 he settled in Bristol, England, with his wife and daughter.

Press continued to be active in trade unionism, politics and anti-apartheid activities. He was a life member of Bristol Trades Union Council, secretary of Bristol Anti-Apartheid Movement and represented the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) at many events. His expertise as a chemical engineer was employed by Mkonto We Zizwe (the military wing of the African National Congress) and with Tim Jenkins he set up the communications network for Operation Vula, the underground structure to return ANC leaders to South Africa from exile.

Ronald Press died in Bristol on 28 October 2009.

Other Finding Aids

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. MS. 5708/1]

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Bodleian Library by Ronald Press in 2001, 2004 and 2007.

Related Materials

Bodleian Library: Archive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Other papers of Ronald Press are at the University of Fort Hare and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and at Bristol Archives.

Catalogue of the archive of Ronald Press
Finding aid prepared by Hannah Jordan
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom