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back to the front 
a memoir


Due to unforeseen circumstances, tonight’s book talk by Leon Levy has been cancelled. We will however be rescheduling this talk soon and will let you all know once we have confirmed a date.


We apologize for any inconvenience.

Back to the Front is the personal record of Leon Levy, anti-apartheid activist and pioneer of the South African Congress of Trade Unions.

His highly readable memoir explores his childhood, early years on the factory floor and immense contribution to the formation of the trade union movement. Levy then delves into his time in prison and his exile in England, before recalling his return to South Africa and continued involvement with trade union and labour relations organisations.

Join author Leon Levy in conversation with Prof Milton Shain.


Leon spent 34 years in exile, this book does not cover that period. The bulk of the book covers the years before 1963. It chronicles his early life, family background and entry into and experience of political activism. It provides a vivid insider account of his work in two unions, which he served as General Secretary – what he calls his apprenticeship on the factory floor – and recounts the task of founding, building and directing SACTU. The book’s final two chapters cover the years since Leon’s return to South Africa: a journey not only to the land of his birth, but also back to the front of labour relations and human rights that had been the focus of his political life prior to exile.



Milton Shain is Professor Emeritus of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town and the former Director of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research. He has written and edited several books on South African Jewish history and the history of antisemitism, including The Roots of Antisemitism in South Africa (University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and Witwatersrand University Press, 1994); Antisemitism (Bowerdean Press, London, 1998); (co-authored with Richard Mendelsohn) The Jews in South Africa. An Illustrated History (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2008 and an updated edition 2015); co-edited with Christopher Browning, Michael Marrus and Susannah Heschel Holocaust Scholarship. Personal Trajectories and Professional Interpretations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). His most recent book, A Perfect Storm. Antisemitism in South Africa 1930-1948 (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2015) won the Recht Malan Prize for Non-Fiction in 2016. In 2014 Milton Shain was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. 

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