Friday, March 18, 2011

The fight to save Mgwali

Today, 17 years since the advent of non-racial democracy in South Africa, many younger people will have no real concept of what apartheid was like. Working for the liberal opposition, the Progressive Federal Party, in the early 1980s, I got to grips with some of the policy's most sinister aspects. There was a so-called "white corridor" between the nominally independent Ciskei and Transkei. The purpose of Vervoerdian "grand apartheid" was to make black people a minority in South Africa, as people supposedly returned to their "homelands". But of course nobody wants to move from where they have lived for generations, so the state started its policy of forced removals of "black spots". One such area was Mgwali, near Stutterheim. The son of one of Mgwali's oldest residents, Kidwell Giga, visited us in our Eat London office and told us something about this historic place - and of how the Nat government was colluding with Ciskei officials to have the area "voluntarily" agree to be removed so some or other dumping ground in the Ciskei. The PFP made it its business to try to halt this removal and many others, including that of Duncan Village, a long-established black settlement in East London. Here the aim was to dump these people in Mdantsane, a sprawling township some 20km outside East London - and happily (for the Nats) in the "independent" Ciskei. They would lose their citizenship just like that.

I wrote this piece at the time (the last leg of copy is below). It was published in the Daily Dispatch in November, 1982. I was 26 years old. Please click on the images to see them at a readable size.

I am happy to record that thanks to widespread opposition, Mgwali and Duncan Village were not obliterated. A few small battles against apartheid were starting to be won in the early- to mid-1980s. I believe those of us who had the guts to speak out against injustice at the time helped bring down the apartheid government monolith in the early 1990s.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fighting apartheid in the 1970s

Since the ANC came to power in 1994, but especially since Nelson Mandela stepped down as president in 1999, I have found myself compelled to become increasingly critical of the ruling party's mismanagement of our country. Corruption, cronyism, nepotism, the race-based black economic empowerment laws, and so on, have all come in for a battering. My detractors have often accused me of racism, but this is arrant nonsense. I just despise hypocrisy. Anyway, as proof of my nonracial credentials, here are some of my earliest writings.

Somewhat badly edited, this appeared in the East London Daily Dispatch of my childhood hero, Donald Woods, on June 27, 1974. I was 17 years old and in matric. My father had died a few months earlier of a coronary thrombosis. On April 24 of that year, the Progressive Party won six seats in parliament. Among those joining Helen Suzman was future leader Frederik van Zyl Slabbert. Alex Boraine would join them after winning a by-election later that year. These were the first major chinks in the National Party's armour. Increasingly, whites in urban areas would turn against the party of apartheid. My siblings and I worked for many years for the Progs and their successors, the Progressive Federal Party, in pursuit of a peaceful transition to a nonracial democracy.

But of course youngsters do have other things on their minds, and this little letter, published in the Dispatch on August 22, 1974, when I was still 17, shows the impact of the hippie era.

National service, or military conscription, to put it less euphemistically, loomed. I was meant to go in July, 1975, but for some reason the call-up was postponed a year. I worked for the first five months of that year on the Dispatch as a cub reporter, under Woods. During that time I penned this piece, which was run on the leader page on March 4, 1975. Again, it's quite naive and poorly written, but then I was just 19 years old.

The impact of apartheid really hit home when one visited the beach, which in my case was a stone's throw from our humble home in Bonza Bay. I probably wrote this before the June 16, Soweto uprising, but it was published in the Dispatch on June 20, 1976. There was always a delay of about a week before letters were run due to the lag caused by the postal service and, no doubt, a huge queue of letters at the newspaper. I had started studying fine art at the East London Technical College under Jack Lugg, so happily was able to delay the military until July, 1979. I used that time to fight apartheid.

Still essentially a child myself, in 1977, not quite 21, I wrote this piece, which was run on September 6.

I latched onto many issues. This one appeared on September 16, 1977.

The year 1977, with SA still simmering in the wake of the June 1976 uprising, was a traumatic one. Black consciousness leader Steve Biko was murdered in security police detention on September 12, 1977, two days before my 21st birthday. His death saw an outpouring of letters to the editor. These appeared on September 20 - again delayed due to the time lag. By the way, I never kept copies of these letters. My sister-in-law Hazel and I took turns examinig a myriad microfiche files of the Dispatch to track them down.

It was always a great thrill to get the lead letter on the page. This one appeared on October 10, 1977.

This was probably written the day news arrived of Biko's death, but was only published on October 6, 1977.

The evils of beach apartheid came under my cudgel again on October 17, 1977. It is interesting to read the adjacent letters on these pages as they give one an insight into what was happening at the time.

The next white general election was scheduled for November 30, 1977, so the country was not only dealing with issues like Biko's murder, but was also on an election footing. And at election time the Nats could be ruthless.

Here again, on October 20, I got the lead letter.

Another stab at the Nats appeared on October 21, 1977.

I must have been writing almost a letter a day at this point. This was written in the wake of the banning of Donald Woods and was used on October 25, 1977. For a short biography on this remarkable man, visit the Donald Woods Foundation site

The anti-apartheid campaign continued with this from October 27.

Here I talk about a protest we planned for the City Hall which was banned. It was run on October 28. My sister Jen was held briefly by the police during this incident.

The banning of various organisations, newspapers and individuals was the subject of this, from October 29.

Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger symbolised the unfeeling nature of a ruthless regime. These letters appeared on October 31, 1977. During this election campaign, I heckled Defence Minister PW Botha single-handedly in the East London City Hall at a massive public meeting. I was nearly beaten up. A few weeks later, we again protested inside the Orient Theatre and I did get kicked around by Nat thugs after we quit the meeting before the singing of Die Stem. The Nats won 134 seats in the election, but the PFP boosted its tally from 7 to 17, while the New Republic Party, successor to the United Party, only mustered 10. So to those who label me racist, I ask: have you ever stood up against tyranny? Have you ever spoken truth to power. I think, in my small way, I made a contribution in the struggle against apartheid which today qualifies me to be equally critical of the ANC when, as it so often does, it puts itself ahead of the interests of the people.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


As noted in the blurb on the right, I have written articles and letters to the editors of newspapers attacking injustice and hypocrisy for decades. After being barred from doing so in the local Port Elizabeth media for a couple of years, with a change of leadership a window again opened and I put through this piece, which was used in the Weekend Post of March 3, 2011. Please click on the article to get the bigger picture.

Though cut somewhat, this retains the thrust of my argument. I have, as you'll see in subsequent blog postings, been one of very few writers sticking up for the positive impact which colonialism had on Africa. It will be interesting to see if this article has any response in the letters column this Saturday. If so, I'll update the blog with them.