From the Morning Star
Tuesday 17 April 2012
Think back to the depressing days of apartheid South Africa in the mid-1960s, after the political and military vanguard of the liberation movement had been sentenced to decades in jail.
The apartheid regime was cock-a-hoop over its success in arresting the cream of the banned African National Congress and Communist Party and was intent on erasing the public memory of both organisations and their leading personalities.
Some prominent members of both organisations, including members in the liberation movement's military wing uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), had avoided the nationwide dragnet and crossed South Africa's borders.
The hastily reorganised leadership, based in various African countries and also in London, was determined to show that resistance to apartheid had survived the shattering of its internal apparatus. The first priority was information to present an antidote to the one-sided propaganda of the apartheid regime and to encourage its opponents to regroup and resist.
Leading MK operative Ronnie Kasrils, who would later head the organisation's special operations unit before serving as a minister in the defence and military intelligence offices as well as water and forestry after liberation, began recruitment of people in Britain for solidarity work.
Reasoning correctly that white people could travel freely to the apartheid state, he enlisted a substantial number to take in propaganda materials, post letters, set off leaflet bombs, unfurl banners and, in time, to set up safe houses, smuggle in weapons and transport MK fighters.
This book's editor Ken Keable, one of the first recruits, wrote his own memoirs recently and resolved to contact as many volunteers as possible to get them to record their own recollections.
The result is a fascinating and uplifting gathering of individual tales that shed light for the first time on this valuable support shown by British socialists towards their South African comrades.
Most recruits, as may be expected, came from within the Young Communist League (YCL), which was heavily involved in solidarity work. But Kasrils, perhaps surprisingly for an orthodox pro-Soviet communist, also developed contacts among the International Socialists, forerunner to the Socialist Workers Party.
All played their part in keeping the flame of resistance alive, some prioritising this activity over other political activity and working full-time for South Africa's liberation movement. I defy anyone reading this excellent compendium not to be moved by the heart-warming reminiscences of these individuals who retain a modesty about their exploits, recognising that the main burden of liberation was borne by black South Africans, especially following the 1976 Soweto uprising.
Communists who lived through these years may be perplexed by the realisation that the YCL members who worked so closely in this cause were often on opposing sides in a bitter political struggle within their own organisation that tore it apart.
As the YCL works to rebuild itself today, its supporters and others on the left should read this book to appreciate the need for constructive engagement and tolerance to outweigh political orthodoxy.