From the TUC

Become a film mogul & let everyone know how bravery took on apartheid

25 Nov 2015, By

I’ve just left the launch of an exciting project to inform a new generation about a little-known element of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Grassroots film-makers Barefoot Rascals, with the support of veteran anti-apartheid campaigners Ronnie Kasrils and the newly ennobled Peter Hain, want to make a film about the young British activists known as the #LondonRecruits. But they need your help, and the help of thousands of your friends family and workmates. And by help, I mean cash.

In the late 1960s, the African National Congress (ANC) was on its knees. Its leaders and thousands of its members had been jailed – like Nelson Mandela and Dennis Goldberg – or forced into exile, like Oliver Tambo. Local branches were smashed, popular protest crushed, free speech silenced. So Oliver Tambo asked a young ANC soldier called Ronnie Kasrils to go to swinging London and recruit white activists to travel to South Africa to spread the word, detonating bucket bombs full of leaflets, letting black South Africans know the ANC was still alive, still fighting. Senior ANC figures now say these young activists played a vital role in keeping the anti-apartheid movement alive at its darkest hour.

The #LondonRecruits were all white (they had to be to go undercover in racially segregated South Africa),  and came from the student movement, the Communist Party and the trade unions. They have never claimed that they took greater risks, or suffered worse punishments, than the black South Africans such as those in our sister organisation COSATU, who eventually overthrew apartheid. But they did run risks and they did suffer police brutality, beatings and torture.

The book that revealed their heroism, compiled and edited by Ken Keable, was endorsed by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady when it was released in 2012. Buy it (although preferably not from Amazon!)

“London Recruits tells the inspirational story of how ordinary British men and women joined the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. I would encourage unions to help make this project possible.”

Now she is endorsing the project to transform the documentary into an adventure film so that a wider younger audience can be reached. It’s important that people understand the struggles that were needed to establish a non-racial South Africa (although the fight for social justice by COSATU and others still goes on) and the role that trade unionists played in that struggle. That’s why British unions like the CWU, NUT and Unison have already pledged cash and more are mobilising their members to crowd-fund the development of the film.

At the launch tonight at the London Film School, Lord Peter Hain interviewed Ronnie Kasrils, and drew in many of the #LondonRecruits in the audience like Mary Chamberlain, as well as other people who stood up against apartheid like John Taylor, rugby commentator and the only British & Irish Lion to refuse to tour apartheid South Africa. They are very modest about their part in the struggle, and emphasise time and again that it was black South Africans who played the key role. But there are a huge number of stories about the struggle against apartheid, and a fair amount of whitewashing that’s gone on since Nelson Mandela stopped being a ‘terrorist’ and became a saint to many Conservative politicians. It’s important that people learn more about what apartheid was like, and what was needed to end it.

As Tony Dykes, Director of ACTSA (successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement) says:

“London Recruits is not just a film about what people did but should resonate today to help inform and inspire people to contribute to achieving a better, fairer, more just, equal and sustainable world.”