In the spring of 1972 Carey and I were given our brief: to sail to South Africa as immigrants, our household belongings in old-fashioned wooden tea chests, which would each have a false bottom containing brief histories of the SACP and copies of a comic book, Simon and Jane, which told the simple love story of a young couple torn apart by apartheid, and driven to take up arms and fight for justice. Its centre-fold gave instructions for making a Molotov cocktail. We were given a budget to fill the packing cases with lightweight household goods to give them an aura of authenticity should we be asked to open them. From memory, we had over twenty packing cases containing 2,000 SACP histories and 5,000 comic books, all printed in super-fine paper (in retrospect that seems an enormous number). We filled the cases with duvets and pillows, plastic colanders and egg-whisks, anything that looked plausible but weighed nothing. Six months after we were married, we set sail on the SS Vaal. I cannot remember what story we told our respective families.

Ronnie had briefed us. If rumbled, we were to head north, across the border to Botswana. Dye our hair, cut it, grow a beard, shave it. Disguise was the essence of survival. If caught, we were on our own. And, Ronnie assured us, we would be on our own in the event of capture. Inciting resistance, if necessary by force, would carry a hefty sentence, preceded, undoubtedly, by torture. What could we tell? Apart from Ronnie, whose name was already known to the South African authorities, we knew no one else involved, had no names to divulge, nor the networks behind us. We could tell them nothing.

Did I think about what I was doing? No. Was I frightened? No. I had been brought up on the stories of Christian, and Catholic, martyrs; had spent my childhood dreaming of holding the faith. I would survive. Was I brave? No. The dangers we were embracing, and the implications for our own lives, did not figure. A failure of the imagination, perhaps, but the personal risks were low (Ronnie said) and the political gains incalculable.

The SS Vaal sailed from Southampton. We and the other passengers, young newly-weds like ourselves, were hoping for a new and better life in South Africa where we could raise a family in a wholesome environment, free of the stresses of unbridled immigration and interfering socialists. The Vaal took two weeks to reach South Africa, off-loading at Cape Town, travelling on to Port Elizabeth and returning two days later, to pick up a new cargo and head back. Our household effects would be put into a bonded warehouse, from which we could collect them once we had found a flat to rent and could settle in.

Buy book here

Explosions scatter pamphlets.jpg