In the months after I started my incessant round of speaking engagements in 1985 I found that there was a wonderful array of t-shirts, badges and buttons, posters and pamphlets available from the Anti Apartheid Movement in Britain. There were many well researched publications on economic policy, on starvation wages, on the multiplicity of ways that race laws affected the lives of the people and materials that showed South Africa’s vulnerability to economic sanctions.
The British AAM had also carried through OR Tambo’s Release Mandela international support campaign based on Mandela’s I am Prepared to Die speech in the Rivonia Trial. It was a successful campaign that caught the imagination of many people. Mandela’s name was better known than that of the ANC.
We in the ANC worked hard to change the focus of the campaign from being focused on a personality to focus on the ANC-led Tri-partite Alliance of ANC, SACP and trade unions. Some British supporters felt that any and every element and faction was equally worthy of support but we were certain that all our efforts had to be concentrated in support of the ANC, not simply because it was the oldest and largest organisation inside South Africa, but because through the Freedom Charter it appealed to and offered guarantees for the place of all South Africans in the free country we envisaged.
During the Anti Apartheid Movement’s European wide campaign we sometimes found ourselves in conflict with the splintered Left organisations. Governments in several western countries following the principle of divide and rule sought to make use of the various South African exile groups including the Black Consciousness Movement, the Pan Africanist Congress and especially Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha, originally a Zulu cultural movement. It was one thing to support them in Europe against the ANC but they financed them inside South Africa and that led to the deaths of thousands of Africans who refused to support Chief Buthelezi.
They wanted to weaken and control us to protect their corporate share holdings and political interests in their former colonies. We were caught up, like it or not, in the cold war between the Western and Soviet blocs and had to rely on the international support of people and their organisations in Britain and the West in general, but not their governments who opposed the ANC.
I set about convincing my comrades that one way to establish our presence more widely in the mass consciousness of the British people was to produce and sell our own specifically ANC materials to our supporters. In the 1980s all kinds of progressive parties and organisations such as the Peace Movement, relied on slogans on T-shirts for publicity. T shirts were fashion items among the youth and ‘youth culture’ was a growing opportunity to invoke the support of people as human carriers of our message: ‘support the ANC’ against apartheid. First came the T shirts promoting the ANC in general, then the ANC Women’s League and the Youth League. Then came the buttons and flags and badges, caps and jewellery. Then as now, I preferred and remain committed to issue driven politics rather than to personality driven campaigns because of the dangers to a democratic future inherent in ‘cult of the personality’ politics.
From a zero base and with the help of a nice group of T shirt printers who because they were the adult children of Greek and Cypriot activists who had resisted British rule and then their own ‘Colonels’ regime we developed an ever expanding range of shirts I took with me wherever I spoke in public. Slowly the idea of a mail order service we called ANCSA (ANC of South Africa) Merchandise was born. Gill Marcus’s Information Section designed and produced simple and effective catalogues for us. The range of goods kept growing to include sterling silver pendants of our MK Warrior, our logo on high quality enamel badges, brooches, ear rings, watches, coffee mugs and pens until we were shipping more than a £110 000 (about a quarter of a million US Dollars) of goods a year. The loss each year was about £10 000 and that for a large amount of publicity that showed in a very public way people’s identification with the ANC as the leader of the struggle against apartheid. Our best sales representative in the United States was Vicky Erenstein who later declared that she was the “queen of the ANC’s rag trade.
One of my more delightful moments was giving OR Tambo our enamel logo badge. He insisted that he must have them in presentation boxes, immediately, in numbers to take with him on a trip to visit heads of government in the Caribbean. Frene Ginwallah was in his party on that trip and she told me that he enjoyed giving them to Prime Ministers as tokens of appreciation, and explaining to them the symbolism of our logo: The four spoke wheel of the 1955 Congress of the People, with each spoke representing a national group – African, Coloured, Indian and White, bound together in a wheel representing the unity of the Congress Alliance out of which comes a fist holding a spear together with a shield representing the historic resistance against colonial conquest and now representing Umkhonto we Sizwe, the shield and spear of our people, and the ANC flag with its bands of Black for the oppressed people, green for the fertile land and gold for the mineral wealth beneath our soil.
Making the ANC known was important for fundraising too. As the situation inside South Africa heated up so more and more media coverage brought home to the British and international public the need to support our movement. Sylvester Stein, a South African who had emigrated to Britain in the 1950s, approached our office to offer his services for fundraising. I knew him well from the 1940s in Cape Town when he was often in our home. I was eventually asked to supervise his efforts to ensure that whatever was written and published through the unit he established outside of our office did not distort our basic political policies. With his daughter Lyndall they became very effective indeed at raising funds through advertisements placed in the Guardian and Observer newspapers. There were full page advertisements on occasion in the Observer with hundreds of names of signatories to the demand for the release of Nelson Mandela. Sylvester financed the operation until it could sustain itself and even guaranteed the ANC against loss should there be an inadequate response. They found a marvellous copywriter who through draft after draft managed to encompass our policies in 300 words.
. The responses were so great that Anazora Tikly, daughter of Mohammed Tikly our education Secretary, was taken on to assist Lyndall. Not only did I have to ensure the political integrity of our fundraising material I had to protect the unit from comrades in our office who though they did not have enough time to do all the work that needed to be done, felt they had to have their say on every detail of the fundraising too. I am delighted that she developed into a successful fundraiser in her own right through the experience of working with Sylvester and Lyndall. They also needed a fulltime IT assistant to handle their growing data base and he did a very good job of it at a time when electronic data processing was a relatively new thing. Each advertisement gave each donor a set of check boxes to say what they wanted their donation to be used for: things such as education, welfare, medical care and omnibus humanitarian needs. Every so often a donor would write ‘Use it for armed struggle’ across their coupon. We had to ignore that of course because involvement in that aspect of our struggle would have upset the UK Government and jeopardised our stay in Britain. The London office of the ANC was the key communications centre for the representatives the ANC had in the many countries throughout the world.
The Secretary General Alfred Nzo was in London when our first advertisement was to appear. We wanted his signature on it. He looked at the draft copy and immediately started to add our usual harsh adjectives that would make the copy too long to fit into the space available. I explained the need for brevity. He asked if the copy was okay. I said it was and he responded by signing it.
Wolfie Kodesh raised large sums of money through prize draws. He found donors of prizes ranging from holidays in exclusive resorts to electronic appliances and systems, music instruments and the like.
Tens of thousands of pounds poured in. That created problem of bookkeeping for us and because we were short staffed I suspect that some money was lost to us in various ways of pilferage.
It fascinated me that we had many exile musicians in London. Generally when they performed at a concert to raise funds they would do so without charging a performance fee. However there were rehearsal fees and meals and transport and refreshments. Some Local Authorities like Islington and Camden gave their halls free of charge; some even paid for the advertising, and yet we would lose money on the event which was politically a great success in bringing exiles and Londoners together. On the other hand I saw the effective fundraising done by the Dutch AntiApartheid Movement (AABN) who provided platforms for emerging bands in an era of socially relevant rock and roll music. They nurtured a number of bands who made it into the big time.
In Britain Artists Against Apartheid held a Freedom Festival on Clapham Common in South London. It was phenomenal. 100 000 people took part in the march to the Common. The audience numbered 250 000. There was such a crush of people that underground railway stations were closed to prevent people being pushed onto the tracks by the pressure of the crowds behind them. The Metropolitan police put the number who attended at a few tens of thousands. Jerry Dammers and Dali Tambo worked tirelessly to make it the success it was. The crowds came to hear the musicians express their solidarity with the people of Namibia and South Africa through their words and music. Speakers from the ANC, SWAPO and the British Anti-Apartheid Movement addressed the crowd. Alienated Black British musicians played a leading role in the event and anti apartheid served the much wider purpose of trying to overcome racism in general.
In the United States, Artists United Against Apartheid was formed in 1985 by Steven van Zandt as a protest group against apartheid. They produced the song "Sun City" and the album Sun City that year when Danny Schechter, a journalist who was then working with ABC News' 20/20, suggested turning the song into "a song about change not charity, freedom not famine." These artists also vowed never to perform at Sun City, because to do so would in their minds seem to be an acceptance of apartheid.
It was astonishing to see entertainers who so often avoid controversy so that they do not risk alienating any part of their potential audience, take a strong stand against racism. Our struggle benefited but it showed the influence of the non-racial policies of the ANC led Alliance on attitudes far beyond our shores. Danny Schechter made a wonderful music video of the performance of the song Sun City. He used fresh and exciting cutting values of triple split screens with cuts made on the beat.
The most famous of the concerts was the first Mandela concert at Wembley Stadium in London on 11 June 1988, mounted on behalf of the British AAM. It was a great success in every way. It had a television audience of close to a billion people in more than 60 countries. I went to the stadium but was so tired I went home to watch it on television. It netted a lot of money for the Bishop Ambrose Reeves Trust Fund that supported the AAM which doubled its membership in one month. Many of the artists who performed the Sun City rock number performed at Wembley. Free Free Mandela became a song widely known around the world.
For us in the ANC it was a strange new feeling to be part of a movement that had such popular appeal. In London I took part in a march soon after I arrived there. Marching in the front row I felt very vulnerable. Our march was flanked by policemen who from the exchanges I overheard were indeed concerned to protect us. What a strange thing to experience! I also saw in Britain the police attacking marching miners and print workers. It seems democratic rights have their limits too.
The second Mandela Concert at Wembley on 16 April 1990 was interesting because he was now free and was to appear at Wembley. There was enormous excitement. The promotion company who had mounted the Free Mandela Concert were again called upon. This time some ANC comrades were included in the organising committee. Surpluses were to go to an election education fund in South Africa to prepare our millions of people who had never been allowed to vote in an election to know what to do. I was told that the concert made no surplus and I gathered it had lost money. Some of the enthusiasm of the 1980s activist rockers had evaporated.
I was involved in a peripheral way. A group of promoters were working with me to create a line of sports and leisure shoes carrying Nelson Mandela’s signature. We had made with their help a T shirt with Mandela as a boxer portrayed on it. Signed by Nelson Mandela, we auctioned it at a launch event my promoter friends had organised. John Barnes, Liverpool and England footballer, bought it for £1000. Now these promoters offered to ensure that the latest Mandela concert should yield big bucks for our movement. They made an offer to deposit £1 000 000 into a trust account as an upfront payment which indicated how big the music industry was. Any profit beyond that amount would be split 85% for us and 15% for them. They were prepared to pay the existing promoter for all his expenses up to that time, keep him in the team, but take over the promotion. Such sums of money boggled my mind. They told me that the stage structure at Wembley alone would cost as much as building a five bedroom multi-storey house in North London. The stage would then be dressed and artists’ lounges provided for a similar sum of money.
The word in the music service industry was that the ‘gravy train was rolling.’ Naturally I wanted to know how they could offer such a large guaranteed payment. They said that music companies spend fortunes to get their current top performers to headline such concerts. I refrained from asking if they were above or below the table payments. I asked my ANC comrades who were involved if there was any way in which we could negotiate such a deal to guarantee the profit. They assured me everything was under control and there was nothing more I could do.
The concert was a political success. Nelson Mandela appeared to wild acclaim. His tribute to OR Tambo his friend, his law partner and political comrade was incredibly moving and well justified. He had held our movement together for thirty years and achieved a successful first step on the road to democracy.
For me there was a charming moment before the concert when I met a radical Conservative MP at a reception for visiting South Africans. He said it was a pity that Mr Mandela was not planning to see Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher during his visit to Britain. My response was that such a visit is not something like casually dropping in for afternoon tea. Important visits of that kind are prepared long in advance. Furthermore, I said, Mr Mandela was not really coming to Britain but to Wembley because that stadium provided a platform from which he could address the world. Wembley happened to be in Britain and was an exceptional venue for a concert that was the realisation of the goal of the first ‘Free, Free, Mandela’ concert at Wembley. Therefore there was no rebuff of any kind. He was impressed and said he would inform the Governing Conservative Party’s Central office immediately. I thought that such quick thinking qualified me for a diplomatic post! I watched the concert from home and enjoyed it very much.
In the middle 1990s, Jan Braun, a German student doing his doctorate in molecular biology at The Glasgow Caledonian University proposed me and campaigned for me to be elected as the Honorary President of the GCU Students Association. I addressed the annual Burns Night Dinner to honour the great Scottish nationalist and internationalist poet Robert Burns. In true Scottish fashion having taken sufficient whiskey, I sang Auld lang Syne in Zulu. I also read aloud a poem by the modern internationalist poet Hamish Hamilton’s Freedom come all ye. In translation from the dialect he opens the poem with the statement that there is a strong wind blowing throughout the great valley of the world. But it is more than a wind. It is an idea that people can live in freedom and the rich exploiters will be overcome. The lines that particularly appeal to me are the ones that say that the great vision we have shall be realised and “all the bairns of Adam, will have breid and barley bree, and paintit room.” Translated: all the children (of Adam) will have bread and barley stew, and painted room. He is saying that hunger will be no more and everyone will have somewhere decent to live in. Then people all over the world will no longer fear ‘Scotland the Brave’ meaning they will no longer fear the Scottish regiments that subjugated them as soldiers of British imperialism. So they can all come home in freedom.
There were some highlights of this period of my life and they appear as short interludes that are little stories on their own. My release was followed by that of Govan Mbeki. He was followed by Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Matsolaedi, Andrew Mlangeni and Wilton Mqwayi who was sentenced in the Little Rivonia Trial in December 1963 together with David Kitson who joined us in prison and others who went to Robben Island.
Moscow Border – No Visa, No Problem (or To the Finland Station)
I was invited to an AAPSO (Afro Asian peoples Solidarity Organisation) Conference in Helsinki on apartheid South Africa’s relations with Israel. The invitation to me came to the ANC office, but I was invited as an independent expert to make one of the keynote speeches.
The ANC Chief Representative instructed me to go to the Soviet Consulate to arrange for my flight to Moscow, train to Helsinki and back again. There, after the normal queuing and waiting I was given an Aeroflot ticket and a voucher for the train from Moscow to Helsinki. Obviously, I was to go “To the Finland Station.” I asked about a visa and was told that it would take too long to get one and I should simply go to Heathrow where Aeroflot would know about me and make no difficulties about the lack of a visa. I had also been told that somebody from the Soviet Afro Asian Solidarity Committee would meet me to take me from Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow to the Railway station for the trip via Leningrad to Helsinki.
Everything went according to plan! I arrived in Moscow as scheduled and went to the Passport Control. There a young officer took my passport and compared the photograph with me. I could see his eyes flick from left ear to photograph, right ear to photograph, left nostril, right nostril, strong chin, high forehead, charming smile and so on, and then … the one dreaded word: “VISUM.” “Err—um I responded. Do you speak English?” One word in Russian was the reply. From the accompanying gesture it clearly meant ‘wait.’
After a few silent minutes a youngish officer, short like me, broad like me, but in uniform with the large Russian Officer’s peaked cap advanced on me with hand outstretched and a warm smile. I had heard about false teeth made of stainless steel and now saw that in an unselfconscious person the smile really could be warm. Suddenly I felt less anxious because even though my papers weren’t in order and there was not much time to retrieve my baggage and get to the Leningrad Station I was officially there and I was met with friendliness. I explained why I was there, why I was in transit, and that there should be somebody from the Afro Asian People’s Solidarity Committee to meet me. I explained that I did not have any names or phone numbers, and though I had previously visited the Committee and spoken to a number of the top people, my mind was a blank. He said he’d find out for me. All was calm and unthreatening. I was led to a soft-chaired waiting room. An elderly American couple were there, looking glazed, dazed and anxious and had clearly waited a longish time. It seemed, on inquiry that their visas were out by one day due to time zone changes or some such reason and this needed to be clarified. Based upon my treatment I felt that they should not be anxious and all would be well. They seemed relieved that an English speaking person, me, was so relaxed and they relaxed too. I do hope all turned out well for them, because my Lieutenant arrived very soon with a sheet of paper with names and phone numbers of the Solidarity Committee people and he said that somebody would be there very soon to assist me. My passport was stamped, or rather an insert sheet was stamped, and off I went.
Baggage collection was not so simple. Sending it through on every other belt but the one announced from time to time seemed to be part of the security arrangements, or perhaps it was just simple innocent muddle. In any case the Soviet Ambassador Solodovnikov, the one the West German media called ‘Moscow’s Fist in Africa,’ was also waiting and he kept me company and re-assured me that we would get to our train station in good time. My Solidarity Committee person arrived very late because the airport is a long way outside the city but we piled into taxis and duly got to the Finland Station, the main station for departures to Leningrad and Helsinki.
Now the Visa problem really reared its ugly head. A young woman Lieutenant stopped me from boarding the train. Ticket, passport, visa, where are they? Of course, no visa! No way would I be allowed to board. The Ambassador introduced himself and vouched for me. “Nyet!” No! The Solidarity Committee representative introduced herself and vouched for me. “Nyet!” I sympathised with the Lieutenant, and explained again what had happened and after all the Border Guards at the Airport had been instructed to let me through. “Nyet!” I felt that I was quite naive to think I could travel without proper papers.
A thirty-something man wearing white trousers and vest and white shoes stepped down from my carriage onto the platform. He looked like the bed maker on a South African train. He wandered around the circle of people appearing quite uninterested in what was happening. My companions began to speak more loudly in the face of the obstinate and unmoving young lieutenant. Her pretty face was flushed as we badgered her. She appeared to be quite indifferent to what was happening. Then I saw the train attendant catch her eye and nod very slightly. She appeared to pause for thought, and then she, with a small smile and a small wave of her hand, indicated I should get aboard. Immediately the train pulled away. What a wonderful observation post for the security officer in our part of the train! Mr “White trousers-and-vest” was clearly somebody significant.
The Soviet Ambassador came to collect me and we drank tea from a samovar in his compartment and so the journey passed rather pleasantly for me with interesting discussion. I was struck by the huge size of the passenger cars on the broad gauge track and that the ride was very smooth compared with the rocking shuddering and shaking of our narrower gauge trains in South Africa.
Two hours before Helsinki the border crossing process started on the train. Inspections of compartments and baggage, passports and visas took place. For me: No visa, no problem. I arrived in Helsinki in time for the conference.
Meeting Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela
Walter Sisulu was a highly respected leader of the liberation movement from way back. To millions of South Africans he was uTata, to me and those close to him he was Comrade Walter.
We had last seen each other when we were sentenced in the Rivonia Trial on 12 June 1964. Now in 1989 we would meet again. He had been in the prison on Robben Island and like Ahmed Kathrada and four others imprisoned for life were released as a result of the changes in Southern Africa and the upheaval in Eastern Europe. The Cold War was over and South Africa’s white regime could no longer present itself as the bulwark against communism and the opposition African National Congress as the fifth column of world communism.
To meet Walter and others I had flown to Stockholm from London and arrived at a semi-formal dinner given in honour of Walter and others, directly from the airport together with Father Huddleston, Sipho Pityana, Horst Kleinschmid, Billy Masetlha, Mendi Msimang and a few others. As we walked into the large room where the dinner was being held, there was a series of embraces and handshakes. Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Matsoaledi came out from behind their tables. As we embraced there were cries of, "Is it really you, Andrew? Really you, Elias?" "Is it really you, Denis?" and over and over again as I met Govan Mbeki, Wilton Mkwayi and Raymond Mhlaba. There was a welling over, an eruption, of emotion on meeting these comrades with whom I'd shared so much during our trial and afterwards, even though we were separated by 1600 kilometres in segregated prisons for so many years. Sipho commented that he’d never before witnessed such emotion.
Eventually I made my way over to Walter Sisulu, saying "Walter, I must touch you." Holding out his hand he replied, "And I must touch you, Denis." We held hands while he asked me, after 27 years, how we had been caught. That was his first question.I replied that I thought we'd been betrayed by Bruno Mtolo, but I wanted to recall what had happened just before we had arrived at the Rivonia farm on the day of our arrest, 11 July, 1963. On the way in the minibus one of my comrades asked what we should name the new smallholding, a 10 acre farm, we had bought near Krugersdorp. I suggested that we should call it SHUFISA. "What's it mean?" several had responded. It sounded African but it wasn’t a real word they said. I explained that Eisenhower name his headquarters SHAEFE for Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe in WW2; so ours should be Supreme Headquarters United Front in South Africa. This was greeted with howls of laughter. "Walter," I told him now, "you said that you weren't sure that it was correct to speak about a united front! But I want to tell you that now, 27 years later, we do have a united front!" He really laughed out loud, and almost in wonderment asked if I could really remember what had happened on that day just before we had been arrested.
Among all the great leaders of the liberation movement he was acknowledged by all, including Nelson Mandela, as the one who always reminded us of the concept of unity in action. He believed in and lived this principle and always found ways of drawing people together to achieve the ending of racism in South Africa.
Walter’s greatest attribute was that despite the rejection that so many young men experience in their families, and for him it was intensified by his white father’s denial of his son who was raised by his mother, a domestic worker, and his Gogo or granny, that he transcended all of this to become an adult who genuinely embraced everybody in his vision. He was a person who was at ease with himself. He did not need adulation and high office to feel that he was recognised. He knew within himself the value of his contribution as a great political architect of our new South Africa that would have place for all who lived in it.
It was not any different when I first met him in Cape Town at a quiet, secret, meeting during September 1962 when he and Nelson Mandela travelled around the country together after the stay-at-home in 1961. There we discussed the state of the campaign to end apartheid and the need to introduce the armed struggle as a politically directed campaign against the white supremacy government but not against whites as such. That view was the expression of Sisulu’s understanding of unity in action, and the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 at Kliptown, that in its preamble said, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and white together.” That now sounds like a very mild expression, but at the time it was a revolutionary concept. The Freedom Charter’s epilogue states, “These freedoms we shall fight for together side by side all our lives, sparing neither strength nor courage, until we have won our liberty.” That is what Walter Sisulu lived up to all his life including during the Trial that followed the arrests at Rivonia, and 26 years in prison in the years thereafter.
In the weeks before our arrest on 11 July 1963 at Lilliesleaf Farm near Sleepy Hollow in Rivonia, we had lived together with Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Wilton Mkwayi, organiser and leader from the Eastern Cape. Walter was an undemanding companion to share a house with. He seemed always lost in thought, always analytical but always good-humoured. He was not a dogmatic person. He preferred to convince you of his views by rational argument and analysis. He did not ever demand acceptance because he was the leader. Yet you knew that he should be, indeed had to be, consulted over just about every significant decision and you did it willingly because he was always worth listening too. Walter Sisulu was worried about me, a young man of 30 living the restricted life of an underground activist. He insisted I visit safe friends, the Sepel family, who had been his host family underground, to play squash or just to visit. He of course warned me to ensure that I was not followed back to Travallyn.
On June 16 1963 Walter made his famous radio broadcast from the “underground, somewhere in South Africa.” We insisted that he tape record the speech because he was too valuable a leader to put him at risk by allowing him to sit at a microphone next to the transmitter. As I described earlier he accepted the need to keep his speech short because I would be at risk of being captured. The speech was a masterpiece in which he spoke of his personal commitment and dedication. It was a rallying call to people to continue the struggle to make all our people free. He said that he had not given up but had gone underground to continue his struggle. During our trial I sat next to him for eight months and he was a source of strength for all of us.
When we had a moment of privacy in Stockholm Walter’s caring concern showed as after nearly 30 years he asked about the Sepels’ children. He was very fond of them and he hoped that the connection with him through protecting him all those years ago had not caused them too many problems.
During my last real conversation with Walter Sisulu, I thanked him for teaching me the greatest lesson of all, “To draw people to us, and not to drive them away.” Washing my hands with his hands, he said he was grateful that I had learned this from him.
One year after my meeting with Walter I met with Comrade Nelson Mandela in Sweden. He was on his first journey abroad to the USA, Europe, and North Africa. It was, I must admit, disappointing not to have been able to meet him immediately, but that was clearly not possible. He was heavily engaged in political work from the moment of his release and I was needed to continue my work in the ANC mission in London. It was also quite disappointing not to have been able to fly to Lusaka to meet him on his first trip outside South Africa, when he went to the ANC Headquarters in exile.
When Nelson Mandela was released on 11 February 1990 I was invited to sit in the ITV television studio in London to comment on the live video feed from South Africa that was broadcast to hundreds of tv stations around the world. Nelson and his wife Winnie stopped the car in which they were travelling just inside the prison grounds and walked hand-in-hand into freedom. I told the story of the prisons security chief who said we would never walk out of prison on our own feet and here was the last of our group now walking out from behind the walls. It was a moment that changed my life in many ways. There was a sense of fulfilment, a sense that perhaps I need not be quite so intense about the freedom struggle. Ez remarked to friends that I was much more open to talk about prison and all those years away from real life. I said over the airwaves that I had a deep seated wish to return to South Africa to embrace him. I had last seen him on the day we were sentenced to life imprisonment. Thereafter we were segregated. He and the others were taken away and held on the Robben Island.
Now things had moved on. A group of ANC comrades drove down together from Stockholm to Arlanda International Airport some thirty kilometres outside the city. Nelson and Winnie were flying in on that day together with an entourage of South African activists as guests of the Swedish government that carried on the policies of the late, great, social democratic Prime Minister Olaf Palme who had been murdered in 1986. The first reception was to take place on the tarmac, with a receiving line and an enclosure for Swedish anti-apartheid supporters. The protocol and security were something to behold. The Swedish government were not only showering Nelson with great honour, they were making damn sure no crazy individual or agent of apartheid fanatics would be able to harm him. All the formality and double-checking added to the tension and excitement of the thousand people on the tarmac which vied with the excitement and hope of literally millions of people in Sweden who watched on television. The plane touched down and rolled to its parking place. The door opened, steps were pushed into place, and the carefully arranged line of dignitaries, anti-apartheid movement officials, ANC members and others, lost its precision as we all pushed forward. The line was curved, I am not tall, and I could not see where he was. Then the press photographers and television crews heralded his advance down the line by backing into us and butting us aside.
Suddenly, from amidst the melee, Nelson stood in front of me. We shook hands quite formally. He held both of my hands. I held both of his. Silence. This tall, older friend and comrade stood there looking tired and gaunt. Receiving lines are a bit like hell. They press in on one. "Hello, Nel," I said, "We've not met since the day we were sentenced." "That's right. You look good, Boy," he replied, and embraced me. Without too much thought I took off my ANC scarf and placed it round his neck. Winnie followed him. She did not recognise me. Not surprisingly, for we had not really known each other, and I had become older and a lot balder in the 26 years since the trial. "I'm Denis Goldberg," I said. "It's wonderful to see you." She was absolutely radiant. Holding my hands and leaning away from me as if to see me better she said, "Oh! I had forgotten that face of yours. How wonderful to see you."
The formal proceedings at the airport were over. Back into the ANC's minibus for the trip in convoy to the Haga Palace halfway back to Stockholm. What a wild ride it was with the Swedish police security teams and cars belting along the highway to make it difficult for intruders. Our minibus was not built for, and did not look as though it should have been part of a convoy of sleek black state limousines.
What a crush there was at the formal reception. OR Tambo was recovering in Sweden from a series of strokes that resulted from his untiring efforts to lead us to freedom. He had held our movement together for 30 years in exile through his outstanding leadership. It was very moving to see OR, as he was known to one and all, glowing with the pleasure of his first meeting with Nelson. They had not met for thirty years since O.R. had left South Africa in 1960 to establish the external ANC. These two friends, comrades in the ANC, partners in the first law practice opened by black South Africans, were back together again.
They sat in adjacent armchairs as we well-wishers stopped first to greet OR and then Nelson. Nelson was in much more relaxed mood laughing and smiling and revelling in being with close friends. He exchanged delightful stories with Wolfie Kodesh who had housed him and cared for him for a large part of the time that he'd been underground before his capture in September 1962.
After the initial excitement I felt a new sense of completeness. Now all the comrades I had been sentenced with were out of prison and I had met them all.Esmé arrived on the next day. Her first meeting with Nelson and Winnie took place in another line up when they went to lay a wreath at Olof Palme's grave.
Nelson greeted me with, "You're here again, boy" and moved on to greet Esmé. He shook her hand and made the kind of stiff response usual when meeting someone you don't know, "I'm pleased to meet you," he said. "Nel," I said, "This is Esmé, my wife." "Oh!" he replied, leaning down from his great height to embrace her and said “You have been looking after him very well. The Boy looks good." He really is warm-heartedly generous.
Esmé was appalled by Nelson’s appearance because though he was buoyed up by the excitement of his meeting with OR and so many other comrades and the virtual State Visit to Sweden, he looked exhausted to her professional eye as a physiotherapist and trained reflexologist. He admitted to her that he wasn’t sleeping too well and that all the flying and time zone shifts had upset his digestion. His entourage were demanding that he should eat but he was too tired he said. Esmé persuaded him to have a reflexology treatment instead and her magical hands relaxed him and soothed him and he said later that it had made a great difference to his wellbeing.
Esmé also had the opportunity to speak with Winnie alone. She told me that she had said that she knew the pressures of being the wife of “the hero in prison” and of having to satisfy the public demand for personal loyalty, but after the release and a decent interval it was possible to publicly acknowledge being separated. The reason of course was that the media often suggested that Winnie was in the midst of an affair or a new affair and the gossip hurt both of them. Esmé though not in the eye of the media as Winnie was had had the same conflicts. Her words were something like: “Now that the hero is free, you too are free to choose to openly take a new partner.” It would have saved a lot of personal pain for both of them had Winnie taken her advice. In 1992 Nelson Mandela separated from his wife and in March 1996 they were divorced.
Training in Asia: Commonwealth Secretariat Study programme
After Nelson Mandela was released and the ANC and other banned organisations were legalised in February 1990 a four-year period of transition began. A Convention for a Democratic South Africa was followed by a Constitutional Conference in which virtually every political party negotiated the future of South Africa. During this time the ANC sent representatives throughout the world to study the political and economic systems of other countries.
In December 1991 the ANC sent me on an advanced administrative training programme organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat. It was a wonderful experience. For three weeks together with civil servants from Commonwealth countries from East and West Africa, the Caribbean, India and Malaysia we studied at the Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad and a further two-weeks at the Malaysian Government Institute for Public Administration, INTAN, in Kuala Lumpur.
The range of attitudes, skills and experience among my colleagues was fascinating, leading to interesting discussions. Hyderabad, a city with a large group of people of Muslim belief in a very large Hindu community seemed at peace with itself. The Grand Mosque is very beautiful at the centre of an open air place of worship for three thousand people. There are also many shrines to Hindu deities. The museums and art galleries are very beautiful and I spent hours enjoying their artistic and cultural treasures. Motorized rickshaws based on vespa-like scooters provided cheap, rapid and quite frightening travel as swarms of them buzzed down the main roads with hooters blaring. There are seven universities and hundreds of book stalls lining the sidewalks of several kilometers of road with each stall the width of one’s outstretched arms. When you asked to see a book the stall holder would fetch it and keep his hand on it to prevent theft while you looked through it. Prices for computer handbooks for example were less than a quarter of the price of the equivalent book in Britain. In part this was due to the poor quality of the paper, binding and printing but prices were in line with the capacity of Indian students to pay.
The participants in the course were given pocket money of thirty rupees a day for personal expenses. Local cigarettes cost two rupees for a packet of twenty, while international brands such as those owned by Mr Rupert’s Rembrandt group cost over twenty rupees. Local whisky cost four rupees and imported Scotch whisky, the preferred tipple of the elite, cost thirty rupees a tot. In comparison, porters and cleaners at the college hostel for visiting students were paid twenty seven rupees a day on which they had to maintain their families. The absurdity of pocket money for smokes and drinks larger than the daily wage for a head of a family shocked me. The indifference of the Indian civil servants who participated in the course was even more alarming. They said they had to ignore the wage disparity or drive themselves mad. (I imagine that in South Africa in today many have sadly adopted the same attitude.)
The lecturers at the Staff College were extremely interesting academics and experienced administrators and through the information they passed on I saw that the Indian economy had grown enormously since independence in 1947. Heavy industry with advanced technology and agriculture that was modernizing together with a rural population that largely fed itself was the basis for future development. Would they be able to solve the problem of abject poverty is as much the real issue now, as it was then.
One of our Indian colleagues, a director of a state owned regional bus company, owned a farm that used masses of labour for modern agricultural techniques and, because he was ‘connected,’ he received free seed for testing and free consultancy. His workers dressed in rags and worked seven days a week. In the city I saw construction on multi-story buildings using women to carry bowls of sand, cement and everything needed, up three and four stories of scaffolding built of bamboo poles. They wore simple work saris using one hand to keep it closed at the front while walking like an army of ants up the scaffolding with the other hand reserved for steadying the basins on their heads. Such straight-backed elegance was something to behold as they demonstrated to my critical eye that wealth is accumulated through the backbreaking efforts of low paid workers.
The many private schools in addition to state schools showed a hunger for education. Their signs stated the names of the private schools and the qualifications of the owners such as BAs or Masters degrees from prestigious universities. I assume the statements were true because there were also those who stated that they had a “BA (failed).” That seemed to be proof of the saying that “in the land of the blind, ‘one–eye’ is the king.”
The crowds in the streets were enormous but unthreatening until you offered a beggar a few small coins for then you were surrounded in seconds by hundreds of people demanding equal treatment. My Indian colleagues warned me about being overtly compassionate.
Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, contrasted sharply with Hyderabad. It is smaller and strikingly cleaner and more orderly and at least on the surface much richer. I loved the fast food stalls that served dishes based on the cuisines of the three main cultural groups, Malay, Indian and Chinese. The stalls were spotlessly clean because of strict hygiene regulation and control and the food was cheap in relation to Malaysian incomes.
I was amused by my Hindi colleagues rushing off to find a hamburger restaurant where they could eat lots of beef, something that was boring and commonplace for me. The traditional food stalls were commonplace for them while I enjoyed their novelty.
A visit to the first of the many state farms run on cooperative lines which had brought the Malay (Bumiputra) people out of the forests and into direct production of rubber and palm oil as owners rather than as cheap labour on expatriate owned plantations showed the potential of the state in overcoming mass poverty. It was crucial that the state cleared the land and established the farms on which the families were settled. They were required to pay back the cost of establishing these farms as if they were paying off a mortgage. A special feature was that when world prices for their palm oil and rubber production fell below certain levels they were relieved of the payments until the prices rose again to a level which enabled them to resume their payments. The payback period was lengthened to accommodate these shifts in prices. This was a clear example of state intervention in the market economy to ensure that the historically most deprived majority community did not bear the brunt of the capitalist world market’s price fluctuations that we know often result from speculative buying and selling rather than from variations in real production factors.
The production unit of land and trees was owned by the family and it could be inherited by a member of the family but it could not be sold to an outsider, only to the state cooperative farm itself.
One of the original farmers had come onto the farm about thirty years previously. He had expanded his original tiny one room house adding rooms to accommodate his seven children. He came on a bicycle and had progressed through a scooter, to a motorbike to a small car and then to a big 4x4. I was assured that his family’s development in only one generation was the norm. The farmer looked old and dried out by his heavy work in the sun but all seven children had gone to university. His four sons had doctorates from prestigious universities in the United States and his three daughters had Masters Degrees from Malaysian universities. It seems that Muslim daughters were not trusted to go alone into the outside world. It also seems that young men get doctorates and young women get Masters Degrees. The result of the opportunities that the children of the first generation of state cooperative farmers had enjoyed has resulted in an unwillingness to stay on the farms. This problem was something they had to solve, Petronas, the state oil company was set up to challenge the major international oil companies that tried to hold the newly independent Malaysia to ransom over the prices of petroleum products. In 1974 Malaysia was able to take back ownership and control of their oilfields and stop them from being ruined by over-extraction. They held down the price of petroleum and developed new technology to open up new difficult fields. Petronas emerged during the cold war period when Malaysia was the South East Asian domino that the United States would not allow to fall. Therefore Malaysia was allowed to get the better of the oil companies. Subsequently Petronas allowed the oil companies minority shares in petroleum production and distribution. Petronas is now just another international oil corporation.
At the end of our study programme in December 1991 we wrote group reports and personal reports. On returning to the ANC office in London I sent what I had written to ANC President Mandela and Deputy President Mbeki in Johannesburg. I wish I could have been more influential in transferring what I had learned about economic development in practice.
My contributions in full are included in Appendix 7. I have extracted a few significant points:
To achieve the goals of long term economic development through their detailed five year plans the government insisted on a heavily regulated free market economy. The free market economy is quite heavily regulated by government. The directive power resided in the office of the Prime Minister. The most powerful economic units were the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and the Economic Coordination Unit (ICU). In less than thirty years the state intervention had moved the economy very quickly from colonial extractive industries, rubber, palm oil and tin, to an industrial economy. State intervention enabled the rapid accumulation of capital.
In the social sphere the New Economic Policy was the basis for positive discrimination, or affirmative action, in favour of the Malay (Bumiputra) people who as a group had acquired a dominant position in the Civil Service and the State Government Services. There was some alienation among the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups. The distribution of wealth was still skewed amongst the three main ethnic groups but there was also widespread skewing of ownership within each ethnic group as well. The problem of rural poverty among the Malay people had been largely overcome. However urban poverty ws growing among those who have neither skills nor ability to work at the going wage rate for menial, or heavy, manual labour.
The New Economic Policy (1972 onwards) had been replaced by the National Development policy (1991onwards) which signaled less affirmative action in favour of the Malay ethnic group. In part affirmative action had a momentum of its own and the ethnic minorities were actively seeking greater equality on social matters and a greater share in the investment opportunities that the government was opening up in the private sector.
The rapid pace of economic development brought change in social norms. Women with tertiary education were marrying later and having children even later than was the custom in earlier times. Some at least were consciously having fewer children, in part because they wished to pursue their careers with no interruption (later age of first pregnancy) or fewer interruptions (smaller families}.
Many women had discarded the head cover (except for ritual occasions). There were husbands who insisted on women retaining that tradition. Men asserted that there was no job discrimination but women asserted that there was discrimination against them and the statistics showed that the latter were right.
The Civil Service clearly reflected the commitment to increasing the participation of the Malay ethnic group (Bumiputra) in government and in public enterprises, but minority ethnic groups were strongly represented in the Petroleum Research Institute of Petronas and in the more technical government departments.
One ‘explanation’ is that minority groups were granted fewer scholarships to Malaysian universities. Parents sent their children to foreign universities where many took advanced science degrees, whereas Malay children took arts and administration degrees to become members of the managerial staffs of government and public enterprises.
I was surprised to hear overtly expressed resentment of non-Bumiputra minorities even by some very high level officials.
What was clear is that the economic and social development of a country cannot be left to chance. A strong central authority is necessary to shake the country out of its colonial past; to coordinate efforts; to accumulate capital and direct resources to key projects while deploying resources to deal with human problems and the maintenance of inter-group stability.
That central authority lay where it should lie, in political hands: in Malaysia in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Writing in 2012, eighteen years into our democracy, South Africa has a strong centralized Ministry of Planning together with a Monitoring Unit, within the Office of the President to guide the implementation of economic, infrastructure and social development. There may be a danger of over centralisation of power but at present power is in the hands of big business that is uncontrolled and is able to ”buy“ influence over state apparatuses. The consequence is uncontrolled markets that have resulted in jobless economic expansion at a time when real unemployment is at a level of over forty percent of the adult population. The need is for political vigilance by trade unions, political parties and fractions of the ruling party.
Solidarity with others
We in the Alliance led by the ANC also gave solidarity to other peoples struggling for freedom from modern colonial oppression. In the course of my work in the ANC office in London I wrote speeches and made many speeches. It was an absurdity of our situation that we never seemed to get ahead of our scheduled activities. Speeches were often called for a few hours before they had to be delivered. There was little time for reflection or the development of fanciful rhetoric and fine imagery. In a way this led to my personal style of writing simply without idiomatic expressions, as though I was speaking English as a second language, and using my voice intonation and volume to impart emotional impact to keep the ears of my audience open. The issue of freedom from national oppression of the Palestinian people was ever close to the ideals of the liberation alliance led by the ANC. For me personally, just as being privileged as a white South African required me to oppose apartheid as the source of those privileges, being of secular Jewish extraction I could not be a Zionist because in the name of creating a Jewish homeland it was clear that Israel was an occupying power that stole the land from its inhabitants. I imagine that was why I was asked to make speeches in support of the Palestinian people. The brutality, the rapes, the murders that were perpetrated to drive Palestinians and Arabs off their lands could not and should not be tolerated. We do not live in the Middle Ages where such barbarism was the norm. Just as I would not be part of apartheid oppression I had to avoid being part of the Zionist oppression.
This was our Address to mark the death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat:
The late Yasser Arafat’s first outstanding contribution was the creation and spreading of the idea of there being a Palestinian Nation.
Among the great features of his life was his versatility as politician, as agitator, as general, as statesman and his courage in the face of the enemy’s desire to eliminate him. He lived with his people, he escaped assassination on at least 3 occasions, but he never left his people in the lurch.
Before the emergence of this understanding of the situation of the people of Palestine there was the notion of an Arab nation occupying all the lands from Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean to all the lands of the Middle East as far as Iraq.
But the situation of the Palestinians was different in that they were subject to the Mandate of the League of Nations after the First World War and the UN after the Second World War. The founding of the State of Israel by UN Security Council resolution 242 in 1947 also called for the existence of a parallel Palestinian state that could not be born for over 30 years because of the opposition of the Pan Arab Movement.
The emergence of the Palestinian Nation began with the founding of Fatah by Yasser Arafat. His historic task was to perform a balancing act between the needs of a powerfully organised Palestinian Liberation Movement and at the same time to maintain the support of the Arab States, governed mainly by feudal Chiefs, Sheiks and Kings, who found the Palestinian Liberation Organisation working amongst the displaced Palestinians living within their state boundaries. This led to the PLO being seen as a threat to their rule at times. The consequence was that the PLO found itself limited in its activities inside those countries. The PLO was sometimes expelled from their countries. For example in “Black September” when the Jordanian monarchy expelled them to Lebanon, and later they were expelled from Lebanon to Tunisia.
At the same time Yasser Arafat brilliantly achieved recognition of the PLO among the people of the powerful western states, to the point where the PLO, of which Arafat’s Fatah was the largest and leading organisation, was recognised by the UN as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian People.
There have been long and close ties between the PLO and the ANC as brother/sister liberation movements fighting the same enemies for the freedom of their own peoples and oppressed people everywhere. One of the key elements in this was the role of Israel as a western imperialist spearhead in support of the oppressive policies of the imperialists. Think of the ties between Israel and Apartheid South Africa in the fields of diplomacy, trade and investment, military training, arms supply and military training and of course in nuclear weapons technology and rocket delivery systems.
There were also ties between the nationally oppressed people of both countries. This showed during the first Intifada where the strategy and tactics of the PLO were those of the ANC-led Liberation Movement, especially the idea of unity in action of all social classes, A free Palestinian State is as much to do with the oil politics of the western powers in general and the United States in particular and their support for the state of Israel to be their policeman in the region. Coupled with that was the blind acceptance of Israel’s argument that they wanted peace but the Arabs did not. This also implied that there was no separate Palestinian Nation, merely an amorphous Arab Nation whose elements were emotionally bound to support their Palestinian “family” but not to the point where that would lead to the formation of modern secular democratic states throughout the region. The West and Israel have been able to play on this while the Zionist enterprise of creating a Jewish national State covering the whole of historical, biblical, Palestine with no Arabs in it was being pushed ahead.
The expansion of the lands of Israel has been almost continuous and every successive government of whichever party in that state has taken part in the process. The process has also included the seizure of over 90% of the waters of Palestine, surface water and from the underground aquifers to the point that soon all agriculture, the centuries old source of the Palestinians’ life itself, will have been destroyed.
The clear implication was that this should not be allowed to continue. We have seen that the brutal suppression of the Palestinian people has intensified with an unparalleled intensity. I made notes about this and they are in Appendix 5 to this book.