Isaac ‘Ike’ Osler Horvitch

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Isaac 'Ike' Osler Horvitch

Biographical information

Synopsis:

Architect, anti-apartheid activist, member of the SACP, Treason trialist

First name: 
Isaac "Ike"
Last name: 
Horvitch
Date of birth: 
9 October 1920
Location of birth: 
Cape Town, Cape Province (now Western Cape), South Africa
Date of death: 
28 December 2005
Location of death: 
London, United Kingdom

Isaac 'Ike' Osler Horvitch was born on 9 October 1920, in Cape Town, South Africa. Ike Horvitch's politics were fashioned out of his family's oppressed past. His grandfather, a Talmudic scholar, had fled the pogroms in Lithuania to England. His father Woolfie, was born in Manchester, England but  immigrated to South Africa where he worked as a postmaster in Cape Town. His mother, Minnie, was also a refugee from Lithuania, having arrived in England with her family at the age of three. Woolfie and Minnie Horvitch settled in Cape Town, where Ike Horvitch was born.

He joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA – later renamed the South African Communist Party - SACP) in 1935 while still a teenager and sold the left-wing independent newspaper The Guardian on the streets. In 1944 Horvitch qualified as an architect from the University of Cape Town.

He made his mark as an architect, providing London, in particular, with distinctive houses, hotels, flats and offices as a partner in the talented practice of a fellow South African, Ted Levy, based in Hampstead. Their notable developments, mainly in north London, included the West Hill Park scheme in Highgate and Summit Lodge, Hampstead, as well as a holiday village in Portugal.

He was also the keeper of the heritage of Isaac Rosenberg, the First World War poet and artist killed in France on 1 April 1918, his body never found. Rosenberg was Horvitch's uncle, and later Horvitch became his literary executor and promoter providing material for new biographies and memorabilia for the Imperial War Museum.

His role within the SACP, then the only multi-racial organisation in South Africa, made Horvitch a target for the National Party government. He mixed with the ANC leaders Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, and with white activists such as Helen Suzman, Betty Sachs and Hilda Bernstein, who tried to change South Africa from the inside.

After surviving a charge of sedition in 1946 for supporting a strike of African gold miners, he was undone when the Suppression of Communism Act was passed in 1949. Although the Party dissolved itself, the list of members was not destroyed and Horvitch was number one on the list when the government published it under powers that gave it the right to detain people without trial.  After the passing of the Suppression of Communism Act he became Chairman of the Forum Club, a multi-racial political discussion club.

Horvitch dedicated his early years to fighting apartheid in South Africa and was twice put on trial for his anti apartheid political activities. He was arrested on 5 December 1956 on charges of treason arising from his involvement in the Congress of the People and the adoption of the Freedom Charter. He was tried alongside the African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela and others. While he was on bail, the massacre of 69 Black people shot down by the police at Sharpeville in 1960 brought world condemnation of apartheid and consolidated its opposition. The ANC called for a one-day national strike and the government declared a state of emergency. His sister, Sheila, was also arrested during this period. Months later, the first 30 people to go on full trial in Pretoria were acquitted and the government ordered the immediate re-arrest of all the others indicted who were still free.

During the Treason Trial he did a number of sketches of the various trialists which forms the basis of an exhibition at Museum Africa. He drew the sketches during their lunchtime breaks, and was encouraged to do so by Ruth First, who was reporting on the trial for the papers. She needed pictures but no cameras were allowed in the courtroom, therefore she relied on Horvitch for some pictures.

At the time, Horvitch was living temporarily in the outskirts of Johannesburg when, at four o'clock one morning, two special branch officers knocked on his door. Horvitch's wife, Mitzi Trop, a professional singer, whose own parents had fled the Nazis in Berlin, insisted he wasn't at home and invited the officers in to search. They fortunately declined and left, not knowing that Horvitch was hiding in the maid's room in his pyjamas.

Horvitch decided to flee South Africa, setting out for Botswana driving his small, three-wheeled car, which broke down en route. After repairing it, he managed the make the 60-mile trip in 12 hours and with the help of Canon John Collins's Christian Action organisation flew to London in small planes via Kinshasa, Lagos and Accra, arriving at Heathrow with just a small suitcase.

Horvitch subsequently disowned both Communism and his Jewish religion, declaring himself to be a socialist who sought equality, peace and prosperity without conflict. His dramatic past became a hidden chapter in his life, which he rarely talked about, because he felt he and his family had sacrificed enough and he had done all that he could to bring about radical change.

He married Mitzi Trop in 1945 and they had a son and two daughters.

Horvitch died in London, England on 28 December 2005. 


References:
• Isaaman G. (2006). Ike Horvitch Architect who fled South Africa from The Independent [online]  Available at www.independent.co.uk . Accessed on 25 June 2012
• Herbstein D.  (2006). Ike Horvitch - Unassuming architect and campaigner against apartheid  from The Guardian, [online] Available at www.guardian.co.uk . Accessed on 25 June 2012

Last updated : 29-Jul-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Jul-2012

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