Tag Archives: Democracy

Steve Biko: In Memoriam

Steve Biko was brutally murdered by the apartheid security police forty years ago today.   I would like to consider the kind of legacy that he has left us.   I am starting this from an unusual perspective.   I am a white, male, non-South African anti-apartheid campaigner.   As I said, an unusual perspective and I will undoubtedly get some things wrong.   Steve Biko would be 70 years old, if he was still alive.   But he is not, and we cannot be sure how he would think about things at such an age.

Biko taught us one thing: that everyone is entitled to both dignity and respect.   It does not matter what is the colour of our skin, our gender, our language, our sexuality.   These are things over which we have no control.   These are the very things that define us, and make us who we are, but they do not make us better than anyone else.   I, of course, can say such things because I have the privilege of being an English-speaking white male, and I have not suffered the kind of discrimination that was inflicted on black people in apartheid South Africa.

The point about apartheid was that it discriminated against people because of the colour of their skin, because of their ethnicity.   It deliberately denigrated and degraded them.   It set out to make then “hewers of wood and drawers of water” in their own country.   It saw no value in them because they were black.   It kept them in poverty.

That is where I think Steve Biko would take issue with the state of the world.   There are far too many people living in deep poverty, and it is unnecessary.   We have the resources in this world to make sure that people do not have to be malnourished, they do not have to be homeless, they do not have to be inadequately clothed, they do not have to be deprived of education, and they do not have to put up with a lack of health care.   We live in a world where we have the resources to ensure that people do not have to suffer from any of these things.

In Biko’s South Africa, there is still poverty.   I write as someone who lived in the Eastern Cape for five months in 2014.   Great strides have been made but there is still so much more work that needs to be done.    There is now a vaccination programme to deal with preventable diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis and polio which is being rolled out even in the poorest of the rural areas.      There is schooling even though some of the schools lack the basic resources that we would expect, such as books and proper toilets.   There is still so much to be done.

It is not for me to comment on the politics of South Africa.   That is for the people of the country to do themselves.   That was the point of campaigning against apartheid.   It was to secure democracy in the country which means that the South African people are entitled to make their own mistakes.   One thing that can be said about South Africa over the last few months and years is that political discussion is vibrant, and that people do not hold back in expressing their views.

What is unacceptable is for Bell Pottinger, a British PR company, to take millions of rand and to run a campaign that quite deliberately stirred up racial hatred in the company, in order to protect the wealth of their clients.   Bell Pottinger’s reputation and profitability have been damaged by this scandalous episode, hopefully beyond recovery.

Steve Biko, I think, would be pointing out that this is a matter of respect.   People deserve to have the kinds of facilities that we in the UK take for granted.   They deserve to be listened to.   They deserve to have food on their tables, clothes on their backs, hot and cold running water, electricity, properly resourced schools for their children, libraries, drains and sewers, jobs, street lights,

Advertisements

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

Day 1: Friday 19th February.   

Chair: Thabo Mbeki

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

Address by Oliver Tambo

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

Address by Kenneth Kaunda

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

Messages of support to the Conference

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

Address by Jacob Zuma

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

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

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

Address by Terror Lekota

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

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

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

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

Address by Popo Molefe

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

Role of International Monitors                   C1                           Led by Aziz Pahad

Electoral Law                                                   C2                           Led by Kader Asmal

Elections and Media                                       C3                           Led by Gill Marcus

Voter Education etc.                                       C4                           Led by Phoebe Potrite

Elections and Fundraising                             C5                           Led by Shaheed Raji

Financial and Material Support                   C6                           Led by Popo Molefe

Day 2 Saturday 20th February.

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

Address by Nelson Mandela

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

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

Address by Rev. Allan Boesak

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

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

Address by Sydney Mufamadi

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

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

He said that the following things were needed:-

Initiate and intensify media campaign on the nature of violence.

Expose parties derailing transition.

Make resources available to the Goldstone Commission.

Pressurise parties to co-operate with the Goldstone Commission.

Assist reconstruction.

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

Support the ANC.

Strengthen international observers.

Pressurise Bantustans

Maintain the arms embargo.

Address by Cheryl Carolus

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

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

Address by Mongane Serote

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

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

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

Day 3.   Sunday 21st February.

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

Address by Aziz Pahad

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

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

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

Ensuring that the election is won.

Developing social and economic policy.

Eliminating economic imbalance.

Promoting public awareness about the campaign on violence.

Material aid to deal with the consequences of the violence.

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

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

Conference Declaration and other business

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

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

Meeting with the PWV Region of the ANC

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Rand          9 branches.

East Rand            14 branches but with problems on the farms.

Soweto                35 branches

Vaal                       7 branches

Johannesburg   16 branches, but with difficulties in Bophuthatswana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

For the Joy of Reading: Inside Apartheid’s Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the Joy of Reading: Thomas Muir of Huntershill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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