Tag Archives: South Africa

For the Joy of Reading: Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains

Oliver Tambo is deserving of a biography. He is the man who held the African National Congress (ANC) together throughout all the years of exile, when Nelson Mandela was in prison. He is the man who ensured that there was an organisation in place for Nelson Mandela to lead when he was released from prison. He is the man who nurtured and encouraged the resistance to apartheid both in South Africa and throughout the world from 1962 to 1990. He is the man who encouraged generation upon generation to believe that we could win, when the world told us we were wasting our time.

He is certainly deserving of a biography. This one is not new. It was first published in 2004, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of freedom in South Africa. One of the questions that I have to ask myself therefore is this: Why has it taken me so long to read this book? Part of the reason is that the book was quite difficult to get hold of in this country. But that is an excuse. I worried that I had been too close to the events, and I had only really been on the periphery, and that it would be difficult to make an objective judgement. It is now 25 years since Oliver Tambo died, and I think that I am in a position to make that judgement.

I should explain. I was chair of the London Anti-Apartheid Committee in the 1980s. I met Oliver Tambo on a few occasions. It would be untrue to say that I was acquainted with him, although I spoke to him directly on occasion and I think that he was aware of who I was. I was certainly known to his wife, Adelaide, and to his children, Thembi, Dali and Tselane. I played with his grandchildren, Thembi’s boys, Sasha and Oliver on occasion. I was a volunteer at the ANC Office in 28 Penton Street and at the Department of Information and Publicity Office in Mackenzie Road. This latter was a secret office, and you really had to be trusted to be allowed to work there. I attended the ANC International Solidarity Conferences at Arusha in Tanzania in 1987, and in Johannesburg in 1993. I worked as a volunteer in the ANC Office in Jeppe Street, Johannesburg, during the 1994 election. I cannot claim that I was neutral, and this is why I was worried about reading this book.

Of course, I did not need to worry. Oliver Tambo may have been a self-effacing man and certainly not self-promoting, but he had an acuity of mind that made his judgement good. If Oliver Tambo thought that Luli Callinicos was a suitable person to write his biography that is simply because she was. It is a task that she takes on with sensitivity and understanding, recognising his merits and dealing with the difficulties that arose, of which there were many.

Callinicos begins with his upbringing in the village of Kantolo, district of Bizana, in Pondoland on the far east of the then Cape Province (now the Eastern Cape). Tambo was born into a traditional Mpondo family. His father had a number of wives, and children by all of them. Oliver had his mother and his “other mothers”. The community lived by farming, until the introduction of the Poll Tax which necessitated the men to go away to earn money in order to pay the tax. This was disruptive and some of the men were injured or, in the case of one of Oliver’s uncles, killed because of the unsafe conditions in the mines. Oliver’s father was determined that his son would be educated so that this would not happen to him, and so his son was sent away to missionary schools. By then, he had already learned the tradition of African leadership, of listening to a discussion, of summarising it at the end and of leading people to a decision. This tradition of ubuntu after an indaba was something that he was to practice throughout the whole of his political career.

The other major factor about Tambo’s character was his deep commitment to Christianity and specifically to the Anglican Church. This partly came about through the education that he received at St. Peter’s school, a Community of the Resurrection school, in Johannesburg. It is also partly because of his enduring friendship with Trevor Huddleston, a member of the Community, and a deeply passionate campaigner against apartheid. It was mainly, however, because of his deep spirituality and the strength that he gained from this belief, which helped him to lead the ANC through all the difficult years of exile.

I can only really comment on the accuracy of the description of events that happened in London in the late 1980s when I was a volunteer in the ANC Offices. They do seem accurate to me. I was aware of events simply because I was in the ANC office when things happened. If you see Thabo Mbeki on the stairs, then you know he is in London. If you are asked to make a cup of tea and take it in to Dirk Coetzee, you know he is in the ANC Offices talking to someone. I knew things that I probably should not have known, and I can say that the description of those events is accurate. I therefore assume that the description of events in Africa and elsewhere are also accurate. They are certainly detailed. Undoubtedly, there will be some people who do not agree with the interpretation, or who may have nuances that they want considered.

It is interesting that when Tambo faced difficulties, he did not try to impose his will. He required that ANC to take a decision as an organisation. That is what led to the calling of the Morogoro and Kabwe conferences, and for the extended consultations with the NEC and other relevant bodies. It was his style of leadership. It was not that he did not lead. He involved everyone in the decision-making process. He listened and then advised on what was to be done. Almost inevitably, this meant that the decision went his way. And there were difficulties. Those who wanted to keep other races out of the ANC were faced down at Morogoro, and those who wanted to keep other races off the National Executive Committee were dealt with at Kabwe. The excesses of the ANC security at Quattro in Angola were brought under control. The need to prepare for the future was dealt with by decisions like the appointment of a group to work on a constitution for the new South Africa. And there were the daily difficulties of running the organisation, making diplomatic representations, feeding and clothing people, weeding out infiltrators, training and equipping an army, campaigning for the release of political prisoners, maintaining underground links to the organisation in South Africa, and everything else that was needed.

For this, Tambo sacrificed both his family and his health. His wife, Adelaide, set up home in London with the three children and, although he visited, his schedule simply did not allow him to live there. His base was first Dar-es-Salaam and then Lusaka. Adelaide was the subject of spiteful remarks. It was said that she lived in a big house in Muswell Hill, in north London. This was a matter of perspective. If, like me, you were brought up in north-east London, it was not a big house. If you were brought up in a township or rural area of South Africa, it was enormous. It had one large reception room which was used to host diplomatic events for the ANC, especially when Tambo was in London. It was said that Adelaide sent her children to boarding schools. She did. This was after a man was found in the garden looking up at the room of a 12-year-old Thembi. It was said that he was a “Peeping Tom” but he could have been an apartheid agent. People forgot that the Tambo children were under daily threat of kidnap. I know that these things were said, because they were said to me and got very short shrift. So, with the whole range of issues pressing upon him, Tambo had to deal with difficulties like this as well.

What we have is a remarkable story about a remarkable man. He was patient and kind. He was not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. He never insisted on his own way. He was not irritable or resentful. He did not rejoice in wrongdoing, but in the truth. He bore all things, he hoped for all things, he endured all things. Oliver Tambo made a significant and indelible contribution to the liberation of his country. He was one of the great leaders of the twentieth century.

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For the Joy of Reading: Going to the Mountain

This book is a unique view of Nelson Mandela. It is written by his grandson, Ndaba, and it tells the story of being brought up by Mandela, and what it meant to have him as an example, a mentor and the patriarch of the family. Of course, he was not the usual patriarchal figure because for 27 years he was not there. He was in prison. Ndaba Mandela did not meet his grandfather until he was seven years old, and the meeting took place in Victor Verster prison, a few months before his release. In those years between Ndaba’s birth and the release of his grandfather, the Mandela family endured the constant harassment of the apartheid security police. Winnie Mandela was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, banned and sent into internal exile. Her daughters, Zenani and Zindzi Mandela, had to be sent to school in Swaziland to escape the constant harassment that was inflicted on them. Mandela’s eldest son, Thembi, was killed in a car accident, and Mandela was not allowed to attend his funeral. Ndaba escaped from this by going to live with his grandmother, Evelyn, Mandela’s first wife, who had left him when she joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ndaba lived with her in Cofimvaba, a small town in the Eastern Cape, until his parents decided that he should come to live with them in Soweto. It was not an easy childhood by any means.
But his family took a life-changing decision for Ndaba when he was eleven years old. It was decided that he would go and live with his grandfather. By now, the date for the election had been set and Mandela was campaigning for the Presidency, to which he was inaugurated on 10th May 1994. So Ndaba was living there with an icon of the struggle, just at the point of transformation. What we have is an insider’s view of what was happening remembered from the point of view of a child.
It is a remarkable tale. We see how the two began to grow together, learning to live with each, to respect each other and through the process of getting to know each other becoming friends.
The phrase “going to the mountain” is used for the initiation ceremony of Xhosa boys into manhood. It is a period when the initiates are kept away from their families and begin to learn about the history and rituals of their people, and the duties of a man. It ends with circumcision and recovery from that rite. It is an indication of Mandela’s view of the world that he had no doubt that this ceremony was important and that he had a role to play in preparing his grandson for it.
This book gives a view of Nelson Mandela that only his sons (now both dead) and his grandsons, such as Ndaba, were familiar with. His sons, of course, did not really get to know him like this because he was in prison when their initiations took place. Nor is it something that Mandela talked about in his autobiography. But this respect for tradition is probably essential towards an understanding of the man.
This is a short book. It is easy to read. It gives a view of Mandela that you will not otherwise have. It is, for that reason, an important book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Nelson Mandela Freedom March, 1988

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

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

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

Forward we will march to the People’s Government

This is the message of the Freedom Charter

Forward we will march to the People’s government.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

 

For the Joy of Reading: Dare Not Linger

This is the long-awaited second volume of the autobiography of Nelson Mandela.   It has been put together from what he had written before his death, and from his notes.   It has been edited with great skill, devotion and commitment by Mandla Langa, the author of “Lost Colours of the Chameleon” and a number of other books.   Here, I have to confess that Mandla Langa has been my friend for more than thirty years, since he came into exile in the UK following the Soweto Uprising of 1976.   During that time, Mandla took a leading role in the cultural activities of the ANC, and I was one of the chair-people of the London Committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.   The first time that I met Nelson Mandela was, with Mandla and others, at Madame Toussaud’s in London when his waxwork was being unveiled.   So that is my colours nailed to the mast.   As someone who was closely involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and in some of the events described in the book, I cannot be described as a neutral observer.

This book approaches those events of the 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa and the first few years of the transition process from the perspective of Nelson Mandela.   That is what makes the book fascinating.   Nowadays, people regard it as some kind of miracle that Mandela was able, during his Presidency, to end the years of conflict in South Africa.   It was not.   It was the result of very hard work and of a deep political understanding of what needed to be done.   It was Nelson Mandela who did that.    This book is an analysis of that process, of the threats, the dangers, the angers and resentments that had to be negotiated so that South Africa did not descend into civil war.   It describes, from the inside, what was a remarkable achievement.   But it was not a miracle.   It did not come out of the blue.   It came about because Nelson Mandela understood what had to be done, and then found ways of achieving it.

The first threat came from those who did not want to participate in the election or who were pretending that they did not wish to participate in order to gain an electoral advantage.   The threats came from the extreme white right wing and from Chief Mangosuthu (known as Gatsha) Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party.   Neither threat was negligible – they could have led to civil war.   It needed Nelson Mandela to exercise a great deal of skill and patience to neutralise them.

It was Mandela who steered South Africa through the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (AWB) attack on the negotiators at the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), the massacres at Bisho and Boipatong, the assassination of Chris Hani, the AWB attack on Bophuthatswana and a host of other events.   It was Mandela who persuaded General Constand Viljoen of the Freedom Front that his organisation should register to take part in the election.   It was Mandela who contacted Buthelezi and, despite opposition from recalcitrant in the ANC, such as Harry Gwala, set about asking the Inkatha Freedom Party to join the elections.   At many times, and especially following the murder of Chris Hani, South Africa was on the brink of a civil war.   It was Mandela who avoided all these disasters.   It was his leadership that made the difference.   To find out how, you must read the book.

Of course, Mandela did not achieve any of this on his own.   There were many people who assisted him.   There were many more who were persuaded by him.   There were some, like Robert Van Tonder and Boere Weerstand Beweging, who refused to be persuaded but they were few and far between.   Fortunately, Mandela was able to neutralise them, but not enough to prevent them killing people with the bombs that they exploded during the election campaigning and on the election days themselves.   Of course, it was a collective effort but it was Mandela who provided the leadership.    That is now generally acknowledged.   That is part of the story of this book.

Nor did the danger pass with the election.    I distinctly remember standing there in South Africa House in London on 10th May 1994, wondering whether the South African Air Force would strafe the guests at the Presidential inauguration.   That this did not happen was partly because my imagination was over-active but also partly because Mandela had convinced the generals to give the new South Africa a chance to survive.    There was a huge effort that had to be put into nation-building, and this is what Mandela made the theme of his Presidency.   He made huge efforts at nation-building, in creating a constitution, in establishing the role of Parliament, in establishing the role of the traditional leaders in a democracy, and in transforming the state.

These are the themes of the chapters that take up the tale following Mandela’s swearing-in as President.   Most important, however, was the theme of reconciliation.   Mandela however was careful not to let people off the hook.   He was the driving force behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.   He made it necessary for apartheid officials to state clearly what they had done before they could be granted amnesty.   It was difficult.   There were people who refused to apply to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because they knew that any evidence against them had been destroyed.    There were people who did not believe in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because they wanted the perpetrators to be prosecuted and go to prison.   Mandela recognised that this was not going to happen because the burden of proof was on the prosecution.   He sought a way in which the relatives of victims could find out what happened to their loved ones.   It proved to be cathartic.   There were some, like Craig Williamson, who were not penitent, but the recognition of the grief of so many did help the healing process, or, at least, that is the argument that Mandela would have put forward.

The last chapter is about Mandela on the African and the World Stage.   Mandela served as an honest broker for his continent.   He was able to help resolve the difficulties in countries such as Rwanda and Zaire.   He was able to resolve issues like the prosecution in relation to the Lockerbie bombing.   He was feted throughout the world.   My particular memory was of Mandela’s State Visit to London in 1996, where he not only spoke to both Houses of Parliament but visited the black community in Brixton.

This book is about the contribution that Mandela made during his Presidency to the healing of the wounds caused by apartheid.   It is a book about the contribution of one man.   He was not a saint.   He made mistakes, which are discussed in this book and which he himself recognised.   It is an important book because it discusses how an icon dealt with the issues in front of him.   It discusses how he became an icon.   It is a clear assessment, based on the writings of the man himself, about the contribution that he made.

For that reason it is astonishing, and that is why you should read it.