Some Personal Recollections of the Free Nelson Mandela Campaign by Mike Terry

I would have been fourteen years old when Nelson Mandela was first arrested for leaving South Africa ‘illegally`. Although a regular reader of the Manchester Guardian and the New Statesman at the time, I have no recollection of either his arrest nor indeed of the Rivonia Trial and I certainly had no idea at all of the extent to which his imprisonment would come to influence my life.

I am even unclear as to precisely when I became aware of the existence of Nelson Mandela. I imagine it was when I was in Zimbabwe. In 1966, in the wake of UDI, I spent two terms teaching as a volunteer at an African Secondary School run by the London Missionary Society called Dombodema before starting a Physics course at Birmingham University. The school was on a mission settlement some twenty miles from Plumtree and close to the border of what was then British Bechuanaland Protectorate. The area was a ZAPU stronghold and Joshua Nkomo, then detained by the Smith regime, had taught at a local school. I arrived as a very naïve English schoolboy but over the months that I was in Zimbabwe I began to understand and sympathise with the cause of African nationalism.

It was only after I graduated - four years later- that I really became involved in anti-apartheid campaigning. I was President of the Guild of Undergraduates at Birmingham University during 1969-70 and I found myself thrust into a whole range of anti-apartheid and anti-racist campaigning. Racism in the west Midlands was on the offensive having been clothed in apparent respectability by Enoch Powell`s ‘rivers of blood` speech. But it was also the height of the student militancy of the 60s. On the very first day of the new academic year I was arrested for leading a protest against Enoch Powell who had been invited to talk at the Grammar School next to the university campus. The mood for the year had been set in an eloquent speech by Stuart Hall, then at the University`s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, to new students at the beginning of the term when he challenged them to take a stand against racism and apartheid.

So when the opportunity arose, students at Birmingham responded in their hundreds, especially by joining the demonstrations against the Springboks rugby team at nearby fixtures and in a campaign against the university`s investments in companies linked to South Africa. There were also major protests throughout the year over the Birmingham University`s role in awarding medical degrees at the University of Rhodesia at Salisbury, as Harare was then called. As President of the Guild of Undergraduates I inevitably played a key role in many of these campaigns.

Towards the end of my term as President, in April 1970, I was elected to the Executive Committee of the NUS1 and by a twist of fate became responsible for the NUS`s work on Southern Africa over the following three years. Southern African campaigning was the responsibility of one of the members of an International Policy Group (IPG) - a sort of sub-committee of the Executive Committee but with considerable powers to decide on international matters. Amongst the newly elected EC members it was expected that Dave Wynn, who had proved to be a charismatic and popular President of Manchester University Students` Union would be the obvious choice. However Dave was in the CPGB,2 and Jack Straw, then NUS President, did not want any CP members on the IPG. Although I was perceived by many in those days as being some what to the left of the CP, Jack insisted I should be on the IPG instead of Dave. And because of my involvement with Southern Africa I was given responsibility for the new policy mandate which included, for the first time, NUS support for the ANC and other Southern African liberation movements.

I am proud of what we were able to achieve during this period. A new relationship was established between the NUS and the AAM3 as well as with the ANC and other Southern African liberation movements. A network of student activists was created across the country and the basis was laid for ongoing NUS campaigning which was to last through to the 1990s and involved many NUS leaders who are now prominent in Government and the media. A whole series of new campaigns were launched during this period mainly at the suggestion of the AAM or ANC, not least the student boycott of Barclays.

Ironically, however, my first serious discussions about a campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela was with neither the AAM nor the ANC but with two NUSAS4 leaders, Neville Curtis and Paul Pretorius in the autumn of 1971. By this time I had been elected as National Secretary of the NUS with overall responsibility for the NUS`s international campaigning. I cannot now recall all the details, but if my memory is right, Curtis and Pretorius were working on a plan for NUSAS to initiate a campaign in 1972 to mark the 10th anniversary of Mandela`s arrrest. They were looking for support from the NUS and other national unions of students. They were in London on a short visit and we discussed their plans over a very pleasant meal in a little Greek restaurant in Bayham Street in Camden Town. Incidentally, Mendi Msimang and I were to have some very enjoyable meals in the very same restaurant in the late 1980s and 1990s when Mendi was the ANC Chief Representative and later as High Commissioner.

NUS`s relations with NUSAS were a little complex. In the past NUSAS had allowed itself to be presented by some cold war elements within the international student movement as an alternative to the ANC. And within South Africa, Black students frustrated by what they perceived as being NUSAS`s ‘white liberalism` had broken away to form SASO5. The NUS wanted to maintain a relationship with NUSAS but not at the expense of its links with the ANC and the mushrooming Black student movement within South Africa.

A NUSAS campaign, however, in support of Nelson Mandela was obviously worthy of support. Quite what happened to the campaign I do not know, as there was a massive crackdown on both NUSAS and SASO soon after their visit.

Indeed I might have forgotten all about our discussions with NUSAS, except that our meeting is recorded for posterity in the Schlebusch Commission Report into NUSAS. Paul Pretorius had brought with him a notebook in which he was recording a summary of his various meetings as he toured around Europe. At some stage - most likely in the Netherlands - he mislaid it. He was unaware that it had, in fact, been stolen by South African intelligence agents. Subsequently its contents were used in interrogation sessions which were set out verbatim in the Schlebusch Commission Report. They were repeatedly questioned about a mysterious NM campaign which we had discussed over this meal. They wanted to know what the initials stood for. Again, if my memory is correct, both Pretorius and Curtis claimed they could not remember, and their interrogators apparently had no knowledge of the initials of the person who was to become South Africa`s first democratically elected President - which testifies either to their ignorance or their stupidity or both.

Around this time I also became involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement at a national level. I had moved to London when elected NUS National Secretary and I was sharing a flat with Roger Trask the AAM`s student organiser. Inevitably he drew me more actively into the AAM`s campaigning work. I had already been involved with the local AA group whilst at Birmingham.

It was primarily through the AAM that in future I would participate in the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela. My first involvement was in December 1973 when I played a small role in a major new initiative by the AAM together with IDAF and a number of other organisations. Ethel de Keyser who was then Executive Secretary of the AAM together with Hugh Lewin then at IDAF had the imagination to convene a major conference at University College, London on the theme Southern Africa: The Imprisoned Society. And it was the SATIS Committee, which was set up as result of the Conference, that became the framework through which most of the campaigning against political repression in Southern Africa was to be organised in Britain.

The conference and the subsequent SATIS campaign helped put the struggle of South Africa`s political prisoners firmly back on the campaigning agenda. The AAM Annual Report for 1973-4 comments that prior to the SATIS initiative ‘for those serving their sentences - and many such as Nelson Mandela, have now been in prison for more than ten years - there has been little sustained campaigning`. In many respects this comment does not do justice to the work of the AAM during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Despite the lack of international focus on South Africa, reading through the AAM Annual Reports for this period it is evident that a tremendous amount of work was done to ensure that the world did not forget about South Africa`s political prisoners.

The Conference had a big impact on me personally. Although, by this stage, I had been active in campaigning for several years, it was the first occasion for me to listen to the testimonies of former political prisoners such as Ruth First and John Gaetsewe and it was the first occasion when I heard Trevor Huddleston speak. I found the whole experience very moving. One of the keynote speakers was Albert Dlomo, recently released from Robben Island. Subsequently I got to know Albert and his family well as they lived close to me in north London and I learnt even more about the reality of life on Robben Island and the struggles of the political prisoners.

By December 1973 I had already left NUS and was working at the Research Department of IDAF as Deputy to Alan Brooks. I was involved in another small way in following up the SATIS Conference by assisting in the publication of ‘The Sun Will Rise`, edited by Mary Benson and consisting of a series of biographies of South African political prisoners.

The SATIS initiative certainly succeeded in putting the cause of South Africa`s political prisoners back on the map. Vigils were held at St Martin`s in the Fields and a petition campaign attracted some 30,000 signatures by South Africa Freedom Day June 1974. In December 1974, SATIS filled Friends Meeting House to overflowing for a rally addressed by Angela Davis. National and local initiatives flourished.

My involvement in these initial initiatives was limited. I was working at IDAF6 and on the AAM EC and did all that I could. But in October 1975 I was appointed AAM Executive Secretary and from that day onwards this involvement was transformed.

However, it was to be several years before campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela became a central issue for the AAM. Although I was committed to the objective of highlighting the cause of the long-term political prisoners, by early 1976 we found the focus of AAM and SATIS work being shifted to the immediacy of the repression within South Africa.

Although we had no way of predicting the Soweto uprising of June 16th 1976, we were aware of the escalation of police brutality and torture, as popular resistance to apartheid began to mount within South Africa. An Emergency Campaign to end police brutality, torture and murder was launched in March 1976 in response to the death in detention of Joseph Mduli - and as the deaths under torture escalated, so the campaign had to be intensified. In May it was decided to organise daily pickets of South Africa for a six week period and these were reaching their peak by mid-June. From June 16th, both the AAM and SATIS found themselves struggling to keep abreast with the rapid developments within South Africa. Campaigns had to be organised to protest against detentions without trial, banning orders and a whole series of political trials.

Inevitably, under the pressure of events within South Africa, there was a risk that the plight of the long term prisoners would be lost sight of. However, the renewed focus on South Africa did mean that there was greater public concern. The post-Soweto period brought the ANC and its leadership back onto the political stage. Free Mandela! Free Sisulu! slogans were daubed on walls in the townships and the ANC was able to reactivate armed resistance which had almost been crushed following Rivonia.

One important catalyst to the renewal of the Mandela Campaign was the release of `Mac` Maharaj from Robben Island in December 1976 and he subsequently slipped out of South Africa. He had been involved with the AAM at its foundation and appreciated the power of international solidarity. He visited Britain in 1977 and addressed press conferences and fringe meetings at party conferences. We were also able to arrange for him to meet Denis Healy then a Labour Cabinet Minister. Healy had visited Robben Island when in opposition in the early 1970s and `Mac` brought a message for him from Nelson Mandela. `Mac` also brought a personal dimension to the campaign. He had been with the ANC leadership on Robben Island and he seemed determined to ensure that the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and his co-prisoners was intensified. Although I did not realise it at the time, it was `Mac` who was primarily responsible for the initiative which was to transform the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela. This was the idea of marking Mandela`s 60th Birthday.

I received a note from Enugu Reddy, the UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the UN Centre against Apartheid, early in 1978 suggesting the idea. It seems that `Mac` had suggested it to Reddy the previous year. They were both in Accra on a UN Special Committee mission and were sharing a room. Talking late at night `Mac`, Reddy recalls, said: ‘E.S. we must promote the observance of the 60th birthday of Nelson next year`. Reddy says he was too sleepy and did not pay much attention to his suggestion until his return to New York. He had then spent several months trying to establish the precise date. Eventually, if my recollections are correct, Reddy heard from Albertina Sisulu that Mandela was born on 18th July 1918. It was fascinating to read in Nelson Mandela`s autobiography at about this time that Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada were suggesting to Mandela on Robben Island that they should find some way of commemorating his 60th birthday.

When we received Reddy`s note suggesting the idea of marking Mandela`s 60th Birthday in Britain and internationally, we seized on the idea immediately. It appeared to provide an excellent opportunity to focus attention in Britain and across the world on Nelson Mandela and the cause of all South Africa`s political prisoners.

A few months earlier, on 21st March, had seen the beginning of a UN-designated International Anti-Apartheid Year - a UN anti-apartheid initiative which the British government for once had supported. The previous November, the UN Security Council had unanimously imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa.

To promote the UN-designated Year, a Co-ordinating Committee had been set up in Britain. Although based at the AAM offices in Charlotte Street, it involved a much wider range of organisations than were normally associated with the AAM and was funded by a small grant from the FCO.7 The climate was, therefore, much more receptive for an initiative on Mandela than it had been at any time since I had been involved with AAM

We wanted a focus for the campaign which would reach out to the widest constituency. Mary Benson had taken a photograph of Nelson Mandela outside Westminster Abbey during his visit to London in 1962. If we could use this as an image for our campaign, we felt it would help get our message across to this constituency. Mary readily agreed to us using this photo and so we had large number of blown-up birthdays cards, smaller postcards and thousands of leaflets - all featuring Nelson Mandela and Westminster Abbey. The idea was to get as many of these cards sent to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island with birthday greetings.

We were obviously after prominent signatories in the hope that this could attract publicity for the campaign and for Nelson Mandela. Joan Lestor, one of the AAM Vice-Presidents, was on the Labour Party NEC and she offered to pass it around one of their meetings. As Labour was in Government, many of the NEC were Cabinet Ministers and Joan triumphantly contacted Charlotte Street to tell us that several Cabinet Ministers had signed.

We had not decided what to do with all these cards, but as the birthday approached we had the idea of trying to send them to Robben Island by delivering them at South Africa House. This was sure to attract some media attention, we thought. So on 18th July, Barbara Castle, Bob Hughes and Joan Lestor arrived outside South Africa House. But their attempts to deliver the cards were thwarted. This was before their high-tech security entrance was installed, and the doors were shut closed and the Embassy was effectively closed for the rest of the day. I suspect that the card is still somewhere in the AAM archives.

Joan was not one to take such treatment - all three MPs were former government ministers and Barbara had been in the Cabinet. So back at the House of Commons, during Prime Minister`s Question Time, Joan protested at the behaviour of South Africa House and James Callaghan took the opportunity to send greetings to Nelson Mandela. And all this was recorded in Hansard. This represented a real breakthrough in the campaign. Incidentally, I found myself seated next to James - now Lord Callaghan - at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in May 1994 - some 16 years later.

The AAM had worked closely with the UN on this campaign so on the same evening - July 18th - we held a meeting with the Special Committee against Apartheid at the House of Commons. Over 300 people crowded into the Grand Committee Room for the meeting which was addressed by the Chairman of the UN Special Committee, Ambassador Harriman from Nigeria. It was a very distinguished gathering and somewhere in the AAM Archives there should also be a record of those who attended. The atmosphere was wonderful as Canon Collins and Mary Benson both spoke of their own reminiscences of Mandela and the other Rivonia Trialists and called for a really effective campaign for Mandela`s release. IDAF also made an important contribution to the campaign by publishing a pamphlet containing many of Mandela`s key speeches.

Much of the credit for this campaign must rest with Enuga Reddy. Not only did he encourage the AAM and other anti-apartheid movements to mark Mandela`s 60th Birthday, but he was also able to arrange a small grant for the publicity material we produced. In those days, especially, the AAM was nearly always broke and it would have been very difficult to mount an effective campaign without such funds. This support for our work won him few friends within the UN. Both the ANC and PAC were represented on the Special Committee and the PAC were adamant that Nelson Mandela should not be singled out for special attention because they felt it would raise the profile of the ANC at their expense. Nor did the Foreign Offices of the British and many other western governments appreciate the relationships which existed between many of the Anti-Apartheid Movements and the UN Special Committee. A few years later, the Secretary-General decided at exceptionally short notice not to renew his contract for which no rational explanation has ever been forthcoming. And to this day, Mr Reddy has difficulty obtaining a visa to visit the UK.

The events to mark Nelson Mandela`s 60th Birthday were truly a turning point. Although they failed to make national headlines, some 50,000 copies of a leaflet were distributed across the country and support had been forthcoming from a range of organisations, not least the Prime Minister. Mr Reddy estimates that some 10,000 telegrammes and letters were sent either to Nelson Mandela or his wife for his birthday. Although this may now seem to be a relatively small number given the almost universal popularity of Nelson Mandela, at the time it seemed a massive response.

All this meant that there was now a popular base for the campaign in Britain and indeed internationally. Moreover it was clear that in the right circumstances it would have the potential to capture the public`s imagination. In particular, it meant we were well placed to respond when, from within South Africa, a nation-wide campaign was launched for the release of Nelson Mandela following the independence elections in Zimbabwe in February 1980.

The 80s was the decade of the Nelson Mandela campaign. It began with an Editorial in the Post Newspaper by Percy Qoboza and endorsed by Bishop Tutu calling for Mandela`s release on ? March 1980. And it culminated in the release of Mandela almost a decade later on 11th February 1990. It is impossible to do full justice to everything which was to happen over the next ten years in what are merely a few personal recollections. However, it is possible to chart the development of the campaign.

The main highlights were as follows:

The 1980 campaign: We were quick to respond to the challenge posed by the campaign within South Africa. Any campaigner will tell you that however imaginative one is, in reality, there is a limit to the range of activities which can be organised to promote a campaign. Examine any campaign of this type and one will find some, or all, of the following techniques: petitions, pickets, meetings; publicity material and media-generating activities. The main focus of the 1980 campaign was a Declaration - a variation on the petition - for which support was sought from organisations and prominent individuals. This was backed up with a range of new campaigning material including a Free Mandela Badge of which 6000 were sold in the first few months of the campaign.

But, as was to be increasingly the case with the Mandela Campaign, a vitality was brought to the campaign by the creative skills of our supporters. A real difference was made to the 1980 campaign thanks to the work of David King. A left-wing designer who was heavily influenced by the photomontage style of John Hertfield, David had offered his services to the AAM after Soweto. He had already produced some very powerful poster designs but he now created a really powerful image of Nelson Mandela using an old photograph from IDAF. Although aware, in principle of the importance of design and image, I had been schooled in political campaigning at a time when there was a healthy cynicism against p.r. and sound bites.

However, David had real talent and there is no doubt in my mind that his artistic skill helped tremendously in getting our message across. It also opened my eyes to the importance of design in getting our message across.

The 1980 campaign was also lifted when the ANC asked us to co-operate in releasing a message from Nelson Mandela which had been smuggled out of Robben Island to the ANC. The ANC decided to release it in London and we helped organise the press conference at the Africa Centre. I have no memory as to whether it attracted much publicity but it was invaluable not least because it included an appeal to the international community. One section read ‘every effort to isolate South Africa adds strength to our struggle`. These words became a catchword in our sanctions campaigns and enabled us to link up two key elements of the AAM`s work: the campaign for sanctions and the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners.

The Chancellorship of London University: It was the campaign within South Africa, however, which was the key factor in creating a new climate in Britain. There was an upsurge of initiatives which it is impossible to record in detail. Two were of particular significance. The Chancellor of the University of London, the Queen Mother, announced that she was to retire and the University authorities has assumed that their nominee for the vacancy, Princess Anne, would be elected unopposed. However, all London University graduates were entitled to vote and a group of postgraduate students, mainly at Birkbeck College, came up with the idea of nominating Nelson Mandela. It was entirely their initiative but when we got in contact, I discovered that one of the prime movers was Jan Toplosky?? who I knew well from my days at Birmingham University. Whatever prompted their decision I never really found out, but it was a truly imaginative initiative and attracted substantial publicity. The campaign was complicated by a second alternative candidate, the trade union leader Jack Jones. The University authorities also put all sorts of obstacles in the way of the campaign and insisted, just before nominations closed, that evidence be produced that he wished to be nominated. The ANC`s agreement was not regarded as sufficient, and only after a period of frenetic activity did they agree to accept the signature of Mandela`s lawyer - if my memory is correct. Mandela`s nomination was accepted and the campaign was underway. The press reported the clash of candidates as graduates of London University from all over the world were mailed with voting papers. Although Princess Anne was elected, Mandela won 20% of the vote and was seen by many as the real victor of the campaign. The Times in an editorial suggested that the University should respond by awarding Mandela an Honorary Degree. They took up the suggestion but only over 20 years later - and by supreme irony - the ceremony took place not at Senate House but at Buckingham Palace when Mandela was in Britain on a State Visit.

Freedom of the City of Glasgow: Another initiative which also gained considerable publicity and demonstrated the extent to which Nelson Mandela had become acknowledged as a leader of his people was the decision of the City of Glasgow to award Nelson Mandela the Freedom of the City. Like all such initiatives it was not without its difficulties. The Lord Provost wanted the award to take place at a ceremony which would properly convey the dignity of the occasion and was able to persuade the Vice-President of Nigeria, Dr Ekueme, to visit Glasgow to receive the award. The Scottish Committee of the AAM felt, correctly, that the ceremony should also serve to reinforce the special link between Glasgow and the ANC which had previously been demonstrated by the election of Chief Luthuli, the ANC President, as Rector of Glasgow University in the 1960s. The ceremony took place in August 1981 when Dr Ekueme received the award on behalf of Nelson Mandela in the presence of High Commissioners and their Deputies from 16 Commonwealth countries. Ruth Mompati, the ANC Chief Representative was also invited and the Scottish AAM ensured that the ANC`s message was well received when she addressed a highly successful public meeting linked to the ceremony.

In October 1993, Nelson Mandela was able to visit Glasgow to thank the City for its support and to receive the Freedom of the City in person.

The 1980 campaign culminated with the presentation of the Declarations at a ceremony in the House of Commons in April 1981 attended by Desmond Tutu, then General Secretary of the SACC Michael Foot and David Steel, respectively leaders of the Labour and Liberal Parties as well as UN and WCC representatives. This was a very different level of participation in an AAM event than we had been able to achieve almost since the earliest days of the AAM. The previous month, SATIS and the Defence and Aid Fund had organised a vigil in solidarity with Nelson Mandela on the steps of St Martins-in-the-Fields. D&A did a lot of work to persuade public figures to attend and it proved to be a most eclectic gathering with the actress Joanna Lumley photographed next to the Communist miners leader Mick Magahy and with all sorts of illustrious figures standing shoulder to shoulder with former South African political prisoners.

If there was one period in the campaign post-Rivonia which could be said to be of real strategic importance it was these first few years of the 1980s. From this period onwards there were numerous spontaneous initiatives involving an ever wider range of organisations and individuals. There was the Mayors Declaration for the Release of Nelson Mandela, the brainchild of Michael Kelly the Lord Provost of Glasgow and taken up by Mr Reddy at the UN who between them secured the endorsement of 2264 Mayors from 56 countries across the world. After talking with Mr Reddy, he also helped to arrange for a resolution by the UN General Assembly which expressed appreciation to cities which honoured leaders of the struggle against apartheid. There was a photo exhibition by IDAF which the British Labour Group of MEPs - led by Barbara Castle - arranged to be displayed at the European Parliament and which Oliver Tambo flew to Strasbourg to open. Ruth Mompati and I flew to Strasbourg for the ceremony. Sitting behind us was a junior Foreign Office Minister - Douglas Hurd - who was to figure again in this saga as Foreign Minister at the time of Mandela`s release (check accuracy)

International Petition Campaign 1982-4: A new impetus was given to the campaign in 1982 by Archbishop Huddleston. He had been elected President of the AAM in April 1981 (check date) following the death of Ambrose Reeves. He was still based in Mauritius, as Archbishop of the Indian Ocean. However he had been in London in March 1982 for a major AAM/UN Conference on the theme ‘Southern Africa: The Time to Choose`. Whilst in London we had discussed with Trevor the need for a further initiative on the Mandela Campaign. He was anxious to be involved in any new campaign especially because of the importance he knew Oliver Tambo attached to the Mandela campaign.

5th August 1982 would mark the 20th anniversary of Mandela`s arrest which put another way, meant he would have been in prison for 20 years and with no immediate prospect for his release. This was clearly an opportunity to raise the profile of the campaign again. Mr Reddy from the UN was also involved in the discussions as were the ANC representatives at the Conference including Alfred Nzo. As a result of these discussions 5th August 1982 was marked by a call from Oliver Tambo, the ANC President, for an intensified world-wide campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and the AAM and the UN prepared themselves to respond to this appeal on 11th October - the UN day of solidarity with South African political prisoners.

I think it was at this time that I had a lengthy conversation with Oliver Tambo at his home in Muswell Hill about the rationale for the campaign. For most people, I believe, Mandela was seen as the symbol of all the political prisoners in South Africa. By calling for his release one was helping to unlock the doors of South Africa`s political prisons. For others, whose commitment was to the ANC in particular, the campaign`s major purpose was to help put the ANC centre stage of the liberation struggle. Whilst others, concerned by the danger that a reform package which failed to transform South Africa into a non-racial and democratic society might find acceptance amongst western policy makers, saw in the campaign an effective way of undermining the credibility of such reforms by highlighting the fact that Mandela and other ANC leaders were in prison. I had some sympathy for this latter position. Oliver must have sensed this for speaking very quietly he simply said that his duty was to ensure Nelson was released and that had to be the priority. Oliver`s quiet but forceful words were to inform my judgement as we faced many difficult decisions over the campaign in the period ahead.

The campaign was duly launched on 11th October 1982. The AAM announced an international petition campaign with signatures being collected across the world for presentation to the UN Secretary General on 11 June 1984, the 20th anniversary of the sentencing in the Rivonia Trial. At the same time, the UN sponsored a Declaration by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston to be endorsed by organisations and individuals over the same period. This period was to include July 18th 1983 - the 65th birthday of Nelson Mandela which it was recognised could serve as an even more important focus than his 60th birthday.

Given the breadth of support for the campaign within Britain, after discussing the idea fully with the ANC and SATIS, it was decided to set up a Free Nelson Mandela Co-ordinating Committee which Trevor Phillips the broadcaster agreed to chair.

This new campaign within South Africa was mirroring developments in South Africa where a Release Mandela Committee was established. This was a period when it was almost impossible to have any form of open contact with South Africans who were intending to return to South Africa. The ANC obviously had its own machinery for linking up with South Africans visiting London, but as a prominent figure in the AAM my contacts were extremely limited. Also there was often suspicion attached to those who were able to obtain passports to travel and it was always necessary to be extremely cautious in whatever contacts one had.

Yusuf Dadoo died in September 1982. A leader of South Africa`s Indian community, he had gone into exile with Oliver Tambo in 1960, and subsequently had become Chairman of the SACP8. Both the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses sent representatives of the Yusuf`s funeral. One of these was the barrister, Zac Yacoob, from the NIC who was also active in the Natal Release Mandela Committee. At the Dadoo`s home, also in Muswell Hill, we were able to talk discretely about the campaign. It was the first time one had a proper opportunity of exchanging views with what was to become the democratic movement within South Africa. Zac and I were to become real friends over the following years as he was one of the few UDF leaders able to travel on a passport. We, especially worked closely, at the time of the occupation of the British consulate in Durban in 1984.

Another death which effected the campaign was that of John Collins, President of IDAF on 31st December 1982. IDAF`s contribution to the Mandela campaign was exceptional and multifaceted. It needs to be properly recorded in its own right. John Collins brought his moral authority to the campaign and many of the initiatives taken depended on his support. His death was a real blow to the campaign.

Footnotes:

1: National Union of Students

2: Communist Party of Great Britain

3: Anti-Apartheid Movement, London

4: National Union of South African Students

5: South African Student Organization

6: International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa

7: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

8: South African Communist Party