In Memorium: Professor James Barber (1931-2015)

The news of Professor Barber’s death on July 24th, 2015 will have saddened his many friends and colleagues at SAIIA. He was a widely respected academic and university administrator with a high scholarly reputation in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere.

Born in Liverpool in 1931, he received his MA and PhD degrees from the University of Cambridge and after national service as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force he joined the Colonial Service serving in Uganda (1956-63) as a District Officer and subsequently acted as Assistant Secretary to the Prime Minister and Clerk to the Cabinet (1956-63).

Thereafter, he held teaching posts at the University of New South Wales in Australia (1963-65); the University of Exeter (1965/69); he was on secondment to the University College of Rhodesia during 1965/67; a Professor of Political Science at the Open University (1969/80) where he played a key role in its early academic development. Subsequently he became Professor of Politics, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Sub-Warden at the University of Durham (1987/92). Throughout much of his career he was a productive member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) where, interalia, he directed a major study – South Africa in Conflict (1979/81) – as well as acting as Adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs (1990/91).

James was an acknowledged authority on South African issues; he published widely in this field and especially noteworthy was his definitive study written with John Barratt – South Africa: and the search for status and security (1990). He also produced superb discussions of Rhodesian politics; the European Union; British Politics and several monographs and articles on South Africa’s external relations for Chatham House and the South African Institute of International Affairs.

Throughout a long and distinguished career James enjoyed a happy marriage to June.  Their three children were an endless source of pleasure. He was an excellent sportsman excelling at cricket and golf and was altogether a person of great integrity with a splendid capacity for friendship and generosity of spirit.  

He will be much missed at the Institute where he was a regular visitor and on one occasion was a Bradlow fellow.  He made a fine and lasting contribution to both its scholarly output and high reputation as a centre of independent debate about South Africa’s future. I was privileged to work with James in a variety of contexts over many years and I recall his calm and genial presence with great affection and acknowledgement of a life well lived.


by Professor J E Spence, OBE, FKC
Department of War Studies, King’s College, London

6 Apr 2016

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