By Bob Newland.
On March 6th 2015 a new exhibit dedicated to MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC) was opened at Liliesleaf Farm Museum. The museum is on the site of the farm where the leadership of MK organised the armed struggle against apartheid until their arrest in a raid in 1963.
This culminated in the Rivonia Trial and the life sentences for Nelson Mandela and the rest of the ANC leadership.
A major part of the exhibition is dedicated to the London Recruits and the Secret Safari and includes the Bedford Truck used for the safari. Four London Recruits attended.
Bob Allen; who as YCL London District Secretary recruited many YCL members to carry out leaflet bombings and other propaganda exercises in the late 1960's and early 70's.
Tom Bell; who with his brother Ron carried out leaflet bombings and loudspeaker propaganda in Cape Town in 1970 and went on to become National Secretary of the Young Communist League.
Tom was accompanied on the trip by his daughter Emily. Bob Newland; who carried out leaflet bombings in Johannesburg along with Peter Smith in 1971.
He returned in 1972 along with Alex Moumbaris as part of a reception party for the Aventura. The Aventura was carrying MK combatants from training camps in Somalia down to Durban. This was the first major attempt to infiltrate fighters in numbers back into South Africa from training abroad.
Stuart Round; who starting aged 19 was a driver for the safari truck bringing tons of weapons from Zambia to South Africa for MK fighters from 1986 to 1992 as part of operation Vula. This amazing project carried over 40 tons of weapons and explosives to MK underground forces through to 1994 when the peace agreement was finally concluded. The risks were great for the drivers who were largely unsupported and had to be drivers, navigators, tour guides and engineers as well as collecting and delivering their 'explosive' cargo.
Speakers at the Liliesleaf event included Ronnie Kasrils, Bob Newland and the Cuban Ambassador.
The Recruits fulfilled a very busy schedule during their visit. This included a tour of the Apartheid Museum, guided by Emilia Potenza, its Curator, and a tour of Constitution Hill including the new Constitutional Court and former men's and women's prisons.
They also participated in an informal discussion on international solidarity with Bongani Masuku, the International Secretary of COSATU (Congress of South African Trades Unions).
The week was punctuated by a number of social events. The first was hosted by Aziz Pahad, former Deputy Foreign Minister, and Ronnie Kasrils at Aziz's house. This was attended by a number of other former ministers and Struggle Veterans.
A high point of the programme was a barbecue (Braai) held in the Thokoza Township South of Johannesburg. This was hosted by Solly Mapaila, 2nd Deputy General Secretary of the SACP (South African Communist Party) and Charles Setzubi, SACP Central Committee member. The barbecue was also attended by many young SACP activists and provided the opportunity for lengthy informal discussions about the contribution of the London Recruits and current issues for the struggle.
The visit to Johannesburg ended with an invitation to the full session of the SACP Central Committee meeting. Bob Allen, Bob Newland and Stuart Round attended this and Bob Allen spoke to introduce the recruits and briefly explain their contribution to the struggle against apartheid. Bob emphasised that our contribution was small in comparison to the sacrifice of the people of South Africa and stressed the privilege we felt in being given the opportunity to play that special role in the fight against Apartheid. The Central Committee gave the visitors a standing ovation.
Comrade Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary, responded with thanks from the SACP and the people of South Africa for the extraordinary contribution by ordinary people that the efforts of the London Recruits represented. He acknowledged the modesty of the Recruits but stressed that our intervention was of major significance at that darkest moment for the liberation movement following the arrest of the MK leadership and the effective dismantling of the underground organisation. The Recruits were able to have brief exchanges with a number of members of the Central Committee before leaving for a tour of Soweto.
Their final evening concluded with a meal at a Jazz Club and Bistro in central Johannesburg.
Tom Bell, Emily and Bob Allen then went on to Cape Town for a few days. They visited Robben Island, Table Mountain and Simonstown. Tom was able to find the Helmsley Hotel where he and Ron had stayed back in 1970.
Gordon Main, from Barefoot Rascals film company who are making a documentary about London Recruits, was able to film Tom on the steps of the hotel as well as at the sites of his leaflet bombs.