Madi Gray was born in Cape Town, where she grew up, attended school and went to university. Her parents were immigrants from Germany, who came to South Africa during the inter-war period. Being a refugee from Germany, her mother understood the similarities between Hitler's Nationalist Socialist Party and the National Party in South Africa, which came to power in 1948. Consequently, she was afraid that with their background they might be subject to pressure again. As a result, her mother tried to make her promise not to do anything political during her student years. Gray’s father died when she was eleven years old.
As a child, Gray became aware of the difference in the treatment of people, based on colour. She enrolled at the University of Cape Town where studied for Bachelor of Arts degree, studying sociology, psychology, anthropology and German. She then went on to do an honours degree in psychology. Gray had to work her way through university. She got a bursary for a couple of years but had to find part-time work so that she could continue to study. As a result, she did not have very much time to do more than sign the odd petition and participate together with many others in political demonstrations.
Her interest in journalism led her to join the editorial board of the university newspaper, Varsity. In 1968, the year that she was the news editor, the students had a sit-in and occupied the administration buildings for ten days. At the time, Gray was a member of NUSAS, the National Union of South African Students.
Their demand was that Archie Mafeje, a black student who had done his BA in Anthropology at the University of Cape Town and furthered his studies abroad, be appointed to a senior lecturing position at UCT. The Senate, which was the body of teachers and lecturers and professors, approved the appointment. The Minister of Education who did not want a black man as a senior lecturer leant on the University Council. Therefore, the university council refused to ratify Mafeje’s appointment.
The students held a sit-in to make sure that he would be appointed. Years later Gray met Archie Mafeje, in Holland where he had been for many years and asked him, “What did you think about out sit-in?” That was the first time he had heard that the predominantly white student body in Cape Town had actually tried to get his appointment ratified. It was unheard of for students in South Africa to occupy the administration block for ten days. People had to climb over sleeping bags to get to their offices. In the end some students from an Afrikaans university nearby, Stellenbosch, were called in to throw the students out.
They threatened to break in and destroy the building and the protesting students. They were then asked by the university's vice-principal to disperse. After discussions they agreed to disperse. The university vice-principal actually got the Stellenbosch men away first, by offering them free drinks at the local university pub.
After Gray married, she left Cape Town for Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, she met people who were very committed to anti-apartheid work, democracy and human rights. Gray did voluntary work for the Institute of Race Relations. She started a project in which she was able to get weekend work one day a week for some high school pupils in Soweto. They were mainly young men and it was the kind of work that they weren't really interested in, like gardening, but her aim was to try and get them work so they would be able earn extra money to enable them to attend school.
Because of her project, she was able to secure a seven day a week permit to go into Soweto and was able to exploit this beyond the original idea. One official said, “I keep thinking that on a Sunday morning I will read that you have been murdered on the streets of Soweto. So if you know anyone who can help to protect you, just ask me and I'll give an extra pass for that day.” That enabled her to get in non-South Africans or South Africans who were interested in seeing Soweto, because she had to use private cars and they would drive a car for her.
Before she left South Africa for Britain, in early 1972, she was involved in the renaissance of the Woman's Movement in South Africa. After leaving Gray joined the Woman's Liberation Movement and worked on an issue that she thought was very important in South Africa such as the women’s right to abortion and women’s right to choose and to control their own bodies. Through Bertil Eger, her partner, she also joined the Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau (CFMAG) before it changed its name to MAGIC. He was a member of the board. With her experience of working on the student newspaper, where she did layout and had to prepare copy for the printer, she soon began working with newsletters. In due course, she also became involved with the anti-apartheid movement.
After she had been in London about six months, Gray received a very angry phone call from a cousin, whom she had contact with initially. A man had turned up on their doorstep and terrorised his wife and asked all about her connections with communism. Her cousin warned her that this person would visit her, so she was prepared. When Gordon Winter, a notorious spy, approached her and demanded information about contacts that she had made in London.
Gray was on their records from her NUSAS days. Several years after she had left someone phoned giving a false name and asked her mother where she was. From the questions she was asked, her mother knew that this call was from the security police. From time to time, they would follow her.
In London, she read South African newspapers for the International Defence and Aid Fund and marked things she thought could be used in their news articles. She also did some editing and research. In December 1972, Gray attended a demographic conference in the Netherlands where she presented a paper that focused on impact of apartheid on the general population. She was one of the first people to critically analyse the demographic impact of apartheid policies, forced removals, and pressures on people of colour to limit their families while encouraging whites to have more children.
Around 1974 Gray and her family went to Tanzania and were based at the university, where Bertil was finishing a book on the first census in Tanzania. Gray had the job of doing the layout. They spent eight to nine months in Tanzania during which time she met members of the African National Congress (ANC) in Dar es Salaam.
After she went to the ANC office, two members visited them and sat for hours on two or three occasions, discussing her questions and explaining. Gray had difficulty accepting the need for the armed struggle since she was opposed to everything that had to do with violence. Soon, she came to understand that there was no other way out for the ANC. After living in Tanzania, she left for London where spent two months before coming moving to live in Sweden.
On her departure she was given a letter for Reg September, the ANC representative in London who sent her to Joe Slovo and Ruth First who also spoke to her about the ANC and its policies. She also met Albie Sachs and Stephanie Kemp and started moving in those political circles. She became a courier as she took a letter from the ANC’s chief representative in London, and messages from Joe Slovo to Sobizana Mngqikana (Bizo) the ANC chief representative in Stockholm who was a close friend of Slovo.
Gray began to work for the ANC as she found herself marking newspapers, cutting them out, and putting together bulletins of information for the ANC office. Before the ANC had an office, she worked, once a week from the private home of a South African who was working closely with Bizo, Desmond McAllister and his Swedish wife, Suzanne. In 1974 Mngqikana arrived in Stockholm to set up an ANC office. During this period, Gray made her first public appearance in Stockholm at an Africa Groups' meeting in October 1974. As a member of the group, she strategised how to get the solidarity movement, the Africa Groups, to work on South Africa again. This was because in the 1960s, the group initiated a boycott of South Africa and Rhodesia, but later focused on the former Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. That meeting was a turning point as after that they started taking more interest in South Africa. She also shared the platform with Basil Davidson an African scholar. The Africa Groups also invited Esau du Plessis from the Dutch Boycott Outspan Action Group to speak about boycotting products from South Africa.
But there was still an ideological problem about whether the ANC was an organization that could speak for the people of South Africa. It was an uphill battle to persuade the Africa Group to place priority on work on South Africa that they decided to start a new anti-apartheid organization, the Support Group for South Africa's People, SSF. They produced a bulletin called Phambili (Forward), which Gray edited. She later joined the editorial board of the Africa Bulletin, as a member of the Stockholm Africa Group until 1982. She was on the Africa Bulletin for seven years, and helped to train more junior people in layout, journalism and writing.
The SSF also organized the very first visit by a South African cultural group, called Amandla to Stockholm in March 1976. Amongst the group were Pallo Jordan and Ronnie Kasrils future ministers in the post apartheid democratic government. The SSF also organized shows where Amandla read South African poetry written by members of the group. They brought in singers and dancers, among them ANC students from the German Democratic Republic. It was the first time South African artists, members of the ANC, were on public platforms in Sweden. At the end of May 1976 a decision to have the next campaign on South Africa was taken and when the Soweto Uprising broke out, it helped to consolidate plans for campaign. The Africa Group and SSF involvement held a vigil opposite the South African embassy, protesting and singing.
While Mngqikana ran the ANC office in Stockholm in mid 1970s. Gray came in 1977, worked for about two years, and helped to move the office from Bondegatan to Gamla Brogatan in the centre of town in January 1979. She also toured Sweden, with a young man called Thabelo Motoponyane, who had been detained and tortured during the 1976 student uprising in Soweto. They travelled for three weeks and met groups from pre-primary schools and creches to trade unions and Christian peace groups. That was one of the first nation-wide events the Africa Groups undertook. When Solomon Mahlangu was executed on 6 April 1979 by the apartheid government, she led the Africa Group to protest outside the South African embassy.
Activities of the solidarity movement were monitored by the perhaps the South African spy network in the country as their private phones were tapped. Shortly after Lindiwe Mabuza took over as Chief Representative, it was decided to disband the support group in mid-1979. Gray had met Mabuza briefly in Cuba in 1978 when the ANC in Sweden had sent her to the World Youth Conference.
Gray did the layout of two of the Africa Groups’ study books and translations into English, from leaflets to entire books. The publishers, Zed Books, used her layout, page by page, for the English version of the study book. She worked on special projects with the Isolate South Africa Committee, ISAK. She was also one of many people who helped researchers like Kristoffer Leonardsson (Christer Pettersson) and other by reading their manuscripts.
With the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations on 2 February 1990, Gray was called upon by newspapers to write something about the ANC leaders’ reactions. At the time she had just interviewed Alfred Nzo, then the Secretary General of the ANC. Twenty year after she left, Gray returned to South Africa. Gray became one of the first people to join the Rondebosch branch of the ANC, which was close to her mother’s home in Claremont. Here she gave a short talk on what Sweden had done in the struggle against apartheid.
Gray continued to work for the ANC doing freelance editing and research as well as a lot of voluntary work for the party. Following her move to Sea Point where she joined the ANC’s Sea Point branch.
On a visit to the Postberg Nature Reserve she decided to become a tour guide. Gray then embarked on a course for tourist guide training. She stayed in Cape Town long enough to become a national tourist guide and also became an assessor for the tourism industry, particularly the guiding section.
HÃ¶gberg, B, (2005) Interviews sorted by country ”“ Madi Gray from The Nordic Documentation of the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa, [online] Available at www.liberationafrica.se. [Accessed 5 August 2011]|Interview with Madi Gray conducted by Bertil HÃ¶gberg, 21 September 2005, from The Nordic Documentation of the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa, [online] Available at www.liberationafrica.se. [Accessed 5 August 2011]