In July, KEN KEABLE went to South Africa to attend the national congress of the South African Communist Party to receive a special recognition award on behalf of all the London Recruits. Here is his story AFTER the Rivonia trial ended in 1964, with Nelson Mandela and other leaders jailed for life, almost all other African National Congress (ANC) members had to go into exile to avoid arrest and torture.
Then they were faced with the problem: how were they to carry on their liberation struggle inside South Africa when they were outside?
A brilliant idea was put forward.The exiles would recruit young, white internationalists — mainly in the London area — people who had no personal connection with South Africa and were therefore not known to the racist regime.
We — I was one of them — would enter the country posing as tourists, business people or honeymoon couples, without arousing suspicion. In fact the regime assumed we were racists like them.
Some of the London Recruits, as we were called, were students at the London School of Economics and included several young Trotskyists belonging to the International Socialists; others had no political affi liation at all.
The great majority of the “recruits” were young workers members of the British Young Communist League or, in a few cases, the Communist Party. The expenses were met by the Soviet Union and some received training in the Soviet Union or Cuba. In 2005 when I began researching and editing the book London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid I was aware that there were other recruits but I knew very little as to who they were, how many there were or what they actually did.
Each of us only knew our own part of the story and we had kept that secret for decades, so deeply ingrained was our habit of a need for top secrecy. Besides, it seemed to belong to another era. I was amazed at what I found. Some of us had smuggled large quantities of weapons, others did reconnaissance, helped uMkhonto we Sizwe (abbreviated as MK, meaning “Spear of the Nation”) fighters to enter the country or smuggled thousands of letters and packages into South Africa and put them in the post locally.
However, the main activity was to set off leafl et bombs or other leafl et distribution devices, alongside street broadcasts using amplifi ed cassette players. We did that once a year every year from 1967 to 1971 — each time hitting fi ve cities simultaneously, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban, East London and Cape Town.
This made the newspaper headlines and told people that the ANC was not defeated. The leafl ets brought news, gave advice on how to conduct the struggle and most importantly brought hope.
All royalties from the book go to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
While in South Africa, I visited the Museum of the Armed Struggle at Lilliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, which has a special section devoted to the London Recruits. Our story is now being made into a documentary fi lm to be released next year.
The film company, Barefoot Rascals, has done a huge amount of research and British trade unions have given the project terrific support. Details about the film are on www.londonrecruits.com.
We now know the names of 66 London Recruits — besides the Brits, these include four from the US, four from Ireland, one Greek, one Greek-Australian, one Frenchwoman and one, only recently discovered, comes from Britain’s Ugandan Asian community. She did her work in Botswana — 13 of the 66 are women.
Three of them — Sean Hosey, Alex Moumbaris and Marie-Jose Moumbaris — were arrested and tortured.
This July saw the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first of the London Recruits in South Africa.
How signifi cant our efforts were is for others to judge. The South African people liberated themselves from the evil apartheid regime but we are happy to have played a part, however small. The defeat of the apartheid regime struck a mighty blow against racism all round the world, not least in Britain, so we are grateful for that.
We were not busybodies, interfering in the internal affairs of another country that were none of our business. Apartheid was a crime against humanity and capitalist Britain was involved up to its neck. The British Parliament founded the Union of South Africa — on May 31 1910 as the unifi cation of four previously separate British colonies — on a basis of institutional racism.
Most British banks and big corporations and the fi nance institutions of the City of London invested heavily in apartheid South Africa and profited hugely from it, while the British diplomatic service did its utmost to protect South Africa from international sanctions.
Those institutions are still in place. That is why our struggle continues. As I said in my acceptance speech for the SACP award to the London Recruits, the ideals that motivated us in our youth are now more relevant than ever. We hope that our story will inspire people, especially the young, to fight for a better world.
I was impressed by the congress, which was attended by over 2,000 delegates. The SACP is growing rapidly and has over 284,000 members in more than 7,000 branches.
For me, besides the award ceremony, the main focus of what took place was the decision to reconfigure SACP’s relationship with the ANC and allowing SACP candidates to stand in elections separately from ANC. This was preceded by the decision not to invite South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to the congress.
Formally the ANC president — who so far has also been the president of South Africa attends the congress and addresses it. This time he was pointedly not invited.
The decision to change the relationship between the SACP and the ANC was greeted with an outburst of dancing and singing that lasted over 15 minutes — I was witnessing an historic turning point.
The resolution left the leadership more room for manoeuvre and allows for sensitive handling of the relationship. Many South Africans have a deep loyalty to the ANC because it was the instrument oftheir liberation and some of them may perceive the SACP’s change of policy as a betrayal.
My impression was that the delegates were fed up with having to defend the indefensible just because the SACP was in government with the ANC and especially the corruption and what they call “state cap-ture” by the wealthy Gupta family and their dubious relationship with President Zuma. I left feeling optimistic for the future.
■ Ken Keable is the editor of London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid, which is available from the Morning Star or from any book seller. For his acceptance speech, or to watch it on video (with theintroduction by Ronnie Kasrils), visit www.londonrecruits.org.uk