Hermanus Gabriel Loots

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Biographical information

First name: 
Hermanus
Middle name: 
Gabriel
Last name: 
Loots
Date of birth: 
19/07/1936
Location of birth: 
Kat River Valley
Date of death: 
25/01/2016
Location of death: 
Johannesburg, Gauteng
Ban information: 
Act No. 44 of 1950 Sec. 9 (1)<br><em>Issued Period(s)</em> [28 April 1967 to 31/3/1969]
Miscellaneous: 
Johannesburg

Introduction:

Hermanus Loots, also known as James Stuart, is most noted for his role in exposing brutality at African National Congress camps in 1984, which culminated into the ‘Stuart Report.’ [i] According to political journalist Martin Plaut, ‘there would have been mass executions if Loots had not had the courage and integrity, in the face of considerable pressure, to report the truth’. [ii] However, beyond this significant event are layers of history that were pivotal to shaping the man through both time and place.

Loots’ was born to Gabriel and ‘Minnie’ Loots [iii], in the Kat River Valley region of the Eastern Cape on 19 July 1936. [iv] His family roots in that region are tied to the expulsion of the Xhosa leader Maqoma [v] from the Kat River in 1828. [vi] The intention of the British Colonial Government was to use the settlement of indigenous Khoi and mixed Khoi / European people referred to by the British colonial government as ‘bastards’, as a buffer between the Xhosas and the ‘white colonists’. [vii]

Kat River person of mixed Khoi and European descent, referred to as ‘Bastard by the British colonial government.
Source: From the collections of the Library of the South African Parliament

To this end it was a settlement of contested ownership and much conflict, with major attacks by the dispossessed Ama-Xhosa, most notably in 1834–1835 and 1846–1847. [viii] These were wars in which Hermanus Loots’ great, great grandfather Christian Jacobus Groepe was actively involved, serving as a Kommandant for the British, for which he was rewarded with a farm in the area. [ix]

However, Christian Jacobus Groepe displayed divided feelings during the Kat River Rebellion of 1851, urging the rebels not to attack the Fort Armstrong, but also refusing to fire on rebels. Conflicted loyalties were also evident in his own family, as his sons Marthinus Groepe and Hans Groepe were among the ‘rebel’ group who were imprisoned at Bain’s Kloof . [x]

Fort Armstrong Kat River by Bowler 1864
Source: From the Collections of the South African Parliament

It is significant to note that ownership of the land received by the Kat River settlers was later taken away from them in what has been described as ‘white exploitation, as joint ownership of land permitted the property of all to be seized for the debt of one’ [xi]. In the 1980’s this area would once again be the subject of forced removals, when the area was absorbed into an Apartheid era Bantustan, namely the Ciskei. [xii]

Hermanus Loots- profile of a freedom fighter

Hermanus Loots was born in the Kat River area to Gabriel and ‘Minnie’ Loots [xiii] on 19 July, 1936 [xiv]. Gabriel and Minnie were farm-workers in the Hertzog area of the Kat River (now re-named Mhlangeni). Raising a family of seven on farm-worker’s wages was extremely challenging and as a child Loots experienced all the hardships associated with poverty.

In an environment where education was meant to benefit the privileged, schools were not accessibly located. Thus for Hermanus, his siblings and their contemporaries, getting to school meant walking extremely long distances either in the hot sun in summer or in the rain in winter. However, notwithstanding their poverty, they were blessed to live in a place of extreme beauty, surrounded by nature. It was a world where childhood moments were divided between chores around the farm, playing hide and seek around the bushes, swimming in the river, making toy cars out of wires, taking races around the farm and playing with the animals.

By the time he matriculated from John Bisseker High School in East London, Eastern Cape, a much more reflective Loots emerged, who was determined to make a difference, not only to his community, but to also to his country.

It was while he was studying for a degree in civil engineering at the University of Witwatersrand in Transvaal (now Gauteng) 1961, at the age of 25, that Loots was recruited into the ANC’s military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe’s (MK) Luthuli detachment, under the code name ‘James Stuart’ [xv]

Loots had a special bond with his eldest sister, Margareth, in whom he would confide. According to the family, if anyone had known about his political activities, it would have been her. However, for the rest of his family, the path that Hermanus had taken, which would see him leave his family, home and country, came as a shock. [xvi]

When Hermanus informed his parents of his decision to join the struggle against Apartheid they were heartbroken, not because of his political stance, but because they knew that this meant he would in all likelihood disappear from their lives completely. The person most deeply affected by Loots disappearance was his mother. According to the family she would sit up at night worrying about her son.

Constant prayers for the safety of her son were interspersed with constant harassment of the Loots family, particularly the parents and their eldest daughter Margareth, by the security police. While on the one hand, for the protection of the organization, for their safety and also his safety; it was fortuitous that they did not know where their son was. On the other hand, not knowing was also a harrowing experience for the Loots family. [xvii]

In the meantime, Hermanus Loots became absorbed into the ANC under the nom de guerre ‘James Stuart’. James Stuart’s active role in the ANC against Apartheid saw him undertaking intermittent military training during the period 1964 to 1973 in Odessa, Kishinev and Moscow, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). [xviii] According to a press release by the ANC on 25 January 2016, Loots was also responsible for ‘political education at Alpha in Lusaka, Zambia, overseeing the library and classification of information and material’>[xix] A true intellectual who spoke no less than eight languages, namely English, Afrikaans, French, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Russian and Malagasy, [xx] he is described as being a very approachable man who showed great humility. [xxi]

James Stuart (Hermanus Loots) was closely connected to the top hierarchy of the ANC, serving as secretary in the office of Oliver Tambo. He also spent some years in Madagascar, where he was the chief representative of the ANC from 1979 to 1983. [xxii] It was here that he met his Madagascan born wife, Nasolo Rasoharinasolo, an English translator for the ANC, whose code name within the ANC was Josephine. [xxiii] Nasolo completed her Baccalaureate in France, following which she studied at a Technical College for Home-Economics, in order to become a Matron of a boarding school. She then returned to Madagascar where she completed both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Foreign Languages, English and French. The couple married in Zambia in 1984 where they settled. [xxiv]

In 1986 Stuart formed part of an ANC delegation that included Oliver Tambo, Mac Maharaj, Chris Hani and Thabo Mbeki, who met with White South African businessmen in Lusaka. [xxv] These meetings laid the groundwork for the changes that were to come in South Africa. [xxvi]

In 1991Stuart and Nasolo, the latter of whom was in the throes of doing a second Masters in African Literature at the University of Zambia, returned to South Africa, where he was elected to the National Elections Commission. He also served as a Member of Parliament in South Africa from 1994 to 1999. [xxvii] On his retirement in 1999 he ‘provided advisory services to a number of government entities and sat on the boards of private sector organizations. [xxviii]

A highlight for Loots, on his return to South Africa, was re-establishing ties with the Kat River area where he built a home. [xxix] Pertinently too was reconnecting with his family to whom he was known simply as ‘uncle Manie’. [xxx]

Hermanus Loots (James Stuart) passed away in Johannesburg on 25 January 2016. [xxxi] He was honoured by the state with a special official funeral held at the Johannesburg City Hall on 3 February 2016. This was followed by a service at the St Mungos United Church in Johannesburg on 6 February 2016. President Jacob Zuma delivered the eulogy, describing Loots as being ‘a very quiet and very humble person’. He hailed Loots for sacrificing his tertiary education in order to join MK, thereby putting ‘the nation before himself’. [xxxii] This sacrifice was extreme for a man who valued education.

In recent email correspondence Nasolo Loots described her husband as someone for whom family was important, saying:

He always believed in one thing: ‘unity in the family’. He loved his family very much. He loved having his family around. He would always be the one calling everyone for a family gathering. He would also openly welcome anyone into his home and make you feel like family, even if they were not. He was very committed towards ensuring that all children in the family would receive a good education. He wouldn’t think twice about contributing towards that. [xxxiii]
Other members of his family also had high praise for him, with his nephew describing him as someone who specialized in community development and ensured that all his family members received a good education.

Hermanus Loots’ participation in the fight against Apartheid came at great personal cost, not least of which was being separated from the family he loved so much. In a recent interview Loots’ niece described him as an ‘unsung hero’. However, his legacy will live on through the many lives he touched in his courageous quest to dismantle Apartheid in South Africa. In doing so he also either knowingly or unwittingly reached beyond the historical chasm between Xhosa, Khoi and people of mixed Khoi/European descent, instigated by the British colonial government in the Kat River area nearly 200 years ago. [xxxiv]

 

Endnotes:

[i] Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’ , 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Information sourced from the Loots family via  email correspondence with a representative of the family and the author, Joline Young, on 11 March 2016.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Susan I. Blackbeard,’ Power, Politics, and Performances of Longing in Kat River’, Oral History Review Advance Access, July 21, 2015, p. 1.

[vi] Ibid. 2015, p. 1.

[vii] Ibid. pp.1-2.

[viii] Ibid. p. 4.

[ix] Ibid. pp.14-16.

[x] Ibid. p. 12.

[xi] Susan I. Blackbeard,’ Power, Politics, and Performances of Longing in Kat River’, Oral History Review Advance Access, July 21, 2015, p.4.

[xii] Susan I. Blackbeard,’ Power, Politics, and Performances of Longing in Kat River’, Oral History Review Advance Access, July 21, 2015, p. 1.

[xiii] You tube ‘The funeral of Hermanus Loots’ 6 February 2016. Url number https://www.Youtube.com/watch?v=SNx6qSpEKN4.

[xiv] Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’, 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xv] Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’, 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xvi] Information sourced from the Loots family through personal correspondence with the author, Joline Young, on 11 March 2016.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii]Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’ , 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xix] Anon. ANC African National Congress Press Release ‘Passing Of Hermanus Loots (Aka) James Stuart’ date 25.01.2016 Url number http://article.wn.com/view/2016/01/25/Passing_of_Hermanus_Loots_aka_James_Stuart_ANC_African_Natio/ (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xx] Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’, 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xxi] Personal conversation with Omar Badsha, CEO of SAHO 04.02.2016.

[xxii] Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’, 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xxiii] Anon. ANC African National Congress Press Release ‘Passing Of Hermanus Loots (Aka) James Stuart’ date 25.01.2016 Url number http://article.wn.com/view/2016/01/25/Passing_of_Hermanus_Loots_aka_James_Stuart_ANC_African_Natio/ (Date accessed 04.02.2016).

[xxiv] Information sourced from the Loots family via  email correspondence with a representative of the family and the author, Joline Young, on 11 March 2016

[xxv] Anon. ‘Zuma mourns passing of Hermanus Loots, MK veteran’ in Times Live, 25 January 2016, url number ww.timeslive.co.za/politics/2016/01/25/Zuma-mourns-passing-of-Hermanus-Loots‚-MK-veteran (Date accessed 02.04.2016).

[xxvi] Anon. South African History Online, ‘Delegation and dialogue between ANC and internal non government groups’ 1 March 2012. Url number

http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/delegations-and-dialogue-between-anc-a....

[xxvii]South African Government, ‘In memoriam: Mr Hermanus Gabriel Loots, 3 February 2016, url number http://www.gov.za/speeches/memoriam-mr-hermanus-gabriel-loots-3-feb-2016-1125 (Date accessed 16.02.2016).

[xxviii] South African Government, ‘In memoriam: Mr Hermanus Gabriel Loots, 3 February 2016, url number http://www.gov.za/speeches/memoriam-mr-hermanus-gabriel-loots-3-feb-2016-1125 (Date accessed 16.02.2016).

[xxix]Susan I. Blackbeard,’ Power, Politics, and Performances of Longing in Kat River’, Oral History Review Advance Access, July 21, 2015, p.15.

[xxx] You tube ‘The funeral of Hermanus Loots’ 6 February 2016. Url number https://www.Youtube.com/watch?v=SNx6qSpEKN4..

[xxxi] You tube ‘The funeral of Hermanus Loots’ 6 February 2016. Url number https://www.Youtube.com/watch?v=SNx6qSpEKN4.

[xxxii] South African Government, ‘In memoriam: Mr Hermanus Gabriel Loots, 3 February 2016, url number http://www.gov.za/speeches/memoriam-mr-hermanus-gabriel-loots-3-feb-2016-1125 (Date accessed 16.02.2016).

[xxxiii] Information sourced from the Loots family via  email correspondence with a representative of the family and the author, Joline Young, on 11 March 2016

[xxxiv] I deeply am grateful to the Loots family for supplying me with indepth insights into Hermanus Loots, the family man, via email correspondence. Special thanks go to Mrs Nasolo Loots for taking the time to share insights about her late husband. I would also like to thank Lila Komnick of the South African Parliamentary Libraries for her tireless assistance in accessing high quality images of the Kat River area. Finally and equally importantly, my grateful thanks go to Nokuzola Dunywa for facilitating permission for the use of the image of Hermanus Loots and Tanya Bezuidenhout for helping me to access to the Loots family.


References:
• Anon. ANC African National Congress Press Release ‘Passing Of Hermanus Loots (Aka) James Stuart’ date 25.01.2016 Url number http://article.wn.com/view/2016/01/25/Passing_of_Hermanus_Loots_aka_James_Stuart_ANC_African_Natio/ (Date accessed 04.02.2016).
•  Martin Plaut, ‘James Stewart – The ANC fighter who spoke the truth to power’, 01.02.2016, Url number www.sahistory.org.za/archive/james-stewart-anc-fighter-who-spoke-truth-power-martin-plaut-1-february-2016 (Date accessed 04.02.2016).
•  Susan I. Blackbeard,’ Power, Politics, and Performances of Longing in Kat River’, Oral History Review Advance Access, July 21, 2015.
•  South African Government, ‘In memoriam: Mr Hermanus Gabriel Loots’, 3 February 2016, url number http://www.gov.za/speeches/memoriam-mr-hermanus-gabriel-loots-3-feb-2016-1125 (Date accessed 16.02.2016).
•  You tube ‘The funeral of Hermanus Loots’ 6 February 2016. Url number https://www.Youtube.com/watch?v=SNx6qSpEKN4.
•  Anon. ‘Zuma mourns passing of Hermanus Loots, MK veteran’ in Times Live, 25 January 2016, Url number www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2016/01/25/Zuma-mourns-passing-of-Hermanus-... (Date accessed 02.04.2016).
•  Anon. South African History Online. ‘Delegation and dialogue between ANC and internal non government groups’ 1 March, 2012,
•  http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/delegations-and-dialogue-between-anc-and-internal-non-government-groups.

Last updated : 14-Apr-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 14-Apr-2016