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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.

 

For the Joy of Reading: Ten Days

First, a confession.   I have known Gillian Slovo for many years through our involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.   So you may wish to discount what I am saying.   You should not do that.   I do not post reviews of fiction on this blog if I do not like the book concerned.   The title should give that away.

And I did enjoy this book.   In many ways it is a return to her early books, although it is a deeply political thriller.   The scenario is one of riot, in which a number of interlocking stories unfold.   And those stories very much mirror our current political circumstances.    This is an indication of how prescient Gillian Slovo is as an author.   The book was published earlier this year, and so it was written well before the referendum debacle began to unfold.   What she has done is bring together a number of scandals, and fuse them into a credible story.   This is a state of the nation story, and the UK is the crucible in which the story is told.

The starting point is the death of a mentally disturbed man while being arrested by the police in a condemned estate in one of the more deprived areas of London.    Slovo uses the names Lovelace Estate and Rockham, but it is not difficult to work out the areas of London that she could be talking about.   This leads to rioting of the kind that happened in Brixton and Broadwater Farm.   And there have been plenty of examples of the last few years where communities have been galvanised by someone dying in the circumstances outlined in this book.   If it had been written a little later, I am sure that the words Black Lives Matter would appear.

We meet some of the people who live on the Lovelace – Cathy, her daughter Lyndall, Pius, Banji, Jaydon and Mr Hashi and his mother – all of whom get caught up in one way or another in the chaos that descends on Rockham.   We also meet a weak Prime Minister, who is struggling to see off a challenge to his leadership from a philandering Home Secretary, and a newly appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who has to watch his back because of an angry, vengeful rival.   There is a scene reminiscent of Jack Straw handing his son over to the police for a misdemeanor.

But the biggest scandal is that of undercover police work, and how that corrodes the integrity, and affects the lives of others caught up in such deceit.

All of this is covered in the story, and none of the characters emerge unscathed   In many ways, this is a story about the corrosive effect of corruption and how people, who are not corrupt, are affected in ways that they neither know about nor understand.

It is a book that should give you pause for thought.   It may make you ashamed of the country that you live in.   And that is to the good, if you decide to do something to change it.

For the Joy of Reading: A Dying Breed

I am always wary of reviewing books by people I know, because of the difficulty of maintaining objectivity.   But this book is special.   When a book has recommendations on its blurb from John Humphreys, Melvyn Bragg, William Boyd and AL Kennedy, you know that you have something unusual in your hands.   And this is a first novel that simply will not disappoint.

The Peter Hanington that I came to know was a young anti-apartheid activist of huge commitment, making his considerable skills available to benefit the cause of freedom in South Africa.   From there, he went to work for BBC Radio eventually becoming a producer on the Today Programme.   And he uses that knowledge as the basis for a thriller about two Today Programme journalists, William Carver and Patrick Reid, working to uncover why an Afghan politician, Fazil Jabar, was murdered in a bomb explosion.

It is a carefully constructed story, leading the reader through the murky depths of international involvement in Afghanistan, the horrors of the war in that country, and the sheer unprincipled cynicism of the promotion of UK PLC    I do not think that there are any heroes in this story, certainly not of the Jack Reacher kind.   But there are undoubtedly people that you can sympathise with, and care about.   There is William Carver, a veteran journalist, whose reputation has been besmirched by letting himself be conned over the invasion of Iraq, and who has become a hard-drinking curmudgeon, difficult to work with. There is Patrick Reid, a young journalist determined to prove himself in his first overseas assignment.   There is Karim Mumtaz, an Afghan translator who aspires to a career in journalism.   There is Noor, who wishes to go to Harvard, and Lucia Mariscal, trapped in a failing marriage to Rob, a BBC editor.   And there is Baba who runs a wedding business in Kabul, which is where the story starts, when a bomb goes off in a tailor’s shop across the road.

These are all people that the reader can understand.   They have ordinary aspirations.   They want to do well at their job, to improve their lives or even to do something quite noble – to tell the world the truth, and to help make a difference.   The Jack Reacher characters on the other hand are actually very unpleasant – amoral and murderous and, in one case, over-confident and not very efficient.   This is also a fundamental part of the story.   It gives nothing away to say that, if Richard Roydon reads at all, which is unlikely, he sees himself as a James Bond figure, not a George Smiley, and he does not have the talent for either role.   Roydon is the kind of man that Craig Williamson, the apartheid spy chief, would have recruited.   He is the kind of man who would have had no difficulty in the company of Eugene de Kock, the apartheid mass killer.  To call him unpleasant is like saying Genghis Khan was warlike.

One of the underlying themes of the book is the sheer resilience and courage of people trying to live ordinary lives in the disaster that has been Afghanistan since the Russian invasion of 1979.   And when I say disaster, I do not mean that its previous history was actually quiet and peaceful.   One of the points that General Doushki, the story’s Afghan Warlord, makes is that Afghanistan has been invaded throughout its history – “Alexander the Great, the Byzantines, Mongol Khans, Queen Victoria’s brave,stupid soldiers.   All of them were here…”   [NB   I think he means the Macedonians, not the Byzantines, but the point is generally right.]   And as Doushki adds, there is more killing to come.   And it in these circumstances that Noor, Mrs Ansari, Baba, Karim and Mr. Savi, the tailor, are trying to live ordinary lives.   I, because I know him, am not in the least surprised that Peter Hanington should recognise one of the great problems of history – that people have to live through it, which is why it is best not to live in interesting times.   There are many historians who fail to recognise this simple truth.

Hanington is an author who has compassion, sensitivity and humanity.   Those qualities shine through this book.   These are the qualities that make you want to find out what happens next.   These are the qualities which will touch you to the core of your being.

You really will not want to put this book down.

Letter from Hobeni, 23rd October 2014

Xhosa men's danceXhosa women dancing

I have just had a very pleasant surprise.   I was sitting in the library with the doors open, forging through a pile of papers, when I heard a familiar voice saying “David?   David from London?    David from the Anti-Apartheid Movement?   What are you doing here?   Do you remember me?   I am Skin”.

The last time I saw Skin Sipoko was in Edinburgh in 2004 at the “10th anniversary of Freedom” festival.   And before that it was in a coach of ANC volunteers being taken to Wembley for the 1990 Mandela Concert.   Skin was at that time working with Dali Tambo in Arekopaneng, the ANC cultural unit.   He is now one of the drama tutors here at the Donald Woods Foundation in Hobeni.

He told me that he wanted his class to see “Cry Freedom” because it was important for them to understand who Donald Woods was and what he did in the struggle against apartheid.   But, Skin said, he did not know where he could get a DVD of the film.   I replied “We have three copies here, and we have a TV in the library”.

So we arranged for his class to come and see the film, and we gave an impromptu talk about the role of solidarity in the liberation struggle.   The film was longer than I remembered, which is odd because I watched it on the plane journey from Amsterdam to Nairobi on my way to South Africa, and that was only at the end of July.

But what is more important is that there is a group of young people who now know why Donald Woods is important, and they now know that he came from this village in the Transkei, that he was born in the house at the centre of the Donald Woods Foundation, and that he grew up speaking Xhosa and English.   And they know about his friendship with Steve Biko, and that when Biko was murdered it was Donald Woods who campaigned to expose what had happened.   And that he was banned, his family was attacked and that they were forced to flee the country to exile in London.

And now they will be able to tell their friends the story.   And young people here in Hobeni, in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape will come to understand why the Donald Woods Foundation is here, and why it is working in this area.   And so the ripples of solidarity will spread as we stand side by side throughout our lives.

And all because I met an old comrade from Arekopaneng