Lessons from history: the struggle against Apartheid

For more than six months the Israeli military has waged a brutal war to exterminate the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, killing more than 34,000 people. FRFI has renewed its call for an end to all British support for Zionism, to isolate the Israeli state in order to support the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation. Below we republish extracts from South Africa: Britain out of Apartheid, Apartheid out of Britain (1985), an FRFI pamphlet which argued for the isolation of the apartheid state in South Africa by building an anti-imperialist movement uniting the struggles of oppressed people against imperialism.


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Apartheid Strike Breakers

Armed police confront striking workers

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No.6, September/ October 1980

The wave of black revolutionary struggles against the apartheid regime in South Africa continued throughout July and August. During these two months, the revolutionary stage has been dominated by further massive black workers strikes for the right to organise democratic trade unions and for a decent living wage.


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South Africa: Socialism postponed

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No. 119, June/July 1994


On 26 April millions of black South Africans queued for the first time to choose their own government: it was an historic moment, as the world’s press were not slow to tell us. After the count, manipulated to comply with the contesting parties’ power-sharing commitments, the ANC were the overwhelming victors; their chief partners the National Party, which had presided over 45 years of unprecedented racist tyranny; their programme committed to a free market economy, dressed up with a more-than-modest reform programme which they are widely predicted, even among their own supporters, to underperform.


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Mourners at the graveside of a Soweto massacre victim

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 30, 15 June/15 July 1983

‘I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread’, ‘bread’, ‘bread’, and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism ... My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, ie in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we, colonial statesmen, must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced by them in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.’ (Cecil Rhodes 1895)

True to his word, Cecil Rhodes played a leading role in acquiring ‘new lands’, in his case Southern Africa, in order to secure the future of capitalist Britain. To do this the imperialists knew that they would have to ensure fresh supplies of raw materials, create a market for more investment and profit-making, and most important of all, by buying off a section of the British working class and creating a labour aristocracy, prevent social revolution. Imperialism is not a choice it is a necessity if capitalism is to survive.


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South Africa Elections: the corruption continues

ANC election campaign posters

On 8 May over 17 million South Africans headed to the polls in the sixth election since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994. The final result saw the ruling African National Congress (ANC) remain in power but with a smaller majority than in previous elections, with the major opposition parties failing to present a strong challenge. With both economic and political uncertainty growing in South Africa, there seems to be little hope for the poor majority. From Johannesburg JACK CLAYTON reports.


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Smash Apartheid now! The Free Steve Kitson Campaign

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 16, February 1982

News reached Red Lion Setters of Steven Kitson’s arrest at about 4pm on Thursday afternoon, 7 January. Norma Kitson, together with those working at Red Lion Setters and other friends of the family, immediately decided to make maximum publicity about the arrest in order to secure Steven’s release.

Telephone numbers of the press, political organisations, influential politicians were gathered together and a massive phoning operation began. The South African Embassy in London was phoned and information about the arrest was demanded. Every journalist contacted was additionally asked to ring the South African Embassy, not simply to get information, but primarily to make it clear that the news was out and the arrest was causing public concern.

The prime consideration at this stage was to create widespread publicity. Members of the RCG and supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! played a central part in this work from the beginning. We all realised that only publicity offered a possibility of protecting Steven Kitson from the worst excesses suffered by prisoners of the racist South African regime.


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South Africa - Isolate Apartheid!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 16, February 1982

While the British imperialist press busily denounces martial law in Poland and hypocritically proclaims itself in favour of ‘democracy’ and ‘free trade unions’ it has hardly a word about the South African regime’s recent attempts of stamp out any and every expression of opposition to apartheid. Yet the apartheid regime, armed with fascist force and a battery of most despotic laws, is carrying out a massive number of arrests and detentions in an attempt to smash independent black trade unions and all other opposition to its bloody rule.


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South Africa in brief

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 16, February 1982

  • uMkhonto strikes again!

On 26 December 1981, an uMkhonto we Sizwe unit armed with rockets, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles launched a daring attack on Wonderboom Police Station in the heart of Pretoria. South African newspapers commenting on this attack and other uMkhonto operations are being forced to let out the truth about the ANC’s armed struggle. The Rand Daily Mail wrote ‘Sabotage in South Africa has been unparalleled in the past year . . . Loss of life has been low, but the blow to white morale has been incalculable . . . the daring of the attackers has the authorities worried’.


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Interview with Ruth Mompati, ANC Chief Representative in Britain

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 14, November/December 1981

FRFI: The struggle in South Africa has now reached a new stage. The armed struggle is intensifying and the workers’ struggles are increasing in number, scope and determination. The prospect of revolutionary struggle is much better than ever before. Could you say something about this situation?


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South Africa: land redistribution back on the agenda

Protest by Abihlali baseMjondolo, South Africa's largest shack-dwellers organisation

The question of land remains unresolved in South Africa 24 years after the official end of apartheid. Apartheid was a system of separate and racist 'development', with black South Africans brutally dispossessed and denied access to land, infrastructure and resources, while their white counterparts were given preferential treatment and access to the economy. On 27 February 2018, the National Assembly decided to review the property clause, Section 25 of the 1996 Constitution to allow 'land expropriation without compensation'. This followed the decision by the governing African National Congress (ANC) at its December 2017 conference, to implement a constitutional amendment to Section 25, provided it was 'sustainable and did not harm the agricultural sector or the economy’. In 2016, a law was passed allowing the state to expropriate land in the 'public interest'. Section 25 of the constitution, itself a compromise with imperialism, only allows for land expropriation for a 'public purpose or in the public interest', hence the need to amend the constitution to allow expropriation without compensation.


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Free Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 79, July 1988

For forty years Nelson Mandela has been in the forefront of the liberation struggle in South Africa. His political leadership spans the years of the defiance campaigns, the turn to the armed struggle and then, the last twenty-six years of resistance as a political prisoner. FRFI pays tribute to Nelson Mandela on his 70th birthday.


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Apartheid goes to war

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 3, March/April 1980

South Africa is the bastion of imperial interests in Africa. Today it is attempting to create the military and economic means to dominate the whole of Southern Africa. The massive rise in the price of gold, boosting profits and replenishing the racists' war chest, is fuelling the expansionist aims of the South African apartheid state. A war is on — a war between imperialism and the oppressed black masses of Africa.

For the past five years South Africa's racist regime has been expanding its 'defence' budget at a rate of 30-40 per cent per year. Two months military service per annum is now compulsory for all able-bodied South African males. South Africa's desperation and ruthlessness has grown as the long march to victory of the liberation movements has gathered pace.


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ANC leads - A visit to a South African jail

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 3, March/April 1980

When I was 18 months old my father was sent to jail by the South African government charged with sabotage, furthering the aims of communism and joining the High Command of the military wing of the ANC. Shortly after being sentenced he wrote to my brother and I:

‘I want you to know that I have always done and fought for what I believe to be right. If I am sent to jail, it will be because I am trying, to make a better South Africa for you to live in.'


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The sanctions debate

Non-stop picket of the South African Embassy in London

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.94 April/May 1990

In four recent publications an array of anti-apartheid researchers present their findings and recommendations for sanctions policy*. They throw light on the shifting relationship between the imperialist powers and apartheid. ANDY HIGGINBOTTOM examines them.


The first consequence of imperialism in Africa is an incredible accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of white South Africans. In 1985 South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product was US$67.7bn. The total for all the other 17 African countries south of the equator was US$43.7bn, less than two thirds (Banking on Apartheid p73). Concentration of capital underlies South Africa’s role as an auxiliary power for imperialism with its own economic base.


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Joe Slovo and the South African Revolution

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 95, June/July 1990

Since FW de Klerk’s announcement of reforms on 2 February which heralded the release of Nelson Mandela, events in South Africa have moved rapidly towards negotiations between the ANC and the regime. What sort of society a post-apartheid South Africa will become has been and will be a central part of the discussion both within South Africa and internationally. The South African Communist Party (SACP) has recently published a number of documents outlining its views on the future. CAROL BRICKLEY reviews Has Socialism Failed? by Joe Slovo, the SACP’s General Secretary.

That South Africa faces a profound economic and political crisis cannot be doubted. And, as in all such profound crises different and opposed forces are at work to influence the outcome.


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South Africa: The Flames of Revolution

Umkhonto we Sizwe

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 5 July/August 1980

The flames of revolution are once again engulfing the racist apartheid state in South Africa. On the 20th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, on the 4th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, the South African racist state is again being challenged by a massive and powerful revolutionary assault.

In FRFI 3 we hailed the victory of ZANU and ZAPU saying that it would give enormous impetus to the struggle against the racist South African regime. And today, inspired by the victory in Zimbabwe, the revolutionary black masses are doing battle for democracy and freedom against the blood sucking racist state and its imperialist backers, of which British imperialism is the main one. The black student's struggles, the spectacular ANC(SA) military operation against SASOL, the long and bitter workers' strikes and the uprising of Capetown blacks on 17 June brings the revolutionary movement in South Africa to a new and higher stage.

One year ago, in June 1979, we wrote:

‘The magnificent struggles of the South African blacks, at its height during the Soweto uprising, is now simmering again beneath the surface as the South African racist state backed by British imperialism, intensifies its brutal oppression. But the courage and example of ANC freedom fighters like Solomon Mahlangu, murdered recently by the South African racist regime will not go unavenged. The ANC(SA) has now stepped up its activities in South Africa itself — the armed struggle will intensify.'


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Interview with Thozamile Botha

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.8 January/February 1981 

Thozamile Botha 

The interview below was given to us by Thozamile Botha whilst on a speaking tour in Britain, organised by the Anti Apartheid Movement and the South African Congress of Trade Unions.

Thozamile Botha is a black South African working class leader who played a leading role in the famous strike at Fords in Port Elizabeth. The history of this strike is recorded in the interview, and particular emphasis placed on the unity between the striking Ford workers and the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation. From the interview we obtain a very clear and stirring picture of the unity that exists between all aspects of the revolutionary struggle in South Africa. It is noteworthy that the racist apartheid regime is now attempting to break up this unity. It is preparing legislation which makes it illegal for any black trade union to have links or association with black community organisations. What fools to believe that this unity can be broken by a piece of legislation. Throughout the whole of last year the black masses of South Africa faced the apartheid regime's mass murder, torture and imprisonment. Their unity did not break. When there is a mass revolutionary movement led by the ANC no legislation, however many are the guns which back it up, can break the spirit of the black working class. This legislation reveals only the fears of the apartheid regime.


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The ANC 12 Treason Trial - Never on Our Knees

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No. 2 - January/February 1980

On Thursday 19 November 1979 the racist apartheid regime of South Africa sentenced James Mange to death in a 'court' in Pietermaritzburg. The South African regime intends to add James Mange's name to a long list of people murdered 'judicially' — the most recent being Solomon Mahlangu who was hanged on 6 April 1979. James Mange is one of the African National Congress 12 Treason Triallists.

The ANC 12 Treason Trial was part and parcel of the war between the South African regime and the ANC(SA). This is obvious from the background to the trial, the conduct of the ANC 12 in the trial and the viciousness of the racist court at Pietermaritzburg.

War in South Africa

All 12 comrades were charged under the treason laws, with 43 alternate counts under the Terrorism laws. Two were also charged with conspiracy to incite murder. All 12 were alleged to have been involved in armed actions against the security forces. This was the first time that a South African 'court' has admitted that the security forces are engaged in a war with Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation — the military wing of the ANC).


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Communists and the revolution in South Africa

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 62 - September 1986

On 30 July 1986 the South African Communist Party celebrated its 65th anniversary at a rally in London's Conway Hall. Joe Slovo was the main speaker. David Reed analyses the issues raised in Slovo's speech: issues at the heart of the South African revolution.

Everywhere communists are watching, assessing and analysing the South African revolution. Its outcome will have a dramatic, perhaps decisive, impact on revolutionary developments worldwide. This fact alone would give enormous significance to the speech* made on 30 July 1986 by Joe Slovo, chairman of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. That this speech was commemorating the 65th anniversary of the SACP and was given in London, the political centre of the imperialist power which is the main backer of the apartheid regime, would add to its significance for British communists.


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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013

Throughout the 1980s, the Revolutionary Communist Group and City of London Anti-Apartheid Group actively campaigned against apartheid and for the release of all political prisoners. In particular our members were central to the organisation of the non-stop picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square from April 1986 until Mandela was released in February 1990.*

For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.’

US President Barack Obama, Tribute to Nelson Mandela Soweto, 10 December 2013


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Obituary: Zolile Hamilton Keke

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

31 October 1945 - 6 February 2013

‘There are people whom you meet who say things that they don’t do, but in our father’s case he lived what he said, not just publicly, even in his private life. So that is what we are taking with us going forward.’ Khanyisa Keke, at his father’s funeral

The Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) was saddened by the news of the death of an old comrade and friend Zolile Hamilton Keke, who was Chief Representative of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) in the UK at a crucial time in the 1980s.


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Writing on the wall for the South African ‘national democratic revolution’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

In 1994 the African National Congress (ANC) was swept to power with a massive majority in the first democratic elections in post-apartheid South Africa. For imperialism, the ‘new’ South Africa was a miracle of democratic achievement, with Nelson Mandela its first patron saint. This most velvet of velvet revolutions would, they hoped, preserve capitalist production yet at the same time slowly reform the worst features of apartheid so that the state could emerge from international pariah status. On the other hand, the tripartite alliance of the ANC, COSATU (the trade union federation) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) held out the promise that the ‘national democratic revolution’ would bring about equality and freedom for the majority without destroying the capitalist infrastructure which they believed necessary to sustain wealth creation. The ‘national democratic revolution’ was, in reality, a compromise between different classes; they promised that the capitalist system would be reformed and controlled to benefit the black majority. Eighteen years later, on 16 August this year, the fault lines of this compromise became clear: 34 striking platinum miners were shot dead by police at Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, 78 were wounded and 270 arrested.


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In memoriam - Solomon

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012


Solomon came to Britain from Nigeria in 1968 to study at Wor­cester College for the Blind. Thereafter he studied for an MA in African studies at SOAS in London. He would have gone on to a PhD had there been sufficient support with reading. Instead Solomon went on to teacher training and taught English in Brent. He spoke many languages, wrote prose and poetry and played chess. Solomon taught English as a foreign language as well as braille, mainly to people who had lost their sight later in life. Much of his teaching was informal and Solomon was very generous with his knowledge and time. In 1994 Solomon helped found the Anglo-Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind; he worked for the Organisation for Blind African-Caribbeans.


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Obituary: David Kitson principled communist and freedom fighter

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

The great South African communist and fighter against apartheid David Kitson has died in Johannesburg aged 91.

A senior member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the 1960s, he became a commissar of the national high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, after the arrest of the ‘Rivonia Eight’ ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu, in 1963.

David Kitson was arrested in 1964 and, with four others, was charged with sabotage and being a member of the high command of MK, and jailed for 20 years. His wife Norma was detained a month later.


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South Africa: Liberation betrayed

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

Next year, on 11 February 2010, will be the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa and the start of negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid regime which culminated, in 1994, in the first democratic elections that brought the ANC to power and made Mandela President. BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast The Reunion, a programme to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela. The main participants in secret talks between the ANC and the apartheid regime prior to Mandela’s release were invited to reminisce. This broadcast raised many issues about the role of the ANC. It is time to look back at the aspirations the black majority in South Africa had for freedom 20 years ago and measure how successful they have been.


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South Africa: Black working class fights back

FRFI 162 August / September 2001

ESKOM, the government-owned company which supplies 98% of South Africa’s electricity, is busy cutting off electricity to Soweto residents. Soweto is the biggest township in South Africa, where more than a million black working class people live. According to ESKOM, it is disconnecting 20,000 per month in a bid to recover more than a billion rand (US$120 million) that it claims residents owe.

This is happening under the government of the ANC. In December 2000 the party campaigned and won the local government elections on a ticket of providing free water and free electricity to all South African citizens to meet their basic needs. The government felt compelled to introduce this policy because more than 35% of South Africans are unemployed and about the same number do not have access to clean water and electricity.
The residents of Soweto are not taking the cut-offs lying down. Last year activists formed the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) to fight the cut-offs. This organisation has embarked on increasingly militant action which has attracted youth and militants who are sick and tired of living in darkness because they are poor.


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South Africa: the struggle against privatisation

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

Loyalty to the African National Congress (ANC) no longer makes sense to ordinary workers in their everyday life as they face the ANC government as an employer – a boss who attacks them at work and at home. The 15-year alliance between the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU; the largest South African union federation, with 1.8 million members), the ANC (the ruling party) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), is under great strain.

On 29 and 30 August more than 5 million workers went on a two-day general strike called by COSATU against privatisation. Unlike in the UK, in South Africa political strikes are allowed if the long-winded procedures are followed under the terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). This is one of the gains made by the victory of the struggle against apartheid and the installation of a ‘worker-friendly’ government in 1994.


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The struggle for anti-AIDS drugs in South Africa

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

The leading killer in South Africa (SA) is the pandemic AIDS which, according to a 2001 government study, accounts for 40% of deaths. At a rate of 4,800 deaths a week, many people in the country are demanding that HIV/AIDS be declared a national emergency. But the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government of President Thabo Mbeki continues to dither while people die. Mbeki is more concerned with reducing social and healthcare expenditure and keeping company taxes down. He does not want to seem to be attacking the interests of the capitalist class.

No single issue has lost the ANC government more credibility than the AIDS crisis. Mbeki became the laughing stock of the world when a few years ago he claimed that HIV did not cause AIDS and that the disease was possibly a fabrication by Africa’s enemies. The president’s ridiculous views stopped being a laughing matter when the South African government refused to take vigorous steps to fight the pandemic because of the ‘unproven’ nature of its existence and hence the efficacy of measures to combat it. Under pressure from public opinion to retract his unfounded statements, Mbeki appointed an expensive but dubious advisory panel to ‘investigate’ the link between HIV and AIDS.


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South Africa - SAMWU stares down ANC council bosses

FRFI 168 August / September 2002

The strike of municipal workers led by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) ended with no outright victor. The strike lasted 17 days, the longest national strike in South Africa since the formal demise of apartheid in 1994.

The council bosses conceded wage increases slightly below inflation and imposed a three-year wage agreement on the union. The workers demanded 10% and were given 9% for lowest paid workers and 8% for others; inflation is 9.8%. The strike pitted workers against their employer, the African National Congress (ANC) government, exposing cracks in the political alliance between the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the leading 1.8 million-strong trade union federation to which SAMWU is affiliated. Many workers saw the strike as a struggle against the ANC government’s capitalist policies.


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Norma Kitson

FRFI 168 August / September 2002

8 August 1933-12 June 2002

Our dearest possession is life. It is given to us but once. And we must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live, that dying we might say: all my life all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world – the fight for the Liberation of Humankind. Nikolai Ostrovsky, How the Steel was Tempered

This was the opening of Norma Kitson’s book Where Sixpence Lives.1 It accurately portrays her philosophy of life: the philosophy of a revolutionary who had unremitting energy to change the world.

She was born Norma Cranko to a large Jewish bourgeois family in Durban, South Africa. Norma did not fit any mould. She soon rebelled against stifling post-war family life. (‘Girls! Never allow perfume to touch your pearls. It makes them porous.’ Norma’s mother’s advice to her daughters.) At the age of 15 she ran away to be near her sister and ended up working as a secretary at a gold mine in the Orange Free State. Apartheid had been introduced following the Second World War – ostensibly it was ‘separate development’, in reality it was the brutal oppression and dispossession of black people. Influenced by her non-conformist father (divorced from her mother), appalled by the narrowness of Boer existence and by the treatment of black miners, Norma left for Johannesburg after eighteen months. She was determined to meet other ‘progressives’. She soon joined the campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws led by the ANC. On 26 June 1952 she prepared herself to go to gaol (carrying extra underwear in her handbag). She did not know where to go so she sat on a bench marked NIE BLANKES – NON WHITES in Joubert Park, waiting to be arrested. Several hours later, ignored by everyone, she went home.


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South African working class challenges W$$D

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

When heads of state from all around the world arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 31 August for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), they were met by two marches. The first, ‘red’ march was arguably the biggest in post-apartheid South Africa: 10km-long and 25,000-strong. The demonstrators called for the shut down of the WSSD and denounced the heads of governments as enemies of the people. The second, smaller march was led by the African National Congress (ANC), the party in power, and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Trevor Ngwane reports.

The clash between the two marches on the same day and on the same route was an unambiguous contest between the anti-ANC left in South Africa and the ANC government. Victory went to the red march. These events crystallised the issues for the masses and exposed the ANC government’s class collaborationist role in world politics.


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