The Lion Conspiracy by Peter Hain - book review

Book review by Bob Newland (Morning Star, 13.4.24).

 The Lion Conspiracy

Peter Hain, Muswell Press, £14.99

IN 2024 we celebrate 30 years of the end of apartheid and South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial elections. It is a momentous year when the ANC faces the possibility of losing its majority as a result of years of failure to overcome the legacy of apartheid and the scandals of corruption and state capture.

This is the third in Peter Hain’s “Conspiracy” series of thrillers and doesn’t disappoint. Set in his beloved South Africa, the plot moves back and forth between the apartheid period, the impact of corruption, particularly during the Zuma period and the ongoing battle with the international criminal trade in animal products, gold and diamonds. At the heart of this trade are many disgraced ANC leaders, drug dealers and arms smugglers.

As the drama unfolds, Hain reintroduces some familiar figures. Central is “the Veteran” — a thinly disguised Ronnie Kasrils — former MK intelligence director and subsequent minister in several South African post-apartheid governments.

The Veteran leads a team of activists and specialists combatting the slaughter of endangered species for rich pickings. They are engaged in challenging and exposing those behind these and many linked crimes. Key to the team are “Thandi,” the main activist and investigator, and “the Sniper,” a former apartheid regime assassin, now fighting the poachers on the game reserves which they target.

Another timely inclusion is London Recruits, a documentary film that tells the story of white activists recruited to the ANC cause that recently featured at the Joburg Film Festival, winning the award for best feature film and to be released in Britain in the near future.

Readers may be familiar with these, mainly white, young men and women who were recruited by Kasrils to infiltrate South Africa and carry out illegal propaganda activities for the ANC and Communist Party in the 1960s and ’70s.

The Veteran confronts Thandi’s fear as she contemplates further action against the criminal gangs. He recalls British young communists who, in the words of former president Thabo Mbeki, “came to help us in our darkest hour.” He tells her about Brian Nean (someone I’m rather familiar with) and the Balls brothers, Trent and Ron, (who may also be known to many of you).

In a debriefing with Brian Nean he explains: “Brian told me — rather reluctantly … how frightened he’d felt all the time he was in South Africa. Every time someone stared at him, he became convinced he’d been rumbled.” Helping Thandi address her fears, the Veteran points out that Brian and his many comrades went on to complete many successful operations.

Hain maintains his previous practice of weaving fiction with fact, exploring in great detail the stranglehold by the corrupt political elite on South Africa’s political and economic life. As the plot thickens, we are thrown into the frightening scenario of a possible coup by former leaders around the disgraced president Jacob Zuma. The teams involved in action to prevent this are engaged in an interesting moral debate.

The theme shared throughout the series is the threat to the survival of wildlife throughout Africa. The book dramatically shares statistics showing the virtual destruction of such noble beasts as elephants, tigers, lions and rhinos along with the environmental impact this is causing.

Hain highlights the fragility of South African democracy and the many threats it faces in a global scenario in which former colonial powers and others wishing to gain power and influence compete at the expense of the people of South Africa and those of Africa as a whole.

I would question some of the author’s descriptions of that international struggle and in particular some of the words he places in the mouth of the Veteran about the nature and motivation of Soviet support for the liberation struggle. However, the novel is a very good read and, as with the previous two in the series, I would highly recommend it.

Dr Snuki Zikalala, President of the ANC Veterans’ league, has sent the following message to June’s daughter Monica:

National Education Union London Recruits teachers' pack

The National Education Union is producing a teachers' pack about the London Recruits. At the union's conference in Bournemouth this weekend, a fringe meeting was held to promote the project in advance of publication of the pack. Here is a report from Steve Marsling.

 On Sunday we handed out some 500 flyers for the Recruits event, and on Monday morning handed out some 500 Morning Stars to delegates, which contained an eight page insert on the NEU Conference with an article on the Recruits written by myself. The meeting had 3 speakers: Mary Chamberlain, Chitra Karve, Chair of ACTSA, and Steve Marsling, Coordinator of the teachers' pack. The meeting also had a zoom message from Ronnie Kasrils.  Gordon Main gave a short introduction and then showed 12 minutes of the film. Gordon told the meeting that the filming had finished and that the whole production would be completed by the end of June, ready for a first showing in July.

 The meeting was attended by just under 70 people, including the NEU President, Daniel Kebede, who gave a short address thanking both the international department and the Recruits. The meeting was a great success, the audience enthusiastic. I brought along six Recruit books and sold the lot. We are invited to a second launch of the pack at the NEU International Solidarity meeting on Saturday 2nd July at the Hilton Hotel in Bloomsbury London. More details to follow.

Outstanding struggle veteran Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, died on 6 December 2021.

Pete Smith sent us this tribute to the outstanding struggle veteran Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, who died on 6 December 2021.

It was a great honour to work with him in Swaziland during late 1985 and early 1986, sharing two safe houses with him. I will never forget arriving home from teaching to find him studying Kim Il-sung. Ebie had a clear understanding of Marxism in helping me to further understand the struggle of his people and was an outstanding internationalist. I am not surprised that he initiated the joint statement in solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn having had the whip withdrawn by Sir Keir Starmer.

 I first met him by accident. I was staying with June and Michael Stephen and arrived back early from teaching to see him smiling in talking to June and Michael around the dining table. They had just smuggled him in from South Africa in their Combi. Even then I did not know that I would spend the rest of my time in Swaziland working with him and Ronnie Kasrils never told me of his intention that should happen in sending me to Swaziland.

The last time I met him was in 1994 as his guest, him being an M.P., over tea and cakes in the Parliament canteen in Cape Town. He had, still having his familiar smile, already recognised the potential of corruption then and was of the firm opinion, as Ronnie Kasrils puts it, that it had to be challenged from inside.

He certainly deserves the epitaph quoting from the book How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky:

“Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world──the fight for the Liberation of Mankind”

London Recruits: how a story of anti-apartheid activism can serve teachers today.


This article first appeared in 2021 Volume 63 Number 2 of The Journal: Forum for Promoting Comprehensive Education published by Lawrence and Wishart FORUM 0963-8253 - Lawrence Wishart (

This year sees the release of London Recruits, a film chronicling the anti-apartheid activism of young men and women volunteers who travelled from the UK to South Africa in the 1970s. The recruits were invaluable to the campaigning work of the African National Congress and the wider international anti-apartheid movement because as white tourists, which is all the South African authorities saw them as, they were free to travel unmonitored in ways impossible for black citizens. To coincide with the release of the film, an education pack, comprising the testimonies of the recruits as well as other source material has been compiled for use in schools. It was funded by the National Education Union and coordinated by Steve Marsling, a former recruit, who writes the first section of this article.

Read more: London Recruits: how a story of anti-apartheid activism can serve teachers today.

This interesting report by the BBC, about the truck used for the "Secret Safari" arms smuggling operation, somehow manages to avoid mentioning that the drivers and tour guides were all white non-South Africans, mostly British people, acting in solidarity with the ANC.

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