For the Joy of Reading: Judas

The title suggests what the subject matter is going to be.   So the first line that tells you that the story is set in the winter of 1959 takes you by the surprise.   Shmuel Ash is writing his thesis on Jewish attitudes to Jesus, and he has come to a dead end.   He does not understand the relationship between Jesus and Judas, although he recognises that without Judas’ betrayal there would be no story to discuss.   His problem is that Jewish writers from the first two centuries of the common era who mention Jesus say nothing about Judas, and that this tradition then continues throughout the ages.

Shmuel tries to resolve his academic problems by withdrawing from writing his thesis and taking a job looking after Gershom Wald, an invalid in a strange house in old Jerusalem.   Shmuel is hired by the old man’s daughter-in-law, Atalia, and for his board and lodging all he has to do if converse with the old man and to make sure that he takes his pills and eats the food prepared or him by a neighbour.

[I did wonder if there was any significance in Atalia being named after the Biblical Queen who murdered her way to the throne of Judah, and who was herself the victim of a murderous coup.   There is however no reference to this Queen in the story.   This does not mean that a literate Israeli audience is not expected to pick up this resonance, especially as Atalia is a private detective who spies on people.]

Gershom Wald is a combative, argumentative old man who does not have the strength in his legs to enable him to look after himself.   Atalia is a very private and very attractive woman who only wants transient relations with men.   This is because her husband and Gershom’s son was brutally murdered in one of the clashes of the 1948 war.   It is also because her father, Shealtiel Abravanel, was opposed to Ben Gurion’s vision for the creation of a Zionist state.   Oz must have chosen the name Abravanel for his fictional characters because it is an extremely distinguished name in the Sephardic Jewish community.   It helps to make his point that there was an alternative to the aggressive nationalisms that arose in nineteenth century eastern Europe, of which Zionism was one.

Shmuel’s view of Judas is that he was the first Christian.   This Judas did not see Gethsemane as a betrayal because he believed that Christ would come down from the cross and confound his enemies.   When this did not happen, Judas’ belief was shattered, his faith destroyed, his life made worthless.   Similarly, Abravanel is presented in the book as someone who was a leading figure in Zionism, but who came to believe that there were other ways to create a Jewish homeland than the creation of a state.   He is forced to resign from the governing bodies of Zionism and puts himself in internal exile, a sort of solitary confinement in his own house.   Atalia and Gershom move into the house, following the butchering of her husband.

This is a book about the nature of betrayal, about the relationship between Jews and Christianity, and it all goes back to Judas and the argument that he is the archetypal Jew in Christian theology, and that he is the root cause of anti-semitism.   I think that this overlooks the anti-semitism that was rife in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds.   It also overlooks the fact that the two most anti-Jewish of the Gospels are those written by Matthew and John, both of whom were Jewish.   It is, however, an argument that needs to be examined.

The betrayal at the heart of this story, however, is characterised by Shealtiel Abravanel.   Has he betrayed the Zionist ideal by his rejection of the State of Israel?   There will be those who give the kneejerk response of saying that of course he has.   There will be those who excoriate Amos Oz for suggesting that the opposite is possible.   I am not sure from this story where Oz’ loyalties lie, and that I think is the point.   The author is not telling us what to think, he is challenging us to think.   Some people will find that seriously disturbing.

I would urge you to read this book, and to think very seriously about the possibilities that are laid out before us.   It may be essential to the peace of the world to understand what the author is trying to get us to understand.

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For the Joy of Reading: The Golden Legend

This is an extraordinary book.   It is extraordinary in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to begin.   So I thought that I would start with the obvious and work forwards from there.   Nadeem Aslam is a master of the craft of writing.   His choice of words is exquisite.   His construction of sentences approaches the immaculate, which is as good as it could ever possibly get.   Like the Ancient Mariner, he knows how to seize the attention of his readers and to make us listen until he has finished his story.   And what a story this is.   It is spellbinding.   It is riveting.   Whether you emerge sadder or wiser depends on your ability to listen and to understand.   You will not emerge from this tale unmoved.

This is an uncomfortable tale.   I imagine that there are many people who will be extremely unhappy with it as it brings things hiding in the shadows into the light.   It begins with Massud and Nargis setting out from their home to join a group of people carrying by hand rare and valuable books along the Grand Trunk Road in Zamana from the old library building to the new.   It begins with a story of renewal and a message of hope.   An American is driving along the same road and two young men on a motorcycle attempted to rob the American at gunpoint.   He opened fire and in the ensuing fight Massud is killed, as are both the robbers.   This is when the story enters the depths of hell.

The American claims diplomatic immunity, and the Pakistani military want the families to accept payment in compensation for the deaths in accordance with Sharia law.   But an extremist fundamentalist group want the families to reject compensation so that the American can be executed.   The original leader of this group was killed by a drone attack in Waziristan, and his widow, Aysha, and his son, who lost both his legs in the same attack, have returned to her father, who is the Imam of a mosque in Zamana.   Her brother-in-law and his gang of militants have also come to the mosque.   Aysha has begun a clandestine relationship with Lily, a rickshaw-wallah and a Christian, whose daughter Helen is being taught by Nargis.   There is one further character to introduce and that is Imtiaz.   He is a young man who has fled from the Indian Army in Kashmir to learn how to fight.    He ends up in a training camp outside Zamana, and he runs away from there.

It is not my task to tell you how all these stories interlock.   That you must discover for yourself.   The themes of the book however are quite clear.   This is a book about corruption.   There is the corruption of seeking wealth, that allows justice to be bought, that allows people to buy their way out of trouble, where influence is for sale.   There are also the two sides of this corruption process, those who are prepared to be bought and those who are prepared to buy.   But there is a much deeper corruption – that of the soul.  Nadeem Aslam explores the roots of this kind of corruption – anger, hate, humiliation, feelings of powerlessness, persecution and despair.   Nadeem Aslam explores all of this without being judgemental, although I think it is clear for whom ha has sympathy.

Aslam’s other theme is those redeeming qualities in all human life, hope and love.   They pervade this story.   In many ways, they are the root of it.   As I have said, it is an extraordinary tale.   It manages to be realistic and uplifting at the same time.   Nadeem Aslam is one of the extraordinary writers of our time.   He shows us the world as it is, but insists that there is hope.   His is a voice against despair.   His is a voice of humanity, of hope, of love – and the greatest of these is love.

Notes from the 2nd ANC International Solidarity Conference, Johannesburg 1993.

Day 1: Friday 19th February.   

Chair: Thabo Mbeki

Platform members:  Sam Shilowa, Anatoli Karpov, Kenneth Kaunda, Oliver Tambo, Cyril Ramaphosa, Riddick Bowe, Gertrude Shope, Joe Slovo and Mendi Msimang.

Address by Oliver Tambo

The first address was given by Oliver Tambo, who said that there would be a watershed election, hopefully in 1993, to being the process of transformation.   A sovereign constituent assembly would be tasked with the drawing up of a constitution.    There would be an interim government of national unity.   Tambo spoke about the need to liberate the majority and to ensure that the minority did not imprison themselves in an armed laager.   He also spoke of the need to address the requirements of the poor and to deal with reconciliation, unity and nation building.   It was the task of the ANC, he said, to serve the cause of emancipating all humanity.   He spoke of the “shameful” war in Yugoslavia and how the criminal campaign of ethnic cleansing showed that the struggle was not over.   He said that the task will not end with the election of a democratic government in South Africa, and that we must stand together in the creation of a new South Africa.   The new South Africa will demonstrate non-racialism at work.   He said that we must join hands with the people of Angola to defeat the anti-democratic forces there and that, equally, we must make sure that the peace process in Mozambique is successful

Address by Kenneth Kaunda

Kenneth Kaunda spoke to remind the conference that there was the threat of 20 Somalias in South Africa, and how everything must be done to ensure a peaceful transition.   He said that it was only through the leadership of the ANC that it would be possible to avoid such a catastrophe

Messages of support to the Conference

Messages of support were then read out from the following people: Riddick Bowe (World Heavyweight Boxing Champion), Admiral Rosa Coutinho (from Portugal), Anatoli Karpov (World Chess Champion), the Rt. Hon. Jack Cunningham, MP, PC (the British Labour Party), Wang Wei (People’s Republic of China),  the Reverend Walker and the Organisation of African Unity.

Address by Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma spoke about “South Africa in the transition to democracy”.    He said that the ANC had always had a preference for a peaceful transition to democracy, and then outlined the process which brought the negotiations to their present stage, and noted that the negotiations were to be resumed in March.   He noted that agreement was needed on legislation, and also on the need for an integrated appeal.   The role of the international community was therefore one of great importance as it had to ensure that South Africa did not slip back into some crisis and that the regime must feel circumscribed by world opinion.

Zuma noted that the National Executive Committee has now described the kind of government of national unity, with the emphasis on ensuring that reconstruction takes its proper course.   He spoke about the struggle taking place to establish a democratic South Africa and of the march to peace, democracy and freedom.   He said that the National Party would be included in a government of national unity as part of the process of involving everyone in the future of the country.  He noted that there was a problem in deciding how to deal with the security forces, broadcasting etc., and that there would be no minority vetoes.   Zuma said that this position enjoys the broad support of organisations involved in the negotiating process.

Zuma noted that the ANC commands massive political support but that the regime has the support of the security services.  The transfer of power over the security forces is therefore a fundamental issue.   He ended by saying that there is also the question of affirmative action to include women as candidates in the national and regional lists.

Address by Terror Lekota

Terror Lekota spoke about the elections campaign.   He noted that the democratic election for the Constituent Assembly was about to become a reality, and people will vote as equals.   The long-term vision cannot be put into operation without a victory in these elections.   It is about deciding on who will write the new constitution.   This document, Lekota argued, must eradicate apartheid.   The ANC cannot afford to lose this election.   Winning this election will bring hope.

Lekota noted that the ANC does not have the experience of this kind of campaigning.   Violence and intimidation will make a free and fair election impossible.   Access to the voters is an important issue.   The electorate must be educated about how to vote.   The ANC was unbanned in 1990 after 30 years of illegality.   The National Party is fully conversant with the electoral process.   ANC supporters will be voting for the first time.   The National Party vote is a highly literate, privileged white vote.   63% of blacks are functionally illiterate.   Most of the skills lie in the hands of white society.

The international community cannot be even-handed.   Support must be tilted towards the disadvantaged majority.   There is no involvement by the UN or the OAU.   There is about when the ANC will become a political party.   Its opponents are pressing for that.   Such a transformation would narrow the base of the ANC.

Lekota said that 210,000 volunteers and activists will be needed who have been trained to educate people in the electoral process.   27,000 monitors are needed, and they will also need to be trained in the task.   There are 94 sub-regional offices that will need access to transport and first aid kits.   A programme is needed for containing and dealing with the violence.   A campaign co-ordination team will be based at the ANC headquarters.   There are 14 regions, with 6 sub-regions each.   There is a need to get 10,000,000 people to the polls.

Address by Popo Molefe

Popo Molefe introduced the documentation for discussion on the elections.   He explained that there would be six workshops in Hall C, on the following subjects:-

Role of International Monitors                   C1                           Led by Aziz Pahad

Electoral Law                                                   C2                           Led by Kader Asmal

Elections and Media                                       C3                           Led by Gill Marcus

Voter Education etc.                                       C4                           Led by Phoebe Potrite

Elections and Fundraising                             C5                           Led by Shaheed Raji

Financial and Material Support                   C6                           Led by Popo Molefe

Day 2 Saturday 20th February.

The second day began with the reading of messages of support to the Conference

Address by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela began his speech by making jokes about his health, as there had been a lot of speculation on this subject in the media.   He then paid tribute to Oliver Tambo, and to the participants in the Conference, as the representatives of all those who have stood by the people of South Africa in the struggle against apartheid over the years.   He said that the people of South Africa are still only “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, and that people are beggars in their own land.   He said that South Africa was living through complicated and difficult times, and that there was already an incipient counter-revolution.    There was an obligation to prevent disintegration as had happened in Yugoslavia.   Free and fair elections are vital.   He called upon all the delegates to help make sure that there was a resounding victory so that reconstruction could begin.  He said that he has a clean bill of health, that our love had sustained him for 27 years, and that our concern has overwhelmed him.   He then said that he must rest to prepare for the task ahead.

Riddick Bowe then presented Nelson Mandela with a pair of boxing gloves, and a cheque for $100,000 as a donation to the election fund.

Address by Rev. Allan Boesak

Allan Boesak informed the conference that the ANC had come to a decision about sanctions.  He made a brief introduction and then read out the statement from the ANC’s National Executive Committee.   He informed us that once the agreed date for an election had been announced, and the transitional government has been established, most sanctions should be lifted.    When the elected democratic government is in place, the arms and oil embargoes are to be lifted.   The process has to be guaranteed, as far as possible, as being irreversible.   Boesak informed the conference that COSATU supports the statement.   COSATU wants investment to be channelled for reconstruction and development work.   Anti-Apartheid organisations worldwide were asked to take up this work.   It was noted that investment must not violate trade union rights, and that an investment code is needed.

A solidarity address was then delivered by Takata Doi, of the Social Democratic Party of Japan.

Address by Sydney Mufamadi

Sydney Mufamadi spoke about the obstacles to democratic transition.   He said that the task is to transform South Africa into a zone for peace, democracy and development.   He was convinced that a multilateral instrument is needed to deal with the violence.   He identified as a problem the state-controlled media’s coverage of the violence.   He said that this was a manifestation of the inherited past.   He referred to the phrase “black on black violence” and said that this was because of political competition between warring factions.   He made particular reference to the illegitimate structures imposed on people in the Bantustans.   He noted that there are 200 Inkatha Freedom Party cadres, trained by the SADF, in the Caprivi Strip.   He said that people are conniving at the violence in order to undermine the process of transition.   He referred to “third force elements” and noted that the Goldstone Commission wants to investigate all armed forces.   Chief Buthelezi, he said, has refused to co-operate in the investigation of the KwaZulu police.   The NPC is incomplete and provisional and many issues cannot be covered by NPC structures.   The legal skills of our people dealing with issues arising from the violence have been raised.   He also noted that there was a problem of internal refugees.

The ANC has called for the establishment of a Transitional Executive Council which will need to deal with the problems of the violence, especially as there is the possibility of people taking the Savimbi option.   It is necessary to create a climate conducive to free and fair elections.   This means that there is a need for international observers in order to inhibit those who have invested in violence.   It should be possible to mount campaigns against the Bantustans on violence.

He said that the following things were needed:-

Initiate and intensify media campaign on the nature of violence.

Expose parties derailing transition.

Make resources available to the Goldstone Commission.

Pressurise parties to co-operate with the Goldstone Commission.

Assist reconstruction.

Make expert advice available to parties involved in the peace process.

Support the ANC.

Strengthen international observers.

Pressurise Bantustans

Maintain the arms embargo.

Address by Cheryl Carolus

Cheryl Carolus spoke about reconstruction and development.   She said that the power and responsibility for reconstruction and development lies with the people.   The ANC’s National Executive Committee has agreed that the most important task will be reconstruction and development, and that it informs the approach to a new constitution etc.   There is a need for a government of national unity and reconstruction.   The new government will need to take a strong role as a developmental state, which is part of a developmental society.   The new state cannot shirk its responsibilities – legal and constitutional – which will allow a developmental society.

The new state will want material, technical and moral support from the international community.   The apartheid government has prevented a developmental society, and the international community will need to help in the creation of one.   The new government, with the components of civil society, will want to develop a plan and will need the help of the international community in that.

Address by Mongane Serote

Mongane Serote introduced the Commission on Arts and Culture by saying that it needed to function around the theme of redressing apartheid and supporting democracy.   He said that the Commission was charged with the responsibility of interpreting ANC cultural policy.   He said that the Commission was faced with the task of identifying what should be done to eradicate apartheid culture, and to build democratic culture.   He noted that there were now many democratic cultural organisations.   These need to be linked to and supported by the international community, and that there is a need for resources and skills.   He suggested that the delegates should visit a community arts centre if going to a township.   He said that the South African people make culture from very meagre resources and that they deserve to enjoy it.   He noted that now there is a problem of funding the structures that have grown up.   Most people running these arts centres are self-educated, and that there is a need to upgrade resources.   The question is, how?    Skills are needed to run arts centres effectively, and this will help to improve the lives of the communities.   In this, he noted, the role of the Civics is important, mentioning COSAW in particular.   He noted that these structures are part of the emerging civil society.   South Africa must become a non-racial democratic country.   Diversity is the wealth, foundation and character of the nation.

Serote said that there was a problem in being a multilingual society, and noted that 60% of the population is illiterate.   He said that a conference is being organised under the theme Culture and Development, and that the aim is to discover what we need to target.   The Conference will be held from 25th April to 1st May.   The intention is to open up a national debate on cultural development, and to launch working groups around the issues raised.   There is a need for information on how development is handled in each genre.   There is a need for maximum access to various sources of funding, and a need for trained personnel.

The process of winning the election depends on mobilising the people and the international community.   There is a need to use visual messages for an illiterate people.   There is also a question about what people here can do.   Serote referred to the problems of funding and training in the arts, and said that the international dimension enriches the arts in South Africa.   He referred to artistic integrity and said that there was a need to collate information on what grants are available.   He gave delegates the names of contacts at the Conference Office – Nonkululeko, Thiele and Jonathan – and the phone (330 7376) and fax (333 9090) numbers.

Day 3.   Sunday 21st February.

The third day began with the reading out of solidarity greetings from the governments of Denmark, Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

Address by Aziz Pahad

Aziz Pahad began by making the point that because of a feared leak to the press, the Conference had already discussed sanctions.   He said that the press stories do not accord with the facts.    The primary object of foreign policy was to expose the horrors of apartheid and to mobilise world opinion against it.   Together, we have built an unprecedented international campaign, and are now on the brink of a new dawn, but we have not built a new South Africa as yet.    The aim is to create a constitution as a social vision of what the nation should be.    The aim is to provide a platform and institutions to tackle the legacy of apartheid.   Sanctions have made a decisive contribution and still have a decisive role to play.   The resolution is an important part of the strategy.   The premature lifting of sanctions would be disastrous.   Foreign capital must be aware of the disastrous long-term effect that this would have on the economy.

Entering new territory, South Africa will achieve the transition to democracy in a unipolar world.   Pahad referred to multi-party democracies and powerful economic blocks dominating the world.   He also referred to the emergence of ethnic conflict and the marginalisation of the Third World.   He said that the basic objective of President Bush’s foreign policy was to keep the USA, the EU and Japan co-operating.   The fate of South Africa is bound up inextricably with that of the rest of Africa.   A democratic South Africa must become a motor for peace in the continent.   South Africa will champion a Human Rights Court for Africa and will stress the importance of regional co-operation, for instance, through the SADC.   South African membership of the SADC etc. would have to ensure an economic balance between the countries.   It was noted that the region also has to recover from the damage inflicted by apartheid.   Relations with financial institutions must protect the integrity of the country…   It is the intention to reduce the armed forces so that South Africa is no longer a threat to its neighbours, and to resolve disputes by peaceful means.   The Indian Ocean and the seas around South Africa will be promoted as a nuclear free zone.

There is also a need to deal with the problems of environmental survival, and this will follow the conventions adopted at the Rio de Janeiro conference.   South Africa will need support in generating resources for reconstruction and development, and will need assistance in effecting the transformations necessary for the transition from apartheid.   Material and financial resources are needed for:-

Ensuring that the election is won.

Developing social and economic policy.

Eliminating economic imbalance.

Promoting public awareness about the campaign on violence.

Material aid to deal with the consequences of the violence.

Apartheid South African was a haven and an inspiration for racism.   Let democratic South Africa become the gravedigger of racism.   South African is seeking membership of the Lomé Convention, but the nature of that membership is still to be determined.   The capacity to deliver will depend upon the ability to deliver the kind of society that is required in South Africa.

This speech was followed by more solidarity messages from the government of Kenya, the French Communist Party (PCF), Harlem Youth and the government of India.

Conference Declaration and other business

This was read by Abdul Minty and was adopted unanimously.   There was also a resolution on Angola and Mozambique, and it was announced that the Draft Programme of Action would be distributed and that responses were to be submitted by 1st March 1993.

It was announced that the Department of International Affairs would arrange any visits.   Kenneth Kaunda then closed the conference.   In his final remarks as the chair of the conference, Thabo Mbeki reminded the delegates that we had met legally and openly in an unliberated zone and it was that strength that guaranteed victory.

Meeting with the PWV Region of the ANC

Those present: Peter Brayshaw, Chris Burford, David Kenvyn, Obed Bapela, Tshalo Ledbala, Strike Ragosane, Amos Masondo and Simon Vilakazi.

This meeting was a briefing on the twinning programme, the violence, the elections and the programme of action for 1993.

Twinning: There is now a new executive and the person who has been in contact< Barbara Hogan, has retired from that role so we need to look at ways in which we can strengthen the links between the two organisations.   Chris Burford gave a briefing on how the twinning link developed, and noted that aspects of twinning included the giving of political and material support.   It was confirmed that the cheque from the London Anti-Apartheid Committee had arrived.   The ANC representatives said that they needed more information on educational trusts, and David Kenvyn agreed to deal with this.

Programme of Action: The ANC representatives explained that this programme had just been adopted, focussing on the elections and the peace process.   Phase One would last from January to 15th March and consisted of training on voter education and the image of the ANC so that the volunteers are ready for canvassing.   Phase Two would be launched on 21st March, which would be the beginning of the canvassing campaign.   The PWV region is divided into six sub-regions, and each area will have a rally for the launch of the campaign.   People are afraid of wearing ANC colours on the streets, and so the colours will have to be re-introduced to the streets.   There will be a distribution of leaflets on education, policing, health and the economy.   We were asked to organise the sending of messages of support.   Media work will be crucial to the campaign because of the vast number of voters within the region.   Phase 3 will begin in May and the Regional Council will assess the position.

Organisation: The membership in the region is c150, 000-200,000.    There is a problem with administrative skills.   There are 6,000,000 voters in PWV which is the industrial heartland of the country.   There is a difficulty in organising in the Pretoria sub-region because it includes part of Bophuthatswana.   There is also a problem of organising in the Vaal region because of the large number of white farms.   There is no office for the sub-regional committee in the East Rand.   The Soweto sub-region has an office with a telephone but no other equipment.   There are 101 branches in the region and one branch in the East Rand has over 100,000 members.   Katlehong is also divided into sub-regions.   The sub-regions are:-

Pretoria.              20 branches, but with difficulties in Bophuthatswana.   It was noted that it is possible to organise in KwaNdebele.

West Rand          9 branches.

East Rand            14 branches but with problems on the farms.

Soweto                35 branches

Vaal                       7 branches

Johannesburg   16 branches, but with difficulties in Bophuthatswana.

There are seven organisers and the Political Education Officer is Dumise Putini.   These are the people who are responsible for political growth.   There are 5 cars for the region.

There are 88 hostels in the region, 27 of which are controlled by the Inkatha Freedom Party.   An

Agreement between the PWV and the Hostel Dwellers’ Association has reduced the violence.   Mzimhlophe hostel is problematic and the area of Soweto around it has been devastated.   Lucky Mampuro was shot dead by the police last month, and Vusi Tshabalala and Sam Ntuli in Thokoza in November 1992.   PWV executive members do not have guns, but the organisers do.

Train violence: A march has been organised to oppose the violence under the auspices of SARHWU.   This was followed by a train boycott.   A Train Accord was agreed between the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance on the one hand and the train company on the other.   Meetings take place regularly to monitor the situation.   The SAP does not have a strategy to deal with the problem.   Train violence has taught the ANC PWV region that the violence has to be dealt with in specific detail.   A peace desk has been established in the PWV region, staffed by 5 people to monitor the violence.   They try to persuade eye-witnesses to give evidence, but many are afraid because there is no protection programme.   A bulletin is produced monitoring the violence but there are now financial problems with doing this.   There is a possibility of swapping AA News with Amandla, the paper of the PWV region.   The PWV region wants to have a conference in June aimed at setting up a movement for peace.

Meeting with the ANC/SACP/COSATU Alliance (ANC PWV Region)

Present: Gwede Mantashe, David Kenvyn, Chris Burford and others.

Gwede Mantashe opened the meeting and outlined the agenda, as follows:-

  1. SAMWU report.
  2. The situation in Angola.
  3. May Day.
  4. National Campaign.
  5. Education Crisis.

Gwede Mantashe introduced Chris Burford and David Kenvyn to the meeting, and asked for an explanation of the political project of the Democratic Left.   This was given.

SAMWU report: It was noted that the municipal workers are in dispute, and that there are problems with the hostels.   Some of the workers have been injured and others killed.   On 2nd June 1992, 100 people were killed.   Representations have been made demanding the resignation of councillors and the destruction of a hostel.   Negotiations took place from 9th June to 3rd July.   The Council refused to consider the demolition of the hostel.   They also refused to resign.   The question of the security of the workers was not discussed.   It was then discovered that the Council had underpaid the workers for years, and it was agreed that the Council should pay what was owed by 1st September.   The Council now say that they do not have the money and that they will have to retrench.   The Council has now locked the workers out and sent suspension letters on 2nd September.   On the 3rd September, the administration workers were .locked out.   An offer was made to allow the workers to return to work providing that they agreed to forego benefits.   This was refused.   It was agreed that the workers should return to work on 2nd November, with no strings attached.   On that day, all the workers were suspended.   The problems continue, with the Council deciding to institute disciplinaries and have set up an enquiry which SAMWU has refused to co-operate with.   14 shop stewards are sitting in at the Metropolitan Chamber.   The Council’s legal advisors are sitting as chairs of the disciplinary panels.   Dealing with people who are untrustworthy, SAMWU wants to seek participation and assistance from the tripartite alliance.   It was recognised that this is a political as well as a labour struggle and the alliance need to push for the resignation of the Council.   There is a need for help to put pressure on the TPA.   Various forms of direct action are being considered, including a demonstration on 10th March.   It was suggested that CAST should be involved in the planning.

The situation in Angola: Cde Jabu explained that the ANC NEC and the Central Committee of the SACP have adopted resolutions demanding the honouring of democracy in Angola, by the USA, the UN, and the Republic of South Africa etc.   The people of South Africa have benefitted from the internationalist policies of the MPLA government.   There is also a need for material aid, and the need to expose the role of South Africa in supplying UNITA.   There are clear indications that Savimbi is in South Africa at the moment.

Cde Paul said that the matter had been discussed by the Regional Political Committee on the previous day, and that plans were being made for solidarity action.   It is important to emphasise the decisive victory of the MPLA in the recent elections, and to note that Savimbi is refusing to support the democratic process.

It was suggested that something should be done at the American consulate.   An Angola Solidarity Committee has been set up and there is a need to ensure that high-profile members of the alliance attend the action on Monday.

Cde Gwede suggested that a letter should be written to President Clinton concerning the situation in Angola.   It was also suggested that the sections of the alliance should devolve action down through their structures to the branches.   Cde Jabu said that the campaign needs a media profile and the efforts should be made to involve the SACC and other organisations.   Cde Janet said that this should not be a one-off but a means of launching solidarity action.   It was agreed to organise a demonstration at the US Consulate in Johannesburg and to start publicising such a demonstration the next day.   Cde Charles suggested that there should be some action against De Klerk and, possibly Mangope as well, and that a series of demonstrations should be held.

NB.   My notes come to an end at this point.

 

 

For the Joy of Reading: The Lost Brotherhood

Harrison Hickman introduces us to a world that has survived calamity.   The central point of his story is that the world has collapsed into chaos.   A visionary leader, Lady Joanne, tried to ensure the triumph of good.   Twenty-four brotherhoods were formed to keep the world safe from harm.   At the start of the book, only one of these brotherhoods – the Epsilon Brotherhood – is left.   Benedict Nettlefold is an Epsilon Commander who has fallen victim to the power politics of the Brotherhood, having made a dangerous enemy in an influential Epsilon figure, Dr. Philip MacIntyre.  Then the Epsilon Brotherhood detect something strange in the atmosphere – black light – and the Epsilon King, Christopher, decides to send a team to investigate.   Benedict Nettlefold is called back from obscurity to lead the team because he is a skilled soldier, and Dr. MacIntyre is appointed as the medical officer.

That is all the plot that you need to know.    What follows is carnage in the best traditions of a Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov story.   There is treachery, villainy, massacre, murder, sex, developing love affairs and all sorts in the 185 pages of the story.   The question at the heart of the story is a simple one: who will win?   Of course, the reader wants it to be Benedict Nettlefold, because he is the hero.   It would be more honest to say, though, that he is the anti-hero.   He is a sort of Jack Reacher figure, caught up in a war and having the super-weaponry that is available in a science fiction novel.

What you have to do is suspend your disbelief, do not worry about whether or not the science is accurate (I have no idea) and just enjoy the ride.   I think you will do that.    It is an adventure story.   Think of a young Harrison Ford in the Benedict Nettlefold role.   That should give you an idea about what you are going to get.

One thing, however, has to be said.   The production values are not good.   I doubt that anyone actually proof-read the book before publication.   There are numerous spelling and other mistakes throughout the book.   This is not the kind of slapdash, haphazard, sloppy work that I would expect to find.   A new author, trying to establish a name, does not deserve this kind of treatment.

Despite that, the book is fun

For the Joy of Reading: Inside Apartheid’s Prison

Raymond Suttner is a remarkable, extraordinary man.   He will disagree with me completely about this, and will argue that my analysis is deeply flawed.   But I will stand by what I have said.   He is a white South African.   He could have chosen to live a privileged life.   He could have chosen to ignore the political situation developing around him.   He could have chosen profited from apartheid.   He could have followed the same path as millions of his countrymen, benefitting because of the accident of his birth and the colour of his skin.   He did not choose to do this.

Raymond Suttner will argue that he was one of many hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of white South Africans who took the decision to challenge apartheid.   He will argue that the day-to-day suffering of millions of black South Africans were worse than what he went through, because it was their daily experience.   He will argue that he followed the example of men like Denis Goldberg and Albie Sachs, the former spending 22 years in prison and the latter losing his right arm in an assassination attempt.   All this is true.   But it does not make any difference to one fundamental fact – he did not have to choose this path.   He did not have to do it.   He chose to do it.   That is what makes him an extraordinary, remarkable man.

This is a memoir.   It is an account of how he survived two terms in gaol, the first being a set term sentence and the second being detained without trial during the states of emergency in the 1980s.   During his first arrest, Raymond was physically tortured by the security police to get him to reveal information about his comrades.   He did not do this.   But he also deals with the mental torture of incarceration, especially during his second period of imprisonment, when there was no indication of a release date.

For those of us who have never had to endure such a thing, it is extremely instructive.   You simply do not think of the importance of going for a walk or a run, because this is something that you can choose to do at any time.   You do not think of the importance of socialising or choosing to be alone, because this is your choice.   You do not think that seeing a bird, or hearing birdsong, is important because you can hear it all the time.   you do not think that there is a problem in deciding what to have for lunch because, as an adult, it is your choice.   There is so much that you simply do not think about because it is normal.   There is nothing normal about being in prison.   And being a political prisoner in apartheid South Africa meant that your visits were restricted, your letters were censored, your access to news was limited and you had the warders’ taste in music and radio programmes inflicted on you.

I have heard many people talk about the experience of being a political prisoner in South Africa.   Raymond Suttner has made it very real because he deals with the minutiae of daily life in a very small, enclosed community.   And just because you were all political prisoners, it did not mean that you had to get on with each other.   This book makes that very clear without going into the petty details of any disputes between prisoners.

The most moving section is his account of his time in solitary confinement.   This was partly a deliberate decision by the apartheid authorities, and partly the result of his being the only white detainee in the prison.   There was apartheid even in the prisons in South Africa.   White prisoners and black prisoners were not held in the same sections of a prison, even if they did get to meet occasionally because of mistakes by or the laxness of the warders.

This is a remarkable account of the sacrifices that people made in the struggle against apartheid.   It gives you an idea of what the survivors of political imprisonment went though.   Reading it is a salutary experience.

For the Joy of Reading: No Dominion

For those of you who have been waiting for the last book in the “Plague Times” trilogy, this will not come as a disappointment.   In the book, it is seven years since a plague killed millions of millions of people, leaving the survivors struggling.   The last book “Death is a Welcome Guest” ended with Magnus and his adoptive son, Shug, arriving on Orkney and being greeted by Stevie Flint, the heroine of “A Lovely Way to Burn” – the first book in the series.   Seven years later, Shug is a surly teenager, doting on Willow who was found as a child on an Orkney farm hiding under a bed that held her dead parents.   Something had gnawed at the parents.

This is a book about survival, about rebuilding a society after a disaster of unimaginable proportions.   It is also a book about what people are prepared to do in order to survive, and about how a catastrophe of this kind can unhinge some people.   It is a book about how easy it is to destroy the fragile veneer of civilisation, and about what happens afterwards.   It is a book about the vulnerability of humankind, and how, despite everything, we will struggle to find a way to live together.

The survivors on Orkney have reverted to subsistence farming, where the need to get in the harvest takes precedence over everything else, and where strangers are viewed with suspicion and fear, because they may be bringing the plague back to the islands.   So when an unknown boat sails into the harbour at Stromness, the islanders go into full alert until Magnus vouches for one of the strangers, Belle.   Even then, the strangers have to be quarantined to make sure that they are not infected.   Then disaster strikes.   A baby is kidnapped and the strangers along with some of the Orkney teenagers disappear, including Shug and Willow.   Stevie and Magnus set off in pursuit.   The rest of the islanders remain behind, both to get the harvest in and because they are fearful that this could be a lure to make them vulnerable to attack.

What follows is a journey through hell, as Stevie and Magnus make their way south to Glasgow in pursuit of the teenagers with the baby.   And it is on this journey that we meet people struggling to find different ways to survive.   The problem is that it is the people with forceful personalities who take the lead, and causes all sorts of conflicts that I am not going to tell you about because that would spoil the book.

This may all sound very grim, and that is because it is.   This is not just a dystopian future, it is a post-apocalyptic future.   It is just that the apocalypse is plague, not a nuclear war so there is some chance of rebuilding a viable society.   There is some kind of hope.

Louise Welsh is very good at persuading you to continue reading.   This book is a page turner.   Louise Welsh knows how to write a thriller.   She does not hesitate from telling the reader that things can be very nasty indeed, but she also writes characters that you care about that you want to survive, that you want to get through the mess.   You want Stevie and Magnus to succeed.  You want Willow and Shug to go back to Orkney.   You want everything to be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.   It is just not going to happen.

The message of the Plague Times Trilogy is that we will survive, we will pull through, but it will not be the best of all possible worlds.   It will not be an idyll.   It will be very hard, and that it is best that we do not go there.   If only our political leaders would read this trilogy …………

For the Joy of Reading: Thomas Muir of Huntershill

Thomas Muir is not as well-known as he should be.   He is one of the great heroes in the struggle for one person one vote in the British isles, and his example has inspired a lot of people to take up the cudgels on the side of democratic rights.  This however is not a biography.   It is a collection of essays about the various aspects of Muir’s life.

It is probably wise at this stage to give a brief resume of Thomas Muir’s short but eventful career.   Muir came from one of the minor Scottish gentry families that had benefited from the Act of Union, and the subsequent defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.   By the end of the eighteenth century, Presbyterian families such as the Muirs were firmly in charge of their local areas, and dominated Scottish affairs.   The question was what form of government was to be followed in the Church of Scotland and, specifically, whether the Minister to a parish was to be appointed by the rich as patrons, or elected by all the male members of the congregation.

The Muirs were supporters of the Popular Party, who believed that the minister should be appointed through election and not by patronage.   Popular Party is a misnomer and probably a mistranslation from the Latin “Populares”.   It may be that they had the support of the majority in the men in the Church of Scotland, but I do not know of any evidence to prove this.   Those who believed in appointment by patronage were called the “Moderate” Party, which was merely an attempt to paint their opponents as extremists.   Their belief was simple; that wealth should give them privileges in the running of the Church, basically to ensure that the Church would be subservient to the established order.   The Popular Party were harking back to the days when Presbyterianism was illegal in Scotland and the ministers to the Conventicles, the illegal gatherings, were chosen by those who attended them.   The Moderate Party was more inclined to be tolerant of Catholics and Episcopalians [Anglicans] provided they did not make a public nuisance of themselves by worshipping openly, but were opposed to the democratisation of the Church.   The Popular Party took the opposite view.   It is important to be aware of this because it was the background to the issues that brought Muir to public attention in Scotland at the end of the eighteenth century.

Thomas Muir was born in 1766.   His father, James Muir, was a merchant who sold hops to the brewers of Glasgow and who lived above his shop near St. Mungo’s Cathedral.   Muir became a student at the University of Glasgow, which was then located near the Cathedral.   He was going to study theology but he fell under the spell of John Millar, one of the leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment, and decided to study law.   It was at University that Muir first became involved in radical politics, challenging the appointment of a Rector by the University authorities rather than the appointment being made through election by the students.   The University authorities were, of course, members of the Moderate Party, and so it was natural for someone from a Popular Party family to challenge their authority in this way.   It was also at Glasgow that Muir met Irish Presbyterian students, some of whom in due course were to become involved with the United Irishmen.

Muir refused to apologise to the University about his opposition to the appointment of Edmund Burke, the Tory MP and philosopher, to the post of Rector, and transferred his studies to the University of Edinburgh.   It was at Edinburgh that he passed his law degree and he returned to the Glasgow area to practice as a lawyer, offering his services free of charge to those who were too poor to pay.

He also became embroiled in the appointment of a new minister at Cadder, where the Moderate Party wished to impose a minister without consulting the congregation.    By now, Muir had moved to Hunters Hill and was an elder of Cadder Kirk.

Then on 18th July 1789, the Bastille was stormed and France was engulfed in revolution.   This was the defining moment of Muir’s life.    Radical politics in Scotland was very sympathetic to the French Revolution.   People began to ask that the vote should be extended from the some 3,000 men who had the vote to the whole adult male population.

Thomas Muir found himself at the forefront of these demands.   He joined an organisation called “The Friends of the People” and began organising for a National Convention to petition Parliament for the extension of the vote.   He also acquired a copy of Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man”, read it and then loaned it to members of his family for them to read.   Thomas Paine had supported the American Revolution, following the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and was definitely viewed by the British Government as a traitor.   So when Muir received a letter from the United Irishmen and read it aloud to “The Friends of the People”, he incurred the wrath of the Government and was accused of sedition.

Muir, at this time, was heading to France to plead for the life of Louis XVI, arriving in paris a day too late to prevent the execution.   Muir then returned to Scotland to face trial.   The presiding judge, Lord Braxfield, was to become notorious because of his conduct of the trial and became the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Weir of Hermiston”.   Braxfield became infamous for replying to a comment in the trial that Jesus Christ was a reformer “an muckle guid it did him, he was hangit” [and much good it did him, he was hanged].   The trial was a travesty and Muir and his co-accused were sentenced to transportation for 14 years.   Muir, in his speech from the dock, said: “I have devoted myself to the cause of The People.   It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph”.

Muir was then sent to the Woolwich hulks to await transportation to Botany Bay.   This was unprecedented.   Members of the gentry were simply not imprisoned on the hulks.   All you have to do is think if Magwitch in “Great Expectations” to realise the kinds of criminal that were sent to the hulks.   And the authorities thought that they had heard the last of Muir when he was shipped off to Australia, where he was imprisoned somewhere along the shores of Sydney Harbour, where there is a place called Huntershill to this day.

But that was not the end of the story.   He escaped.   He made his way across the harbour in a small boat to an American ship, The Otter, and sailed for the Pacific Coast of America.   He travelled across land through California and Mexico (then Spanish colonies) and eventually found himself in Havana where he was imprisoned by the Spanish Governor.   Then the French interceded for him and secured his passage on a ship to Cadiz.   Just off Cadiz the ship was intercepted by the British Navy and there was a sea battle in which Muir was badly injured, losing his left eye and part of his face.   The ship however made it to Cadiz where Muir was treated for his injuries.   The French then interceded again, securing his passage to Bordeaux, where he was given a hero’s welcome and sent on his way to Paris.

In Paris, Muir began to plan for a revolution in Scotland supported by a French invasion.  The French, however, preferred to support similar plans being made for an uprising in Ireland by Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, which ended disastrously.   There is no evidence that Muir would have fared any better in Scotland.

In January 1799, Muir left paris for Chantilly to meet with representatives of the United Scotsman.   But he had never recovered from the wounds received at Cadiz in the naval battle.   He died in Chantilly at the age of 33.

Muir’s life was dramatic.   He suffered for the cause of democracy, and he died from the wounds that he received in battle.   He was an orator of some power, and of course he was right.   There is now universal suffrage in the UK, because of Muir and men and women like him.   This collection of essays will guide you through the various aspects of Muir’s life and his beliefs.   It does not have the drama of a biography, but it is interesting to get the views of the various and different authors about the contribution made by Thomas Muir.   All of them agree that he was a hero.   He deserves to be better known.