At a young age, while a student at the University of Cape Town, Ronald (Ronnie) Britten was an active member of the then Non-European Unity Movement, later to be renamed the Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA). After graduating with a teaching diploma, Britten could only obtain a post in the Karoo town of Middelburg. Undeterred he organised for the Teachers League of South Africa (TLSA) there and in surrounding areas. He later gained a teaching post at Luckoff High School in Stellenbosch, not too distant from his home town, Paarl, where he taught for the rest of his stay in South Africa. He was a diligent and committed teacher who, like others in the TLSA refused to teach the inferior brand of education which the ruling powers had designated for the Blacks. He taught the truth of oppression and urged all his students to play a positive role in the society into which they were born.
He also became active in the Society of Young Africa (SOYA) and when APDUSA (The African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa) was established in the 1960s Britten became an indefatigable member in the Boland district, organising in an array of towns – Paarl, Wellington, Stellenbosch, Strand, Franschoek and Pniel. The Boland branch, which drew its membership from all these areas, became a key component of the APDUSA and Britten, as the leading light in the area was elected to the Head Unity Committee of the Unity Movement.
By 1963 the entire liberation movement was subjected to the worst forms of repression with banning and the imprisonment of thousands. At this stage members of the senior leadership were sent out of the country to continue and further the struggle in exile. By the end of 1964 Britten too was forced to leave the country, for exile, to evade arrest. After a brief stay in Lusaka, Zambia, he was sent by the leadership to represent the movement in Accra, Ghana.
In August 1964 Kwame Nkrumah made a commitment to train UMSA members in guerrilla warfare, and to provide the organisation with financial assistance. The UMSA was also granted permission to open an office in Accra, Ghana. This was an important breakthrough for the UMSA leadership in exile.
In January 1965 the first batch of UMSA members, Diliza Lande, Edward Ncalu, Mtutuzela Mphele and Britten, arrived in Ghana to be trained as the commanders of the “revolutionary army”. This breakthrough was, however, shortlived, for in 1965 Nkrumah was displaced from power in a military coup and UMSA members in Ghana were forced to leave Ghana.
Forced to leave, Britten made his way to England to link up the UMSA support group there. He and his wife Crystal settled in Hemel Hempstead. Here he became the chief conduit of communication between the organisation in exile and at home in South Africa. He was further responsible for the posting of all Unity Movement materials, including the complete writings of I.B. Tabata in an archive at the University of Cape Town.
At Hemel Hempstead, Britten once again returned to teaching. He became an active member of The National Union of Teachers, resisting the debasement of education under the Thatcherites.
Although based in England, Britten made it his duty to attend the annual conferences of UMSA in Zimbabwe. He was the first of those who in exile to visit South Africa again in July 1990, where he delivered a key address to the first national conference of the APDUSA to be held after many years. Shortly thereafter he and his wife returned to settle in Cape Town from where Ronnie continued to contribute in building the organisation nationally. He was truly tireless and argued that one should never shun an organisational task that was necessary but seemed to be too difficult, in favour of a lesser and easier role.
Having been out of South Africa for almost 30 years, Ronnie found that for personal reasons his stay in South Africa could not be sustained and he returned to Hemel Hempstead, England, where he spent the rest of his days.
Ronald (Ronnie) Britten passed away in England on 30 June 2013 at the age of 84 years.
APDUSA. Tribute – Ronald (Ronnie) Britten online. Available at http://www.apdusa.org.za/articles/tribute-ronald-ronnie-britten/ . Accessed on 5 February 2019| Smith, T .L. (2013). Attention to Detail - Obituary for Ronald Britten , 19 July 2013 online. Available at https://attentiontodetail.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/obituary-for-ronald-britten/ . Accessed on 5 February 2019|Kayser, R. Land and Liberty - The Unity Movement and the Land Question, 1933 – 1976 online. Available at http://www.apdusaviews.co.za/repository/RobinKayser-Land%20and%20Liberty.pdf . Accessed on 5 February 2019