Letter from Hobeni, 5th October 2014

David Kenvyn in the library

I have just been interviewed by the Daily Dispatch.   I suppose that it should have been obvious that Donald Woods’ old newspaper would be interested in what I am doing here at Hobeni.   But it still came as something of a surprise to me.   They wanted to know two things.   First, why me?   And secondly, what had I found that was really interesting.

The first was easy to answer.     Dillon Woods, Donald and Wendy’s son, was looking for a librarian who had been involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and who was available to come out here to Hobeni, and I fitted the bill.   When he phoned me last November, it took me all of two seconds to agree.   I knew that this was an opportunity not to be refused because the work would be a fascinating insight into how one person helped to take forward the campaign against apartheid.  What I had not realised was the extent of the information that will be made available to researchers as the documents become publicly available, especially online.

And this leads directly to the answer to that second question.   The books show the range of Donald’s interests, not just in the history and politics of South Africa, but also his love for chess and cricket.   Many of the books are signed by people like Breyten Breytenbach, Mamphela Ramphele, Christopher Hope and Peter Hain, but also there are signed autobiographies, with personalised notes, from Ian Botham and David Gower.   There are of course copies of books signed by Donald’s friend, Alan Paton.   But the most significant is a copy of “A Humanist in Africa” signed by Kenneth Kaunda, with a note telling Donald of the esteem in which he is held and urging him to continue his campaign against apartheid.   It is dated 5th January 1978, so it was a gift to Donald when he arrived in Zambia following his flight, with his family, from South Africa following the murder of Steve Biko, and his own banning by the apartheid government.

The documents, however, tell a much more fascinating story.   Donald’s travel itineraries on his frequent trips to the USA, especially after the launch of “Cry Freedom”, are exhausting to read.   Linked together with the letters of thanks from various organisations, they reveal that Donald was indefatigable in his campaign for sanctions against apartheid.   It is interesting that South African journalists were determinedly telling their readers that “Cry Freedom” was having no impact.   The evidence is to the contrary.   Quite clearly, Donald helped to set in train in the USA a campaign for sanctions that was extremely damaging for the apartheid regime.   The most significant proof of this is the letter from Michael Dukakis, the Governor of Massachusetts, saying that he had just signed a sanctions bill into State law.

So I was able to give all this information to the Daily Dispatch.   The interview took over an hour on the telephone, and I sent them a picture of me in the library holding up a poster for “Cry Freedom”.   The article is due to be published on Saturday, and I hope it will make people proud of one of their own local heroes.   They should be very proud indeed


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