Tag Archives: Anti-Apartheid Movement

For the Joy of Reading: Mandela: His Essential Life.

This book does exactly what it says on the tin.   It takes the 95 years of Mandela’s life and pares it down to a short, readable biography.   If you want detail, then read Anthony Sampson’s “Mandela” or of course Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” and “Dare Not Linger: the Presidential Years”, edited by Mandla Langa.   There is, moreover, no-one better placed than Peter Hain to write what is essentially a brief life.   Peter Hain’s parents, Walter and Adeline, were anti-apartheid activists in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, who fled to the UK in 1966, following years of persecution.   Peter, himself, earned the undying hatred of the apartheid regime by organising the opposition to the tour of the UK of the South African rugby team in 1969, and forcing the South African cricket team to cancel its planned visit for 1970.

So the first thing that has to be clear is that this is not a neutral biography.   Peter Hain grew up knowing Nelson Mandela, through his parents, and went on to play a significant role in the international struggle against apartheid.   Nor is this a neutral review.   I have been acquainted with Peter Hain since 1968, and I served as Chairperson of the London Anti-Apartheid Committee during the 1980s.

Having established the credentials of the author (and the reviewer) what is there to say about the book?   Although it is short, it is insightful.   Hain’s description of Mandela’s childhood in the Eastern Cape, it is essential to the understanding of the man.    He was an aristocrat, who became the head of the clan Madiba when his father died..   He was brought up from 9 years old by Jongintaba, his father’s cousin and the Regent of the Thembu Kingdom.   This is often portrayed as an idyllic life, herding cattle, because Mandela had fond memories of it, but it was a life of rural poverty even for those who held important positions in Xhosa society.   It was here, however, that Mandela learned the concepts of duty and service to his people.   It was here that he learned the history and traditions of his people, and underwent circumcision to become a man, in accordance with ritual.

Mandela eventually made his way to Johannesburg, avoiding an arranged marriage.   It was here that he met his friend and mentor, Walter Sisulu, joined the African National Congress and became committed to securing the right of the majority of the South African population to participate in the government of their country.   Throughout the course of the book, Peter Hain guides us through the development of Mandela’s political ideas, succinctly and accurately.   Hain does not gloss over any of the difficulties here.   When Mandela helped to found the ANC Youth League, he was an Africanist.   This was a position that he changed because of his experiences working with Indians, Coloureds and Whites in the struggle against apartheid.   Once he had become committed to building a non-racial South Africa, he did not waver from this position.

Nor does Peter Hain shy away from Mandela’s personal difficulties.   His first wife, Evelyn Mase, was a committed Christian with no interest in politics and, although they had three children, it soon became clear that they were incompatible.   Evelyn left him.   Then he met Nomzano Winnie Madikizela, who was much younger than him, and they got married.   Meanwhile Mandela’s political opposition to apartheid was developing.   He was banned, tried for treason and eventually acquitted.   Then following the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of the ANC and other organisations, he went on the run, and set up Umkhonto we Sizwe, a military organisation of which he was Commander-in-Chief.   He went abroad for military training, returned to South Africa and was eventually captured.   He was sentenced to five years imprisonment, for incitement to strike and for leaving the country without a passport.   Then the leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe was captured at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, and Mandela was put on trial alongside them.   Peter Hain guides us through these momentous events and the subsequent Rivonia Trial with great skill, summarising the key moments.   Mandela’s speech from the dock with its ringing declaration of “if needs be, I am prepared to die” reverberated around the whole world.   The judge, Quartus de Wet, did not impose the death penalty.   He sentenced the Rivonia trialists to life imprisonment.

The story now breaks into two segments.   There are the struggles in prison to secure their dignity as individuals.   There was the struggle outside the prison, in which Winnie stepped up to the mark and confronted the power of the apartheid state.   Some of the struggles in prison seem to be quite ordinary.   There was the fight to be allocated long trousers.   African men were given shorts to wear because they were “boys”.   Indians and Coloured were allowed to wear long trousers because they were not black Africans.   Whites did not enter into the equation because they were kept in a separate prison.   There was apartheid even in the gaols.   There were also differences in the food made available, depending on your racial classification.   If this seems petty, it is because the authorities were petty, and these struggles were essentially to secure human dignity.   Peter Hain is very good at explaining these confrontations and Mandela’s relations with the warders, eventually winning them over.

Meanwhile outside the prisons, Winnie faced harassment, banning, detention, humiliation and torture.   She was eventually sent as an internal exile to Brandfort in the Orange Free State where she did not speak the local language (Sesotho).   Everything was done to try to break her.   Peter Hain shows the stresses and strains which she endured, and how the 27 years of separation ruined their marriage.

The struggle against apartheid intensified in both South Africa and internationally.  Inside the country, trade unions, although illegal, were being formed by the black workers and Black Consciousness was making itself felt.   Internationally, led by the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, the campaign for boycott and sanctions was gaining momentum.   And then, the Portuguese Fascist government, following military defeats in Africa, collapsed.   Angola and Mozambique became independent, and the children of South Africa refused to be taught in Afrikaans, leading to the Soweto Uprising of 1976.   Peter Hain is very adroit in explaining the significance of all these events, and how they were game changers.

By the mid-1980s, the apartheid regime, trying to face down growing internal unrest and growing international condemnation, were forced into covert negotiations Mandela.   Peter Hain is adept at explaining the formation of COSATU, the rise of the UDF and the collaboration of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with the apartheid regime, trying to resist the growing demand for sanctions.

There is one point of accuracy in which I disagree with Peter Hain.   Govan Mbeki, one of the Rivonia Trialists alongside Mandela, was released by PW Botha in 1987, not by FW De Klerk in 1989.   I know this, because on the day of Mbeki’s release I was being greeted by his son, Thabo, at the ANC International Solidarity Conference at Arusha in Tanzania and I congratulated Thabo on the release of his father.   This, however, is a minor error in the narrative.

Peter Hain then takes us through the tumultuous years from the release of Mandela to his inauguration as President.   The defining factor was the need to avoid civil war.   It cam very close.   10,000 people were murdered in those four years.   Agents of the apartheid state tried desperately to stop the process of democratisation.   Peter Hain makes it very clear that it was Mandela’s steely determination that held the line and enabled the process to go forward.

I know that Peter Hain’s brief account of the election is substantially correct because I was there.    We even had a drink together in a hotel bar once the count was over.   Peter Hain’s account of the presidential years is also on target, citing the need for reconciliation as the most pressing.   This however did not mean that the truth was to be ignored which is why Mandela set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The last two chapters are called “Mandela Magic” and “Legacy Betrayed?”.   The very titles tell us what they are about.   “Mandela Magic” deals with the charm and charisma of the man, which is unquestionable.   He won over all of us who had the privilege of meeting him.   “Legacy Betrayed?” is about Peter Hain’s view of how South Africa has developed under Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, Mandela’s successors as President.   It is not a view with which I would substantially disagree.   It is, however, for you to make up your mind about that.

Peter Hain has written a very brief biography (196 pages) of Nelson Mandela..   It covers all the basics.   It does not avoid any of the difficulties, such as the controversies around the behaviour of Winnie Mandela.   It is a succinct account of a long and complex life.   It is a very good book.

 

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The Nelson Mandela Freedom March, 1988

I joined the Nelson Mandela Freedom March at Macclesfield on Sunday 3rd July. The official diary for the March says that I joined at Manchester, but that is wrong. I joined at Macclesfield. I wondered how I was actually going to find where they were assembling. My cunning plan was to walk to the centre of the town and hope that I met someone, and that is exactly what happened. Paul Brannen, one of the marchers, saw me and called me over. I threw my bag into the back of the van that was carrying all of our luggage. Simon Osborn, the March organiser, threw a tee-shirt and a pair of track suit trousers at me, and told me to change my clothes. I did this in the street. Erdogan Serikala, another one of the marchers, told me to wear two pairs of socks so that I did not get blisters. [No-one had thought that we would need to wear walking socks].

The march was heading that day to Stoke-on-Trent, stopping at Congleton, in the heart of Tory Cheshire, where we were going to have our lunch. Anne Winterton, the local MP, have issued a vitriolic press statement calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist and condemning the marchers as supporters of a terrorist organisation. She actually went so far as to tell her constituents not to support the march. The response was absolutely magnificent. There were hundreds of people, possibly thousands, lining the streets waiting to greet us. The streets along our route were swathed in green, black and gold, the colours of the ANC. There was a choir that greeted us with “Nkosi Sikelel’I Afrika”, the anthem of the African National Congress, and when they had finished Vijay Krishnarayan, one of the marchers, clenched his fist in the ANC salute and shouted “Amandla” [Power] and we all replied “Awethu” [to the People]. This was a clear message to Margaret Thatcher and the more rabid of her supporters that there was overwhelming support in the UK for the release of Nelson Mandela. One of the marchers spoke. The speech always contained the same demands: the release of Nelson Mandela and all South African and Namibian political prisoners, the independence of Namibia and the end of apartheid, and calling for the imposition of sanctions on apartheid South African until these objectives were achieved. It was not a message that Margaret Thatcher wanted to hear. It was at Congleton that I became convinced that the momentum of our campaign, an international campaign agreed at the Arusha Conference, was unstoppable. Seeing this rock-solid support in Cheshire, the heart of Tory England, made me sure that we had won.

We had our lunch in a local church hall and, as I recall, there was a lot of coleslaw. This was to become a recurrent theme of the catering. The logic was that we were marching for the release of Nelson Mandela, and that this meant that we must be vegetarians and that we would like coleslaw. There was also an assumption that we would like beer, and this did prove to be correct for many, if not all, of us. After lunch, we lined up in threes, someone shouted “Amandla!” and we replied “Awethu!” and then someone started to sing “Forward we will march to the People’s Government”. This was a song based on the provisions of the Freedom Charter, adopted by the ANC at the Kliptown Congress of the People in 1955. The words were simple.
Forward we will march, forward we will march

Forward we will march to the People’s Government

This is the message of the Freedom Charter

Forward we will march to the People’s government.

Each subsequent verse took one of the objectives of the Freedom Charter, such as “The land shall be shared by those who work it”, and turned it into part of the song. It also had the advantage of being completely in English. It was not the only liberation song that we learned but it, along with “Mandela says fight for freedom, Mandela says freedom now” was the most popular. These two songs had the advantage that we did not have any difficulty pronouncing the words, and that our audiences in the cities, towns and villages that we passed through could understand what we were singing.

From Congleton, we marched south-east towards Stoke-on-Trent. As we marched it was drizzling and so we put on our waterproofs. As we climbed to the top of one hill, there was another in front of us in what appeared to be an endless succession. Eventually, we got to the City Hall where we were the guests of honour at a Civic Reception. There was coleslaw, in large quantities, amongst the food on offer.

The next day, we marched to Stafford. That morning, I learned some of the Marchers’ rules for communal living. Obviously, if you have 25 marchers (one for every year that Mandela had been in prison) and their support staff sleeping in one place, you will find that there are difference sleep patterns. Some people will go to bed early, others will stay up late. Some people will get up early, which was not necessarily the same people who went to bed early. Some people smoked, others did not. Some people (me) would snore. So we had a noisy space (talkers and snorers) and a quiet space, and we had smoking and non-smoking areas. Those who woke up early (again me) had to tiptoe around quietly so as not to disturb the others. This generally meant going to the kitchen and boiling a kettle, and making tea and coffee ready for the others as they woke up. Also, you found somewhere light where you could read a book. I am sure I was reading something appropriate, but I cannot remember what it was. Whoever was supplying the breakfast generally arrived just before 8.00am. Those of us who woke up early had the advantage of getting the bathroom to ourselves. Once the caterers arrived with breakfast, there was always a queue (and when I say caterers, I mean the volunteers from the local anti-apartheid groups who were feeding us). Then we had to sort out the laundry. We had a uniform that consisted of a tee-shirt that read “Nelson Mandela Freedom March Glasgow to London 1988” and a pair of ANC track suit trousers. We had one tee-shirt and trousers on, and one tee-shirt and trousers in the wash every day. At least we were always clean. These were the kind of practicalities that were important.

After breakfast, we loaded up the van, lined up in threes with one leading, and set off on the march either chanting slogans or singing a freedom song. This was the pattern every day while I was on the march, and it seemed like an established routine.
The march to Stafford was uneventful, apart from the drenching rain. When we arrived at Stafford Railway Station, we were greeted by Michael Scott-Joynt, the newly appointed Bishop of Stafford, wearing a purple cassock, a pectoral cross and an enormous umbrella. When you remember that, like all Church of England bishops, he was appointed by the Prime Minister, this was an act of considerable bravery. It put him on a collision course with Margaret Thatcher. He was not to be the only bishop that preferred to follow the lead of Archbishops Tutu and Huddleston. This was another indication that Margaret Thatcher was losing her personal battle with the Anti-Apartheid Movement over the imposition of sanctions and the demand for the release of Nelson Mandela and the other South African and Namibian political prisoners. A newly appointed Bishop of the Church of England, one of her appointees, was prepared to turn out, and give us his blessing. Middle England was turning against her. From the railway station we went to North Staffordshire Polytechnic where we spent the night sleeping on the floor of the Student Union.

The next day we set off to Lichfield, which is a lovely little market town to the north of Birmingham. It is also the place that Samuel Johnson was born. His dictionary has been of major importance in defining both the meaning and the spelling of words in English. So I set off to see if I could find anything honouring the man in his birthplace. I do not remember succeeding. At Lichfield we were hosted by another Bishop. It was something that we got used to.

From Lichfield we went on to Walsall. We had a civic reception with coleslaw. I have no idea where we stayed that night. The next day, we marched on to Birmingham. There we were met by the Birmingham Anti-Apartheid Group.    The day after, we had a day off. This was because Jerry Dammers and Ndondo Khuze had come to Birmingham to record a new version of “Free Nelson Mandela”. Jerry had written the song in 1983 and Ndondo had sung it at the Wembley Concert in June. I was quite rightly not allowed anywhere near the recording as I have a voice that makes a corncrake sound melodious. I said “hello” to Jerry and Ndondo. Then I went to Birmingham Central Library to have a look at their Shakespeare collection. I was wearing my Nelson Mandela Freedom Marcher uniform because we had photographs taken with Jerry and Ndondo for the press. When I got to the library, I introduced myself, carefully not saying where I worked as I did not want to give the impression that this was any kind of official visit. The reception that I got was frosty in the extreme. It was like talking to the White Witch in Narnia. She did not want to show me the Shakespeare Collection. She wanted me off the premises as quickly as possible before my uniform attracted any attention and caused any embarrassment. The fact that there was an Anti-Apartheid stall directly outside the library in Chamberlain Square was no concern to her. She made it quite clear that she wanted such contamination off the premises. I could have insisted that this was a public library and stayed, but as she would not show me what I wanted to see, I decided to leave and do something more useful. So I joined Vanessa Eyre on the stall. That evening we had a really good curry at a restaurant called the Red Fort.

The following day we were to march to Coventry. The police wanted us to march along the hard shoulder of the motorway. Our response could be described as robust. We said “No”. The police then said that if we did not march along the hard shoulder they would withdraw the police escort. We said “Fine”. We had no intention of marching long the hard shoulder of a motorway, carrying banners, and next to passing freight lorries. Everywhere else the police had kept us away from motorways. The West Midlands Police were trying to insist that we marched on the hard shoulder of one of the busiest motorways in the country. Our point-blank refusal to do this led to the withdrawal of the police escort while we were in the West Midlands police area. There was some discussion which resulted in us organizing ourselves. I pointed out to Alan Brooks that we would have to stop every so often to allow the traffic to pass us. We were averaging about five miles an hour, but this was nothing to traffic that was going at anything up to ten times that speed. Basically, we found somewhere to stop every half hour or so to allow the traffic that had been building up behind us to pass. We also waved at the approaching lorries, most of whom slowed down so that we did not have to cope with a side-wind into our banners. Quite a number of the drivers waved back at us and tooted their horns, which was nice. We managed perfectly well without the West Midlands Police. These were the same West Midlands Police who were later found to have concocted evidence against the Birmingham Six and others. It is hardly surprising that they treated the Nelson Mandela Freedom March in the way that they did.

The next day we were the guests of the Bishop of Coventry at the Sunday Eucharist at the Cathedral. The preacher was the Rev. Brian Brown, a Methodist Minister and the father of Sean Brown, one of the marchers. His text was “Blessed are the peacemakers” and this sermon has stayed with me ever since that day. He told a story of a boy who was playing football in the street, who kicked a ball hard and broke a neighbour’s window. He ran into his own house and told his father what had happened. His father asked “Did anyone see you?” and the boy said “No.” So the father said “Let’s keep quiet about it then.” But the mother said “No. You will go and knock on the door and apologise, and say that we will pay for the window, and that we will deduct a sum from your pocket-money until you have paid to replace the window yourself.” The point was quite clear. The boy had to take responsibility for his own errors, and had to face up to the need to put things right. Brian was quite clear that it was the mother who was the peacemaker. Brian had served as Methodist minister in South Africa until he was expelled because of his vocal opposition to apartheid. Brian was quite clear. British governments had created a legacy of colonialism, racism and oppression in South Africa, and that the British people had a duty to rectify what had been done. This required the isolation of apartheid and the imposition of sanctions, and the refusal of the Thatcher government to take action was completely unacceptable. It was the kind of sermon that took no prisoners. It was delivered by a gentle, unassuming man, a true hero of the worldwide anti-apartheid struggle. Sean sat there, glowing with pride.

The following day we marched to Leamington Spa taking the route through Warwick. Here, we were greeted by the noisiest demonstration that I have ever been on in my life. There were drummers from the local Sikh temple, there was a jazz band and there may even have been a bagpiper. I think it was in Warwick that we also received the news that the Sharpeville Six had been reprieved. This was a significant victory. The Sharpeville Six had been arrested because they were known to the apartheid police as activists, and that they had been in proximity to the murder of some collaborators with the apartheid regime in Sharpeville. Their proximity to the event was simple. They lived in Sharpeville. There was no evidence that they had anything to do with the murders. The State of Emergency regulations did not require the apartheid police to prove that the accused had actually done anything. The Sharpeville Six were sentenced to death. This injustice caused an international outcry. The Nelson Mandela Freedom Marchers had raised the case of the Sharpeville Six at every stop along their route. The fact that the Sharpeville Six had been reprieved showed that we could have an effect.

Peter Shield announced to the crowd that the Sharpeville Six had been reprieved. The cheer that went up was absolutely deafening, enhanced as it was by bhangra drumming, rattles and who knows what else. There could be no doubt whatsoever that the apartheid regime was susceptible to pressure. It reinforced our argument that sanctions were necessary to force the regime to negotiate an end to apartheid. Margaret Thatcher argued, in response, that sanctions would hurt the very people that they were designed to help. The Anti-Apartheid Movement responded with the argument first put by Julius Nyerere. IF you were at the bottom of the ladder and someone kicked it away, you did not have far to fall. It was those at the top of the ladder who were going to be hurt. Also, the imposition of sanctions would save lives because it would speed up the need for the apartheid regime to negotiate.   Warwick was not a traditional area of strength for the Anti-Apartheid Movement. There is a University in Warwick, but by the time we got there it was near or nearing the start of the summer vacation. The size of the crowd, and their response to the reprieve of the Sharpeville Six, was an indication of how we were winning the argument. We had very good reason to be happy with the response that we got in Warwick.   There was also a very human element. I overheard two young women, one saying to the other “Did you see the man who spoke. He’s gorgeous.” And so, in the middle of all the very serious politics, there was normality.

We had lunch, sitting looking at Warwick Castle. I decided to go and look at the Lord Leycester Hospital, which was not far from the castle in the High Street. The hospital was founded by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was the counsellor and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. He founded it to provide a home for the veterans of the army that he commanded in the Netherlands from 1584 to 1588 during the Dutch War of Independence fought against Philip II of Spain. It is a lovely Tudor building, and it is still occupied by army veterans. I may even have dragged some of the other marchers along with me to see a historic building. The then residents were certainly surprised that one of the Nelson Mandela Freedom Marchers knew about the history of their building. I may have confessed that Dutch history from 1566-1609 (that is, the first period of the Eighty Years War, or War of Independence) was one of the special subjects that I studied for my history degree.

After lunch, we marched to Leamington Spa along country roads through a part of the country that is forever associated with William Shakespeare. There was even a sign for the Forest of Arden, which is one of the locations in “As You Like It”. It was a beautiful afternoon until we arrived in Leamington Spa itself. A man driving a Rolls Royce decided to drive straight into us, scattering us and knocking Sean Brown to the ground. He clearly intended to drive off, but Norrie hit the roof of the car with his fist. The man stopped his car and got out, furious. Then he saw Norrie. Now Norrie was not tall but he was built like a tank. The man said that his car had been assaulted and that he was reporting it to the police. I said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. There is one of you. There are 25 of us, and we will all testify that you drove your car into us, injuring one of us”. I think I added “doing grievous bodily harm”. The man got back in his car and drove off. Sean was bruised but not injured. I assume that he got medical treatment that night, but I do not know. All I know is that this incident did not stop him completing the march.

What was interesting was that a rabid right-winger thought that he could drive a car into the marchers and get away with it, which he did. If Sean had been injured, it would have been another matter. One of the marchers had noted his number plate. Also, if the West Midlands Police had not withdrawn their escort this would not have happened. I have always thought that it was symptomatic of Thatcher’s Britain.   The rest of our time at Leamington Spa paled into insignificance compared with this. There was, however, one other incident. A car drew up. Now this caused a certain unease given what had just happened. Then a young man got out. I called out to Sean “You’re brother’s here”. Now I had never met David in my life. It was just obvious. He was the spitting image of Sean. Of course, he was worried when he found out what had happened, but Sean was obviously all right, if a bit sore.

The day after, we had a long march from Leamington Spa to the Northampton. This route took us through Daventry and Rugby, and finally out of the remit of the West Midlands Police. As I recall it, the march that day was rather uneventful. We crossed over the Glasgow to London railway line and had our packed lunches (provided by our hosts from Leamington Spa) sitting at the foot of a collection of radio masts. Of course, there was nowhere to relieve ourselves, so we went behind some bushes, the men at one end and the women at the other. It was then that we discovered that we were at the end of the flight path of Birmingham International Airport. What the pilots thought of this as they flew overhead is a matter for speculation.

Somewhere along the way, we were joined by a crew from East German TV, who had decided that the march nearing London was a major news item, and who intended to send in filmed reports to their headquarters in Berlin every day. We dutifully began to sing freedom songs and to chant slogans as we were being filmed. We also found that we had to spend time sitting around in fields because we were ahead of schedule, and could not arrive in places ahead of the time that had been agreed with our reception organisers.   We got to a roundabout just outside Northampton, and my right knee collapsed under me. I somehow hobbled into the town centre, helped by Vijay and Peter. We were taken to Afro-Caribbean centre where there were doctors and nurses waiting to deal with any injuries. I showed them my knee. They told me that I needed to get in checked out by my GP when I got back home because I had probably done permanent damage. They also gave me some ointment to rub into my knee and a support stocking to wear throughout the rest of the march. I was not the first of the marchers to injure myself. Erdogan Serikala had been sent home because he could not walk even with support stockings. He was not happy about this, and had not wanted to go, but he could not walk. I realized that I was lucky because I would be able to continue the march, and that was all that mattered. I then joined the others, and stuffed myself with Caribbean food. Vijay in particular was enjoying the meal. His family is from Guyana, and it was a reminder of his mother’s cooking.

The next day we set out for Bedford which was the birthplace of John Bunyan and of our President, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston. They were both men of uncompromising Christian belief and although they would not have agreed on all the detail of doctrine, I have no doubt that they both valued the individual, and saw everyone as equal in the eyes of their God. As usual, we set off with a cry of “Amandla! Awethu!” or “Power to the People!” We were probably much more noisy than usual because we were being filmed by the crew from East German TV. When we got into the countryside, we stopped chanting. We had been joined by a group from the Socialist Workers’ Party and, when we stopped, they continued chanting. They obviously had not realized why we had been chanting. If they had, they would not have approved. Vijay was quite withering: “Oh, look a bunch of flowers! They have been converted!” It was ironic that a group of Trotskyists, chanting anti-apartheid slogans, were going to be a major news item on East German TV that night. Anyway, after a while they fell behind and then left us because they could not keep up with the pace.. There were some advantages to marching at five miles an hour.   In the afternoon, we were joined by a photographer from the Sun newspaper. We were somewhat incredulous. We could not work out what they were going to say about us. So we ran a competition for a headline. I suggested “Sex Mad Commies Bonk from Glasgow to London”. That killed the competition stone dead, as no-one could think of anything better. When we got to Bedford, the organisers told us that our reception was to be at a very posh nightclub. They were worried that the bouncers would not let us in because the men were not wearing ties. We pointed to our tee-shirts and suggested that this was the proof that we were indeed the guests of honour. This proved to be the case. We had no trouble getting in.

The following day we headed to Luton. John Carlisle was the MP for Luton North. He was such an extreme supporter of the apartheid regime that he made Margaret Thatcher look like some kind of wimp. He had the nickname “the MP for Johannesburg”. He decided to send us a large crate of South African wine as a gift, and just to annoy us. Now that I think about it, I have my doubts about whether he actually paid for it. Anyway, this gave us the perfect photo opportunity. There is a photo of some of the marchers emptying the bottles of wine into the gutter. There were so many boxes of wine, however, that we sent some of them to the Anti-Apartheid Office in Mandela Street in Camden, where they sat, ignored, in a corner for six years. On 10th May 1994, when Mandela was inaugurated as the President of South Africa, we drank them, So it was that John Carlisle contributed to our celebration of the end of apartheid.   From Luton we headed to St. Alban’s which was quite a short journey. The thing that I remember about St. Albans is quite simple. Nora Halverson, from the Hemel Hempstead Anti-Apartheid Group, and her helpers arrived quite early in the morning to set out breakfast for us. They put out bowls oc coleslaw. I was incredulous and said so. Nora replied that they thought that there must be a lot of vegetarians on the march and that was why they had supplied the coleslaw. I remember saying “Nora, even vegetarians eat toast for breakfast”. Someone was sent out to get bread and jam, and we had toast. To this day, I avoid eating coleslaw.

Outside St Alban’s we said goodbye to our Hertfordshire Police escort who handed us over to the Metropolitan Police. One of our new escort said to me “We were told we would have to walk slowly because you lot were exhausted”. I replied “Do we look exhausted?” He shook his head. We marched through Potters Bar to East Finchley and when we got there Mrs. Tambo and her daughters Thembi and Tselane were waiting for us. I cannot remember if Dali was there, but his two nephews, Thembi’s boys, Sasha and Oliver, were. Oliver ran forward and I swept him up onto my shoulders. Sasha was not far behind and I took him by the hand. I introduced Oliver to the other marchers as Oliver Tambo and he giggled. [I should add that Oliver is now a bodybuilder, and both the boys are huge]. Patsy Pillay and others had organised a lunch for us, and I think it was at Patsy’s house in Fortis Green Road ( the one that Vella and Patsy mortgaged to provide finance for the Anti-Apartheid Movement). From there we marched to Haringey. Anna-Zohra Tikly, the daughter of Mohammed Tikly, the Director of Somafco, was one of the organisers of our reception. She asked a policeman when we would be arriving, and he said something like “They are only a mile away. The rate they are going they’ll be here in five to ten minutes”. We marched to Alexandra Palace where we were staying the night. A party there in honour of Nelson Mandela had been organised by Bernie Grant, the MP for Tottenham, and we were the guests of honour. We changed and Patsy Pillay took away our tee-shirts. She washed them, starched them and ironed them, and returned them to us beautifully clean and presentable. Patsy knew that we were going to be seen on TVs throughout the world the next day, and that the images would be smuggled into South Africa and Namibia. She knew that we had to look really good, and she made sure that we did. The importance of such things should never be under-estimated.

The next day we were bussed from Alexandra Palace to Finsbury Park from where we were to lead the demonstration to Hyde Park, for the rally where Desmond Tutu and OR Tambo would be amongst the speakers. At least that was the plan, but OR Tambo was held up at Heathrow by immigration officials and did not get to the demonstration. I can only assume that this was deliberate. When we arrived at Finsbury Park, the demonstration was already assembling and there were news teams from around the world, with their cameras at the ready. We were taken to a café at the top of a hill, where we had breakfast. Then we went outside and starting milling around. No-one took the slightest bit of notice of us. Joni McDougal noticed this, and said so. The marchers were not happy about this, so I decided to do something about it. I bellowed “Line up in threes” which we did. After all, we had been doing this every day of the march. I then bellowed “Amandla!” and the marchers replied “Awethu!” and we set off down the hill towards the gate. This took some of the TV crews by surprise, and they wanted us to do it again so that they got it on film. Alan Brooks, who was the March leader and the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, said “No” to this. But we had certainly been noticed.

Alan then sent me to the platform because it had been decided that I would make the fundraising appeal on behalf of the marchers. I am not sure who decided this, but I remember that Margaret Ling, a member of the National Executive Committee, had expected to make the appeal. She, however, agreed that it would be better if the appeal was made by one of the marchers, so she stepped down and let me do it. I cannot remember a word of what I said. I was told later on the march that we had raised £29,000 which was more than we had expected. Vella Pillay, our Treasurer, was delighted with me. He said “Well done”.    As we were leaving Finsbury Park, I saw Joan Ruddock trying to join the front of the march. Joan Ruddock was the National Chairperson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and she had just become the MP for Lewisham/Deptford. She was supposed to be one of the people leading the march, but our stewards did not recognize her and were preventing her from getting through the cordon. I went over to Joan, and introduced her to the stewards, asking them to let her through which they did. We then turned into Camden Road and I remembered that there was a Shell Garage there. It was the garage where we launched the campaign to “Isolate Apartheid! Boycott Shell!” as our slogan put it. On the march, every time that we went passed a Shell Garage we had shouted the slogan. We quickly agreed that we would not go passed this garage quietly either, especially as we had something like 50,000 people behind us. There were also people lining the streets, and looking out at us from windows and balconies. It was like a carnival as we marched by. When we reached the garage, we roared our slogan and it was taken up by the march along the length of Camden Road. We then headed towards Euston Station and Oxford Street on our way to Hyde Park, where 250,000 people were waiting to greet us.

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops just happened to be meeting at the time that the march arrived in London. At the urging of Archbishops Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu they agreed to abandon their business for the day and to come to meet us. I have never seen so many purple cassocks in one place. I remember being introduced to Archbishop Sharp, the Primate of Canada, in the tea tent behind the stage. I had been told that I would not be going on to the platform if Erdogan Serikala, who had injured himself badly, attended the rally which he did. So I was relaxing in the tea tent being introduced to Archbishops, as you do. Then Mike Terry told me that one of the marchers had disappeared in the crowd and that I was to get ready to go on the stage with the others. So I left and joined the queue. It was then that we discovered that Erdogan really could not walk, so I told him to put his arm over my shoulder and I carried him onto the stage. As we marched on the stage, the cheers were deafening. Jo Beck spoke on behalf of the Marchers. We were also on stage for the speeches by Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu. It was on stage that we discovered that OR Tambo had been held up at Heathrow. We then quitted the stage and went to the front for the concert, where the lead performers were Jim Kerr and Simple Minds, and then Jerry Dammers and his band. We got up and danced.

That evening there was a vigil outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square and a number of us went along to it. Dali Tambo saw me and we hugged. We had not doubt, either of us, that the Anti-Apartheid Movement had just delivered a stunning 70th birthday celebration for Nelson Mandela. We knew that this was something that could not be ignored by either the British or the South African governments. The promises made at the Arusha Conference had been delivered. We were more than happy. We were very proud. We were proud of the more than 20 million people boycotting apartheid goods.    We were proud of everyone who, at every stage of the march, had turned out to demand the release of Nelson Mandela and all the South African and Namibian political prisoners.   There were thousands upon thousands of us. I spoke for the marchers, and then someone began to sing “Free Nelson Mandela”, and Jerry Dammers was standing there on the pavement outside South Africa House.

That night we stayed at the Transport and General Workers Union hotel. The next day was Nelson Mandela’s actual birthday, 18th July 1988. I cannot remember where we assembled, but we marched the last mile, the 600th mile of the whole march, to St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, where Trevor Huddleston was leading a service of celebration. That evening Oliver Tambo hosted a party at the Commonwealth Institute, and we were the guests of honour in our uniforms Oliver Tambo thanked us for the contribution that we had made to the liberation struggle We were so proud.

 

Denis Goldberg: Rivonia Trialist and anti-apartheid campaigner: an 85th birthday tribute

Denis Goldberg will be 85 on 11th April 2018.   He was born in his beloved Cape Town in 1933.    His grandparents had fled to London to avoid the Tsarist pogroms, and his parents emigrated from there to South Africa.   He is therefore a first generation South African.   He was brought up in a remarkable household where people of all races were welcome.

He trained as an engineer and soon became politically active, campaigning for the liberation of the South African people.   He was an Executive member of the Congress of Democrats, which was a white organisation allied to the African National Congress and part of the Congress Alliance.   It was not legal under South African law for people of all races to be members of the same political organisation, although organisations representing the different races could work together for the same objective.   He also joined the illegal South African Communist Party.

It was through his political activities that he met Esme Bodenstein, whom he married and by whom he had two children, Hilary and David.

Following the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC and other political organisations, Denis became involved in Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC.   Denis was approached because, as a qualified engineer, he had the necessary skills for the prosecution of the armed struggle.   The commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was Nelson Mandela.   It was not long before Denis found himself involved in the command structures of MK in Cape Province, working with people like Looksmart Ngudle and Percy Mda.   Looksmart Ngudle was the first person to die in detention at the hands of the apartheid security police.

On 16th December 1962, MK struck.   There were bomb explosions throughout the country, targeting the symbols of apartheid.   Electricity pylons were blown up.   Johannesburg and Durban both were blacked out.   Nelson Mandela gave a clandestine interview to Robin Day of the BBC, setting out the plans of Umkhonto we Sizwe.   The armed struggle had been launched.

Denis and his mother had both been arrested following the imposition of a State of Emergency following the Sharpeville Massacre.   They spent four months in prison.   On his release, Denis was dismissed from his job as an engineer with South African Railways because of his political activism.   In 1963, Denis was served with a stringent banning order, confining him to a particular magisterial district of Cape Town and limiting the number of people that he could meet at any one time.   Denis, of course, worked his way round this banning order and continued with his political work,   He took part, as an instructor, in an MK training camp at Camps Bay, near Cape Town.   He also went to a meeting of MK at the Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, near Johannesburg.   It was here that he was arrested with all the MK High Command, except Nelson Mandela who was already in prison.

Esme was detained and held in solitary confinement under the 90 Day Detention Law.   Upon her release she went into exile, taking Hilary and David with her, and came to London where she set up home.   Denis managed to escape his captors, very briefly, but he was re-arrested.   He became one of the accused in the Rivonia Trial alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni.

The Rivonia Trial was one of the seminal events in the struggle for the freedom of South Africa and, indeed, in the worldwide struggle against racism.   It was the trial at which Nelson Mandela made his famous statement from the dock.   The accused were charged with sabotage, which meant that they were facing the death penalty.   That is why Nelson Mandela ended his statement with the words “I am prepared to die”.   The world was electrified.   This was the year in which Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech.   To have two such powerful statements of anti-racism made so close to each other changed the whole dynamic of the struggle.

The trial lasted from June 1963 to October 1964 in the Pretoria Supreme Court.   Denis Goldberg was Accused No 3.   The charges were laid under the Sabotage Act and the Suppression of Communism Act.  The accused were charged with “campaigning to overthrow the Government by violent revolution and for assisting an armed invasion of the country by foreign troops”.   The charge sheet contained 193 acts of sabotage allegedly carried out by MK, and by persons recruited by the accused in their capacity as members of the MK High Command.

All of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.   Denis called out to his mother “Life!   Life is wonderful!”   The others were sent to Robben Island, but Denis was white and there was apartheid in the prisons, so as a white political prisoner Denis was sent to Pretoria Prison.   Denis was imprisoned for 22 years, and was the first of the Rivonia Trialists to be released.

The prison years were long and hard.   Denis had to fight for the right to study and to read newspapers.   Denis nursed Bram Fischer, the Afrikaner lawyer who had defended the Rivonia trialists and who was also involved in MK and the South African Communist Party, through his terminal illness.   Denis assisted Tim Jenkin, Steven Lee and Alex Moumbaris in their escape from the prison.   After 22 years, he was offered his freedom by President Botha, and he accepted.

Denis came to London where he re-joined Esme and his family.    Denis and Esme rebuilt their family life together.   Denis resumed his work for the ANC, setting up ANC Merchandising.   He also spoke at countless meetings on behalf of the ANC, involved himself in the work of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and spoke at the United Nations.   US organisations awarded him the Albert Luthuli Peace Prize in recognition of his work in the struggle against apartheid.   Denis served as an inspiration to the thousands of Anti-Apartheid Movement activists that he met, and was a constant source of knowledge and wisdom about the struggle in South Africa.   There were so many ways in which he helped to develop the international campaign against apartheid that it is impossible to list them all.

During the years Denis was in prison and then in exile, the situation in South Africa reached crisis point.   On 16th June 1976, the children of Soweto organised a demonstration against the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools.   The apartheid police opened fire.   In the years that followed, thousands fled South Africa to join Umkhonto we Sizwe.   There was a popular uprising.   South Africa became ungovernable.   There was an increase in armed attacks by MK.   There was a storm of international protest.   The apartheid regime, facing bankruptcy, was forced to consider negotiations.   Secret discussions had been taking place with Nelson Mandela.   There were also discussions between key figures of the Afrikaner establishment in Dakar and in the UK.   There was no doubt that the end of apartheid was in sight.

First Govan Mbeki was released in 1987 and then all the other Rivonia trialists, except Nelson Mandela, at the end of 1989.   Then the ANC, SACP, MK and other organisations were unbanned.   Finally, on 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released.   The long process of negotiations was soon to begin.  It was to take something like 3 and half years, and 10,000 people were killed, including Chris Hani, the Secretary-General of the SACP.

The elections took place on 27th April 1994 and lasted until the end of the month.   When Nelson Mandela was installed as President at the Union Buildings on 10th May 1994, Denis was there as one of the guests of honour.

On his return to London, Denis set up Community HEART as a British charity working for the reconstruction of South Africa.   HEART stands for Health, Education and Reconstruction Training.   Denis became the Executive Director, throwing his energy into a host of projects to assist his country.   Since its inception in 1995, Community HEART has sent 3 million books to schools and libraries in South Africa, has supported the Rape Crisis Centre in Cape Town, the Ububele Psychotherapy Project in Johannesburg, HIV/Aids projects helping to raise awareness of the disease, community arts and housing projects.   For a small organisation, Community HEART has had a considerable impact and that is due, in part, to the energy and enthusiasm that Denis has put into the organisation.

After Esme died of cancer in 2000, Denis decided to return to South Africa.   The sudden death of his daughter Hilary, from a blood clot, in 2002 confirmed him in this decision.   He had just married Edelgard Nkobi, the German born widow of Zenzo Nkobi, the son of the ANC Treasurer-General, Thomas Nkobi.   It was through Edelgard that Denis made the connections to set up the German Community-HEART.   On his return to South Africa, Denis was appointed as a Special Adviser to Ronnie Kasrils, the then Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.   He held this post until he retired in 2004.   By then, Denis had moved to Hout Bay in Cape Town, and he became the Patron of the Kronendal Music Academy of Hout Bay.   Edelgard died of cancer at the end of 2006 and her funeral took place on 8th January 2007, the anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress.

When Denis returned to South Africa, Isobel McVicar was appointed as the Director of Community HEART.   The organisation has continued its vital life-enhancing, life-changing work for the people of South Africa.

Denis has continued to be active, touring both Germany and the UK, raising money for Community HEART.   It was on one of these trips that he was diagnosed with cancer.   He is now at home in South Africa receiving treatment.

Denis will soon be 85.   His legacy has been building  a new, free democratic South Africa.   So many people have benefitted from his contribution to the freedom of his country, and to his efforts at repairing the damage done by apartheid and colonialism.   He is truly a hero for his country and his times.

Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial

Unlike last year, there have been no adventures and no surprise trips anywhere.   This does not mean that I have not been busy.   Planning has been going ahead for the celebration of the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth next year.   We have set up the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation, and I am one of the trustees.   We have now secured charitable status, under Scottish law, and permission from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to collect gift aid on any donations that we receive.   We have also received planning permission from Glasgow City Council to put a life-size statue of Nelson Mandela on a plinth in Nelson Mandela Place in the city centre.   It will be in the northeast corner of Nelson Mandela Place directly opposite the building that used to house the apartheid South African consulate in Scotland.   We have also secured Sir Alec Ferguson, Kenny Dalgleish, and Lord MacFarlane of Bearsden, all of whom are Freemen of the City, as patrons, and also Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni who are the last survivors of those who were tried alongside Nelson Mandela and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial in 1963.   So, from that point of view we are doing well.

We have also done the costings for the statue, and that will be £250,000 including the cost of the publicity and educational materials.   We are committed to raising this money by public subscription, which I have worked out is a donation of £5.00 from everyone in Scotland.   I have already drawn up a list of rich and famous Scots to approach, asking for them to support the project either by a donation or a gift.   We are also going to hold a fundraising dinner, hopefully at the Hilton Hotel which is where Mandela stayed when he visited Glasgow in 1993 to receive the Freedom of the City of Glasgow and eight other UK cities and boroughs.

Creating the statue will have to go out to public competition and we have to be very specific about the rules.   For instance, I think that the statue will have to be cast in Scotland, so that we do not have to pay the transport costs to get it to Glasgow.   Also, we have to be very specific about the weight, because that can only be what the pavement is able to cope with.    Fortunately, one of our members is an architect and he has been able to advise us about these things, at no cost.   This is one of the reasons that we were able to get planning permission.   The statue will not fall through the pavement into the subway.   As you can imagine, this is very important.

We have also been involved in producing videos.   I have been interviewed by Freedom TV for an online video called “Struggle” and I have also been interviewed by the Liliesleaf Farm Project.   Liliesleaf is where most of the ANC leadership were arrested prior to the Rivonia Trial.   Mandela was not one of them (despite what the film “Long Walk to Freedom” would have us believe) because he was already in prison.   I have no idea what that video will be called on even when it will be made available, but I suspect that it will be in July next year.   Mandela was born on 18th July 1918.

I have also been asked to go back to Hobeni in South Africa and to Kakina in Bangladesh at some point, but there is nothing definite as yet.   Both will depend on the availability of funding so we shall have to see.

So it has been a quiet year in comparison with some of the others, but it has been very busy and I know that next year will be even busier.   It is, however, much better than being bored and wondering what I am going to do.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

 

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.

 

 

Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada was a giant.    His contribution to the international struggle against racism has been matched by very few people.   He and his fellow Rivonia trialists were an inspiration to millions of people across the whole world and across generations, inspiring us to “take up the spear” and to fight against racism wherever we found it.   Especially, he was one of the people who inspired the world to take up the struggle against apartheid, that crime against humanity,, for a period of some forty years.   That was an astonishing achievement when you consider that he spent 26 of those years incommunicado in an apartheid prison.

Kathrada’s picture, with those of the other Rivonia trialists, appeared on posters, on placards and banners throughout the world.   Wherever there was opposition to apartheid, Ahmed Kathrada’s picture was in evidence and was an inspiration to millions as they did what they could to bring down the apartheid regime through sanctions.   And it should never be forgotten that international solidarity was the fourth pillar in the struggle against apartheid, the others being mass action, making South African ungovernable and the armed struggle.

So what was it about Ahmed Kathrada that inspired so many of us to become involved in the international struggle against apartheid.   First, he was not one to shrink from a political struggle because it was difficult and would involve great sacrifice on his part.   He took the very simple stance that racism and its offshoot, apartheid, was wrong and that it had to be opposed.   He was not like the many who kept their heads down and hoped that apartheid would go away.   He was involved, from the very beginning, in organising the mass action that was needed to challenge apartheid laws.   Within his own Indian community he was one of the organisers of the Defiance Campaign of the early 1950s.   LIke so many others, including Nelson Mandela, he was arrested and faced prison for his opposition to apartheid laws.   From the very beginning, he was in the forefront of the struggle.

His involvement in the planning and organisation of the Congress of the People, that seminal event in the liberation struggle, was acknowledged by the apartheid state when he was arrested along with 155 others and charged with treason.   The Treason Trial attracted international opprobrium and the 156 trialists became heroes of the liberation struggle.   The trial lasted for four years, and Kathrada was one of those still on trial when the Treason Trial collapsed in ignominy.   The year was 1960.    It was the year of the Sharpeville Massacre, the banning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations (which meant that it was treasonable to be a member), and the ferocious clampdown by the apartheid state.

Kathrada was not one of those who surrendered.   He did not accept that opposition to apartheid was no longer possible.   He recognised that such opposition would now be illegal and therefore had to be conducted underground.   He joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation) which became the armed wing of the now illegal ANC.   He became a member of the Regional Command, helping to plan and organise the attacks on power stations and other symbols of apartheid power.   The launch of these attacks on 16th December 1961 was a huge, direct challenge to the power of the apartheid state as Johannesburg and Durban were plunged into darkness.   They attracted international attention with Robin Day, of the BBC, interviewing Nelson Mandela.    They were reported across the world.

The apartheid state responded by introducing the 90 Days Law allowing detention without trial and, following the Sharpeville Massacre, had already arrested hundreds of people.   There was no question that South Africa was in crisis.   In the UK, the newly formed Anti-Apartheid Movement called its first demonstration in Trafalgar Square, directly outside the South African High Commission.   Then came a disaster.   The whole of the leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, and were brought to trial with the already arrested Nelson Mandela. Ahmed Kathrada was one of the Rivonia trialists.

They were charged under the Sabotage Act, facing the death penalty.   The prosecutor was Percy Yutar and the judge was Quartus De Wet.   The trialists took the decision that the defence had to be a political one, even though this risked their lives.   Nelson Mandela made the speech from the dock that has achieved legendary status.   He represented the position taken by all the trialists, refusing to beg for their lives but stating quite clearly that, if necessary, they were prepared to die.

Much to the surprise of the whole world, Quartus de Wet sentenced them to life imprisonment.   Kathrada was given the opportunity to appeal his sentence.   According to Joel Joffe, one of their legal representatives at the trial, Kathrada refused to do this.   The reason that Joffe gives in his book “The Rivonia Story” is that Kathrada did not think that there was any point in an appeal.   He preferred to take his chances on liberation when it came.   There was a real danger that if any appeal had gone forward, the appeal court might find the sentences to lenient, and impose the death penalty.   Kathrada refused to expose his comrades to this risk.   His integrity would not allow him to do it.   That is a measure of the greatness of the man.

So began the long period of imprisonment.   Kathrada, because he was Indian, was allowed more privileges than his African comrades.   He was supposed to have better food and was entitled to wear long trousers.   There followed a long period of struggle in which he refused these privileges until they were given to his comrades as well.   Kathrada was able to complete five degrees, including history and criminology, while he was in prison.   Slowly but surely the apartheid prison authorities were forced to concede that Kathrada and the other Rivonia trialists were human beings.

Worse still was to come for the apartheid authorities.   Following the Soweto uprising of 1976, where the children involved recognised that their leaders were Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and the other Rivonia trialists, the apartheid government of PW Botha was forced into secret negotiations.   The example of the Rivonia trialists had galvanised the world.   The campaign for their release was growing.  Barclays Bank withdrew from South Africa.   Chase Manhattan Bank refused to roll over the apartheid debt.   The Commonwealth imposed sanctions despite Margaret Thatcher.   Sanctions were imposed by ordinary people in the UK.   Some 20,000,000 or more people were boycotting South African goods by the time of Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday in 1988.   The demand for the release of Nelson Mandela and the other Rivonia trialists became unstoppable.

On 15 October 1989 Kathrada, along with Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu  were released from prison.   Govan Mbeki and Denis Goldberg had already been released.   Along with the Rivonia trialists Jeff Masemola, Billy Nair, Wilton Mkwayi and Oscar Mpetha were also released.   Of the Rivonia trialists only Nelson Mandela remained in prison, and the apartheid regime was preparing for his release and the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations.   This was a victory for the dignity, courage and resolve of the Rivonia trialists, confronted as they were by an appalling and racist ideology, apartheid.

Nor did they fail us in the years to come.   They were old.   They had spent two and a half decades in prison.   They could have claimed that they were tired and rested on their laurels.   They did not do so.   They began that long and difficult process of negotiating the end of apartheid, which culminated on that glorious day, 27th April 1994, when the whole of South Africa went to vote in the first democratic elections held in that country.

Ahmed Kathrada was an MP in that new Parliament, that first democratically elected Parliament in South Africa.   He accepted a post as a Presidential advisor.   He was involved in the drafting of the new constitution.   He helped President Mandela to initiate the process of reconciliation.   When he finally retired from public office, he set up the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, with the express purpose of combatting racism.

Ahmed Kathrada was never a man to choose a quiet life before principle.   Nor did he ever avoid the battle so that he could be safe.   His whole life is a testimony to his morality.   He gave his whole life to the fight against apartheid, to the fight against racism and for the right of people to treated with dignity and honour.   This week we have buried a man whose whole life is a testimonial to what we should aspire to achieve.

Hamba Kahle, Comrade Kathy, Hamba Kahle.

Michael Lapsley: Redeeming the Past

When you lose both hands, an eye, and part of your ability to hear in a letter bomb attack by an agent of the apartheid state, it would be reasonable to assume that you would find it difficult to forgive the people who were responsible for the attack.

Michael Lapsley did not respond in that way.   This is what makes him both remarkable and at the same time deeply human.   To understand what happened, it is necessary to know his story, and that is what this book sets out to do.

He was born in New Zealand, and at a very young age he realised that he had a vocation for the priesthood.   At 17, he went to an Anglican Seminary in Australia and it was there that he was ordained and became a member of the Society of the Sacred Mission   His order sent him to South Africa in 1973, when he was only 24 years of age.   This was the furthest he had ever been from his native New Zealand, and he knew that it was going to be a challenging experience.   What he did not know was how challenging it would be.

[I am of the same age as Michael Lapsley.   At 24 I was actively involved in the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, but I was safe.   Events were to show that he was not.   He soon became a target of the apartheid state.]

Michael Lapsley soon found himself involved in two kinds of conflict.   There was the conflict with the apartheid state, which his conscience demanded of him more or less as soon as he set foot in the country.   Then there was the conflict with the members of his own order who wished that he would keep quiet   The only thing that I can find to be said in their defence was that coming into conflict with the apartheid state meant that he was not safe.   The truth is probably closer to their finding his commitment to principle embarrassing.   This was no different to the way in which other Anglican clergy in South Africa were treated if they opposed apartheid.   Trevor Huddleston was called home by his order because Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher was embarrassed by his open opposition to the National Party government.

Michael soon found himself forced out of South Africa by the government, and he continued his ministry in Lesotho and then Zimbabwe.   It was in Lesotho that he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and so attracted the absolute loathing of the apartheid state.   It was this that made him a target.

The ANC was unbanned in February 1990.   The bomb attack on Michael Lapsley took place in April 1990.   It was one of the first signs that the apartheid regime did not intend to go quietly and, in the subsequent four years of negotiations, something like 10,000 people were killed.

For Michael Lapsley this was a new beginning.   He had to learn how to live without his hands.   We take them for granted when we do simple things like go to the toilet, wash, eat, write, shake hands.   All this had to be learned again.   And for a priest there is the whole process of celebrating the Eucharist – making the sign of the cross, elevating the host and distributing the wafers – without hands.   There was the interminable surgery, the physiotherapy, the adapting to life.   It was the discovery of simple things like door handles could be opened but doorknobs could not.

But most of all there was the way in which Michael Lapsley chose to deal with the psychological damage.   He chose not to hate.    He chose to forgive.   Most of the book is about that process of forgiveness, and especially about his new ministry of the healing of memories.   He now spends his life bringing victims and perpetrators together to talk through their brokenness, and to recognise that they are all damaged.   He uses the visibility of his own brokenness to facilitate the process, whether it is in Southern Africa, Rwanda, Latin America or, closer to home, in Northern Ireland.   In  all these places his compassion has made a considerable difference.

Michael Lapsley does however recognise his own needs and limitations.   Adriaan Vlok, the Minister of Law and Order, who probably ordered Michael Lapsley’s bombing and the murders of many others, has had a Road to Damascus experience.   He now recognises that what the apartheid state did to preserve its power was wrong, and has apologised for that.   But he is claiming, despite evidence to the contrary, that he did not know what was happening on his watch, and that he was not responsible for it.   [It could be argued that not being in control of his own department means that he was responsible].   Michael Lapsley wants people like this to go much further than they have and to face up to the consequences of what they ordered or let happen.

What we have in this book is an astonishing account of what one person can do if that person sets his or her mind to it.   He says that he is not a saint.   He says that he is very human.   But he has taken the option of not taking the path of hatred.   He has recognised that hatred does not hurt anyone other than himself.   He is trying, through his work at the Centre for the Healing of Memories, to get people to make themselves better, to heal themselves of whatever trauma they have been through.

He is a remarkable man.   His is an astonishing story.   This is a necessary book.