Horst Gerhard Hermann Kleinschmidt

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

 Anti-Apartheid Activist, leader within and member of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and South African Christian Institute. He was detained under apartheid laws an

First name: 
Horst Gerhard Hermann
Last name: 
Kleinschmidt
Date of birth: 
17 October 1945
Location of birth: 
Swakopmund, Namibia

Horst Gerhard Hermann Kleinschmidt was born on 17 October 1945 in Swakopmund, Namibia. At the age of four his family moved to Johannesburg where he grew up. Most of his schooling took place at the German School in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

Kleinschmidt comes from a family of missionaries, the earliest of whom arrived at the Cape in 1811. In 1814, Missionary Hinrich Schmelen married one of his catechists, a woman of Khoi-khoi origin he met in Pella on the Gariep, later the Orange River. They lived in Komaggas, Northern Cape where one of their three daughters married Missionary Heinrich Kleinschmidt in 1842. The family was deeply split by the racial practices that prevailed in both the London and the Rhenish Mission Societies, the laws of the British and German Colonial administrations in southern Africa and, finally, by apartheid.

Kleinschmidt attended the University of the Witwatersrand from 1966 to 1969 and received a bachelor’s degree in Afrikaans and German. Although he studied for a teaching diploma at the Johannesburg College of Education, he never got the opportunity to teach because he and the education authorities clashed over his political activities. 

In particular, three events clouded his career prospects: he had organised for a black speaker to address the students on campus – something the authorities disallowed; he wrote articles about black education, had these published in the local student magazine and provided hundreds of extra copies for students at black campuses where publications containing dissent were not allowed. In 1969 he and other leaders led a student march to the infamous John Vorster Square police station where Winnie Mandela and 20 other people were being held without charge or trial. The protest was against detention without charge or trial. For leading the march he and others were arrested, charged and found guilty under the Riotous Assemblies Act (General Laws Amendment Act). The Rector of the Education College warned Kleinschmidt that he had placed his education career in jeopardy.

Kleinschmidt served on several committees of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) at both higher learning institutions and was elected Vice Chairperson of the Student Representative Council at the College of Education in 1969. In the same year, he was elected Vice President of NUSAS. His request to serve NUSAS on a full-time basis for a year, before taking up a position as teacher, was rejected and considered a breach of contract. As a result, Kleinschmidt never had the opportunity to teach.
In 1971, Kleinschmidt was charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for possession of banned (forbidden) literature after a raid on his flat in Cape Town. The raid resulted from the arrest and murder by the police of Ahmed Timol. Timol appeared to have an address list on which Kleinschmidt’s name appeared. Kleinschmidt was acquitted in court with a warning.

In 1972, he started work for the South African Christian Institute led by Dominee Beyers Naude, the dissident White Afrikaner leader. Appointed at the same time was Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa. The two had collaborated since student days. In that year, the authorities permanently withdrew Kleinschmidt’s passport, preventing him from traveling abroad. When Winnie Mandela was imprisoned for six months in 1974, for breaking her banning order, Nelson Mandela (from prison on Robben Island and through his attorney) and Winnie Mandela, appointed Kleinschmidt as the legal guardian of the two Mandela daughters, Zindzi and Zenani.

In 1974, the all-white Parliament of South Africa appointed a Commission to secretly probe the activities of the Christian Institute and other organisations. Together with the other leadership of the Christian Institute, Kleinschmidt refused to testify unless the proceedings were held in the open. For this they were charged under the Commissions Act. In Kleinschmidt’s case a ‘mistrial’ was recorded due to technical errors committed by the prosecution. His wife at the time, Ilona Aronson was sentenced to six months imprisonment. But when she presented herself at the prison, she found that an anonymous person had paid her fine. It later transpired that a white politician had arranged payment to prevent her from becoming a martyr to the anti-apartheid cause.

In 1975, Kleinschmidt was detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act that gave the police powers to detain and interrogate persons without charge or a court hearing. He spent 73 days in solitary confinement. The police suspected him of having been recruited by an underground organisation led by the Afrikaans poet, Breyten Breytenbach who was arrested on the grounds of forming an illegal organisation. When no links between the two could be established, Kleinschmidt was released.

After his release, Kleinschmidt returned to the Christian Institute. For the first time he also carried out work for the outlawed and underground African National Congress. When he and his group were tipped off that they were about to be arrested, Kleinschmidt fled South Africa. Many of his associates were later arrested and sentenced to long periods of imprisonment in the trial that became known as the “Tokyo Sexwale and 11 others” trial. Kleinschmidt did not have a passport but a friend – the Reverend Cedric Mayson – flew him in a light aircraft to neighboring Botswana. Despite round the clock surveillance of his home, the authorities did not detect his escape. Kleinschmidt spent 15 years in exile, the first three of which were in the Netherlands, and the remainder in the United Kingdom.

Kleinschmidt has one daughter, Zindzi Nadja, born in 1974. From the age of two until she was nine, she was refused a passport and was therefore unable to visit her father.  When Helen Suzman, an opposition member of Parliament, questioned the refusal to grant Zindzi Kleinschmidt a passport, the Minister of Police, Jimmy Kruger, replied: “I know the age of the applicant; I will still refuse her a passport.”

In 1972, Kleinschmidt started working for the South African Christian Institute. His duties included finding evidence of people who had “disappeared”. At the time, police would regularly detain activists without admitting to the arrests. Secretly, he provided Amnesty International and the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF) with his information. In 1975, Kleinschmidt was appointed Assistant to Beyers Naude, but he was detained within weeks of this appointment. After Kleinschmidt’s escape from South Africa in 1976 he was appointed Overseas Representative of the Christian Institute, based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. His role was to address church and other groups, especially in countries that were reluctant to take a stand against apartheid. He also raised funds for the Christian Institute, but a law was passed in South Africa making it illegal for the Institute to receive foreign funds. In October 1977, the Christian Institute, together with all Black Consciousness organisations, was outlawed in South Africa.

Kleinschmidt’s role as foreign representative was thrown into question. Would the formerly legal organisations follow the path of the liberation movements that were outlawed between 1960 and 1965 and go underground? In November 1977, Kleinschmidt addressed the United Nations Security Council stating that the apartheid regime had forced the legal opposition to go underground, join the liberation movement and as a consequence also accept an armed and violent struggle to overthrow apartheid. Eventually, Kleinschmidt became the link between scores of underground initiatives inside South Africa who sought to develop a relationship with the outlawed exile operation of the African National Congress.

In 1979, Kleinschmidt accepted work in London with the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF). The organisation had been outlawed in South Africa in 1966 but had carried on from abroad by funding legal representation for political activists detained or on trial in South Africa.  Funds were transferred through an elaborate network of secret conduits. IDAF also provided financial support to the families of those incarcerated. The organisation published extensively, describing the effects of racist rule on the majority of South Africa’s population. Kleinschmidt worked in the sensitive legal aid division of IDAF and he raised much-needed funds. Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries were the principal donors.

IDAF’s founder, Canon John Collins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London died suddenly in 1981. In 1982, Kleinschmidt took over the leadership of IDAF until the organisation voluntarily disbanded in 2001, its mission effectively accomplished. The increased resistance in the mid 80’s and the corresponding military and police repression had caused IDAF to grow and become one of the largest NGOs in the United Kingdom, with a staff of 75 and an annual turnover of £10 million (R125 million). By this stage, the IDAF Board was chaired by Archbishop emeritus Trevor Huddleston. Together, Huddleston and Kleinschmidt traveled widely to speak to many audiences, including Heads of State, calling for increased support for the liberation movement and for the international isolation of apartheid. In his spare time, Kleinschmidt continued to build links between the internal and the external resistance movement, especially through his connections to the student leadership, church leadership and the legal profession inside South Africa. The intention of the ANC was to build a united front between the underground and the renewed public dissent against apartheid. It was important that neither his daytime nor his after-hours work attracted public attention lest he endangered the lives of those he worked with inside South Africa.

During his years of exile, Kleinschmidt served on the organising committee of the huge International Tribute Concerts held at Wembley Stadium in London. The concerts, which called for the release of Nelson Mandela, were televised in 67 countries to an audience of 600 million. They raised worldwide consciousness of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and others by the South African government and forced the apartheid regime to release Nelson Mandela much earlier than would otherwise have happened.
Kleinschmidt also chaired various committees that channeled European aid funds, dubbed the “victims of apartheid fund”, via European NGOs to South African NGOs. The money supported civil society organisations campaigning for human rights and development programmes that aided the people discriminated against in South Africa.   

In 1987, he organised an international conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, to highlight the atrocities committed against children in South African prisons and at police stations. Scores of survivors were assisted to travel to Zimbabwe and testify about their experiences.

In 1990, Kleinschmidt attended the independence celebrations of his native Namibia. The event marked his first authorised return to southern Africa in 15 years.

In the same year, following the unbanning of all outlawed organisations, Kleinschmidt returned to South Africa. Despite initial harassment by Security Police, he was able to move freely and visit associates. In 1991, he was granted conditional amnesty from further political prosecution and returned to live in South Africa in December of that year, with his life partner, Christine Crowley.

In 1991, Kleinschmidt was awarded the Austrian Bruno Kreisky prize for Services to Human Rights. In 1999, he was knighted by the king of Sweden with the Order of the Polar Star (First Class) for his role in aiding political detainees and prisoners in southern Africa.

Back in South Africa, he worked for Lawyers for Human Rights and the Kagiso Trust where he became its director in 1996. In 1998, he took over as head of the Mvula Trust, an organisation that provides water and sanitation services in rural areas of South Africa, improving the lives of people who were neglected and remained un-served by the apartheid state.

From 1992 to 1994, Kleinschmidt chaired an ANC branch in Pretoria and was the party’s election agent for the area during the first democratic elections in South Africa. In 1994, he was a volunteer worker at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assisting with the inauguration of President Mandela.

In 2000, Kleinschmidt was asked to become the senior civil servant in the Fisheries Ministry, a sub-ministry under Environment and Tourism.  Minister Valli Moosa asked him to pay particular attention to corrupt practices in the fishing sector and to devise and implement a system that would, within the Constitution and the rule of law, re-allocate fishing quotas on an equitable basis to all South Africa’s citizens. Under the previous dispensation, quotas were the preserve of white people and white-owned companies.

Over a period of five years, Kleinschmidt achieved significant progress in these areas and is now widely credited for ringing in far-reaching changes. One large and well-respected fishing company was exposed for rampant over fishing and corruption and forced to close down and pay compensation for over-fishing and bribing government officials.

The new system for allocating fishing quotas that was devised by Kleinschmidt and a small team of trusted administrators was implemented in stages. By 2005, over 60% of management and ownership of the fishing industry was in black and/or female hands. In the course of his work, Kleinschmidt’s life was threatened and he was held hostage either by white interests wedded to the old order, or black interests seeking a bigger share of quota than they had been given. He was also taken to court on more than 40 occasions. In almost all these cases, the courts found in favour of the new quota allocation system and, in a landmark judgement, the fair and transparent system was validated by the Constitutional Court. In 2001 the Black Business Executive Circle honoured Kleinschmidt for his contribution to Black Economic Empowerment.

As part of his duties in the Fisheries Department, Kleinschmidt was responsible for South Africa’s base and research programme in Antarctica. In 2004, he chaired the International Antarctic Treaty Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. He visited SANAE IV, the South African base in Antarctica, on two occasions; in 2005 to host Queen Sonja of Norway on her visit to the base. Also in 2004, he was elected vice chairperson of the International Whaling Commission at its annual meeting in Sorrento, Italy. Another part of his duties was to conduct negotiations over the access rights by foreign countries to South Africa’s fishing waters. He was responsible for ending the preferential access rights Japan and Taiwan had enjoyed during the apartheid years. The rights had allowed them to catch tunas and sharks in South African waters. He also successfully opposed the best efforts of the European Union to gain access to local fisheries resources.   

In 2005, Kleinschmidt resigned from his government post. He felt that unreasonable demands were being made on him to rapidly and radically change his staff complement by ridding his section of white staff and hiring black staff, without regard to qualification or skill.

Kleinschmidt has run an environmental consultancy, Feike (Pty) Ltd., in Cape Town since then. He is also writing the history of his family at the Cape. He serves in a voluntary capacity on the Boards of the South African History Archives, the Claude Leon Foundation, the African Oceans Conservation Alliance and the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute.


References:
• Public contribution by Horst Kleinschmidt (2009)

Last updated : 04-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011