The Final Prize by Norman Levy book review by Chris Saunders, 1 June 2014

Among the many personal accounts now published by those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, Norman Levy’s substantial memoir stands out, because it is so well-written and because he brings to it the insights of a historian and social scientist. Author of major book on the foundation of South Africa’s cheap labour system, published in 1982, levy here tells how he became active at an early age in Johannesburg in the Communist Party before it was dissolved, then participated in numerous ANC campaigns and helped found the Congress of Democrats. He provides a detailed account of his role in the Congress of the People in 1955, his arrest and involvement in the notorious Treason Trial, and his continuing work for the South African Communist Party (SACP). Detained without trial in 1960, he was arrested again in July 1964, and suffered solitary confinement at Pretoria Local Prison, before being put on trial, with Bram Fischer and others. He writes at length about his three years imprisonment, and why, being banned on his release, he left for England, where he became a lecturer but remained active in anti-apartheid work, attending the SACP congress in Cuba in 1989 before returning to South Africa in 1991.

‘The last lap’, he writes, ‘was the most difficult’ (423). Regrettably, he devotes less than a page to his work after his return to South Africa, a topic it is to be hoped he will explore in another memoir.

In this revised edition of his book he includes an important few pages on Nelson Mandela’s relations with the SACP (268ff). What he does not really make clear is the extent to which, in his view, the ‘final prize’ of the title (taken from a poem by Denis Brutus) was achieved in 1994, for he merely ends his book by remarking that ‘there is still much work to be done’ and that there is ‘no earthly paradise’ (427), which perhaps suggests he no longer believes in the communist goal for which he worked for so long. While some readers may think his acknowledgment of his naivete about the Soviet Union does not go far enough, few will fail to admire his activism, the sacrifices he made for a better South Africa,  and the skill with which he has put together his memoir.