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.

Death of an anti-apartheid fighter

I am sad to report the death, on 3 September, of Marie-José Moumbaris. She was 70 and died of a stroke in her home in Normandy. She was one of the African National Congress’s “London Recruits” and campaigned for a better world until her death.
This courageous French woman was arrested with her newly-wedded husband Alex Moumbaris in 1972 while helping fighters of MK (the armed wing of South Africa’s liberation movement) to enter apartheid South Africa by land after the failure of a landing by sea in the ill-fated yacht Aventura. After the intervention of the French ambassador, she was released after four months in solitary confinement and deported to France. She was pregnant and there was a campaign building up in France for her release. Her captors had treated her very roughly but she showed tremendous courage, went on hunger strike for a period and withstood enormous police pressure to reveal all she knew. She pretended not to understand a word of English nor the French of the interpreter who was  brought in for her interrogation.
Ms Moumbaris campaigned against apartheid and featured in international demonstrations demanding the release of her husband Alex and his comrades until his escape from Pretoria prison in 1979 along with Tim Jenkin and Steve Lee.

At one point she was made president of the BIAA – the Bureau d’Information sur l’Afrique Australe – until she discovered that it was being used as a cover for Okhela, an anti-ANC conspiracy. She immediately closed the BIAA and went to London to warn the ANC and SACP.

She was active with Alex to the end, jointly producing Editions Démocrite, an online, anti-imperialist, communist journal they brought out on their joint pensions.

May her life inspire us!

Ken Keable, Editor, London Recruits - the secret war against apartheid. 

Statement on behalf of the ANC’s “London Recruits” on the death of anti-apartheid fighter Denis Goldberg.

Statement on behalf of the ANC’s “London Recruits” on the death of anti-apartheid fighter Denis Goldberg.

We London Recruits, enlisted during the struggle by the ANC and SACP to help with clandestine support within South Africa, wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Denis Goldberg, whose personal sacrifice and contribution to the fight against Apartheid was and remains an inspiration for so many. Some of us had the privilege of meeting him a few years ago. His integrity and strength, generosity and kindness – qualities critical in the fight against injustice – had not diminished with the years but had, rather, been enhanced. He was a man of principle and a man of stature. A man also of humour and good will. We salute him. We think of you all – his family, his friends, his comrades and fellow South Africans – with love and sympathy at this time of loss.


Read more: Statement on behalf of the ANC’s “London Recruits” on the death of anti-apartheid fighter Denis...


Sometime late last year Bob Newland sent an email to some of us asking if anyone could help with a schools project that ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) had set up.

I used to be a teacher a long time ago in Comprehensive schools in London, Bristol and Oldham and so I volunteered. Glad I did.

The project that ACTSA had been working on was in conjunction with Halcyon International School, a private (ugh!) school in Marylebone. My task / role was to give a talk on what the London Recruits did and my personal involvement.


A blow against racism

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?

Read more: A blow against racism

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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