“Youth Activism & Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid” published

We are pleased to announce that our book Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid is published, by Routledge, today. From April 1986 until just after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990, supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group maintained a continuous protest, day and night, outside the South African Embassy in central London. This book tells the story of the Non-Stop Picket and the experiences and motivations of the (mostly) young people from London and across the world who were inspired to build a direct action-based anti-apartheid solidarity movement in Britain. This book is simultaneously a history of a particular moment in British anti-apartheid activism; a study in the spatiality of solidarity and contentious protest; and a study of the place of young people in those social movements and in the urban landscape of London in the 1980s. Our book offers new insights to the study of social movements and young people’s lives. It theorises solidarity and the processes of adolescent development as social practices to provide a theoretically-informed, argument-led analysis of how young activists build and practice solidarity. A full outline of the book can be found here.

In the annals of late 20th century protest in Britain, the Non-Stop Picket stands out as one of the truly inspirational protests.  To think that people maintained a picket of the embassy night and day through freezing winters and pouring rain, for nearly four years, that’s truly extraordinary and heroic.  I feel in total awe of the people who were there around the clock, 24/7.  They made sure that the anti-apartheid struggle and in particular the demand for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, was kept constantly in the public eye.  It was an incredibly effective form of protest by a relatively small, but highly motivated, passionate, idealistic people.” (Peter Tatchell, 19 December 2013)

This book draws on interviews with former participants in the Non-Stop Picket and a range of archival material from that time. In the end, we interviewed 85 people who had been regular participants in the Non-Stop Picket. They were involved for varying lengths of time and with different levels of intensity and commitment. We also interviewed eight people who were close supporters of the picket – not necessarily people who spent a lot of time there, but high-profile politicians and public figures who attended periodically and could be relied on for vocal support at key times. They include some of the solicitors who helped defend arrested picketers in court. Although it had not been part of our initial plan, we managed to track down and interview eight retired police officers, of various ranks, who had been involved in policing City Group’s protests in the mid-1980s.

Image generated by GPL Ghostscript (device=pnmraw)

When City Group ceased to operate at the end of apartheid, some of the remaining members of the Group made plans to preserve the Group’s archive with a view to publishing their story. That publication never happened, but we benefited from the decision to preserve a record of their anti-apartheid campaigning. We were lucky enough to be granted privileged access to this privately held archive. In addition to the Group’s correspondence, minutes of their meetings, membership records, and publicity material, there were witness statements from court cases, banners, and hundreds of photographs.

We believe Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid will be of interest to geographers, historians and a wide range of other social scientists concerned with the historical geography of the international anti-apartheid movement, social movement studies, contemporary British history, and young people’s activism and geopolitical agency.

The book is currently only published in hardback and retails for £105 (academic publishers tend to target the institutional library market first). However, if you order it through the Routledge website, you can use the discount code FLR40 to obtain a 20% discount. A more affordable paperback edition will be published next year (at which point, the price of the e-book will reduce too). In the meantime, if you are in a position to order or request a copy for your school, university, or local community library, we would really appreciate your help in bringing the book to a wider audience.

If you are interested in reviewing the book for a newspaper, magazine, blog, or academic journal, review copies can be ordered here (at the publisher’s discretion).

We would like to thank everyone how shared their memories and archives with us, and helped support and encourage our research and writing in multiple other ways.

We hope you enjoy the book and look forward to hearing your feedback on it.




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A brief history of the Non-Stop Picket

From 1986 – 1990 the supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group [City Group] maintained a Non-Stop Picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. City Group was formed by Norma Kitson (an exiled ANC member), her children, friends and supporters (including, crucially, members of the Revolutionary Communist Group) in 1982. City Group’s unconditional solidarity with all liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia (not just the ANC and SWAPO, but also the Pan-Africanist Congress and AZAPO amongst others) and its principled linking of the struggle against apartheid with anti-racism in Britain led to group’s eventual expulsion from the national Anti-Apartheid Movement. City Group deployed diverse tactics, including direct action, to express its solidarity with those opposed to apartheid. Its support for those sidelined by the exiled leadership of the ANC was valued by activists in South Africa. The Picket played a key role as a ‘convergence space’ through which transnational activist discourses and practices addressing the politics of race were articulated. As such, an analysis of its political culture is important and overdue.

The Picket was a highly visible protest against apartheid. Through its constant presence, the Picket developed a distinctive appearance, culture and sense of community. Bright hand-sewn banners (often in black, green and gold, the colours of the ANC) provided a backdrop to the Picket, declaring its raison d’etre and picketers carried placards which declared their solidarity and commented on topical events and campaigns in South Africa. Members of the picket would leaflet and petition passers-by, whilst others made impromptu speeches on a megaphone or sang South African freedom songs. Larger themed rallies were held on Friday evenings, and on Thursdays the Picket’s numbers swelled as supporters danced to the music of a group of street musicians, the Horns of Jericho. The culture of the Picket not only conveyed its political message of solidarity, but helped individual participants define their personal identities.

Norma Kitson, June 1987 (Source: Gavin Brown)

Positioned on the pavement directly outside South Africa House, the picket was strategically placed to draw attention to apartheid and bring pressure to bear on the regime’s representatives and allies in the UK. The Embassy repeatedly brought pressure on the British Government to ban the protest, and for nearly two months in 1987 (6th May – 2nd July), the Picket was removed from outside the Embassy by the Metropolitan Police (following an action in which three City Group activists threw several gallons of red paint over the entrance to the Embassy). During this period, the Picket relocated to the steps of nearby St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and activists repeatedly risked arrest to break the police ban on their protest and defend the right to protest outside the Embassy. The police used an arcane Victorian bylaw, “Commissioner’s Directions”, which allowed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to curtail public gatherings within a mile of Parliament, to allow MPs free movement to go about their business, to ban the Picket during this period. Eventually, the ban was broken when four MPs protested outside the Embassy alongside other picketers and the police were unable to justify the ban any longer. In total 173 people were arrested during City Group’s campaign to break the police ban and defend the right to protest. All charges were eventually thrown out of court.

City Group’s activism was not restricted to Trafalgar Square: picketers took direct action against apartheid across the UK and toured the country mobilising solidarity. These extended campaigns of direct action away from the Non- Stop Picket included ‘trolley protests’ against the sale of South African goods in supermarkets across London, where activists filled trolleys with South African produce, took them to the checkout and then refused to pay for them. At their most effective, these protests could tie up the majority of checkouts in a targeted supermarket simultaneously. In a similar vein, City Group organised frequent occupations of the South African Airways (SAA) offices in Oxford Circus through their “No Rights? No Flights!” campaign. These offices were frequently closed through successive occupations several times in a day. As the security staff at the SAA offices increasingly recognised protestors, activists needed to utilise more and more imaginative disguises to enable their initial access to the premises – during one women-only protest on South African Women’s Day in 1988 a large party of women, varying in age from their mid-teens to their seventies, occupied the SAA offices dressed as nuns and a class of convent girls. Finally, City Group activists took direct action at sporting venues around the UK, including pitch invasions at various athletics tracks and cricket grounds, in protest at sportsmen and women who had broken the sports boycott of South Africa.

The geography of the Non-Stop Picket extended beyond its location and its relationship with the struggle in South Africa. The combination of the Picket’s central location and its expression of solidarity through confrontation with the representatives of apartheid attracted a broad and diverse group of (mostly) young activists from the UK and beyond. The Picket provided ‘uncommon ground’ through which friendship networks developed that crossed boundaries of nationality, ethnicity and social difference. At times, the Picket became something of a haven for young street homeless people living in the West End, although their involvement was often shortlived and marked by the reassertion of social hierarchies by more settled and privileged members of the Picket. The social and political life of the Picket had a particular emotional geography through which individuals overcame social isolation, transformed their sense of self, and enjoyed being ‘unruly’ in public space. These entangled personal and political motivations are crucial to a holistic analysis of the Non-Stop Picket and transnational solidarity activism more broadly.

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LGBT activists in the anti-apartheid struggle

The second article that Gavin has written for the Anti-Apartheid Legacy Centre for Memory and Learning focused on the role of LGBT activists in 1980s’ anti-apartheid campaigning.

After the end of apartheid, South Africa became the first country in the world to guarantee freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality as a constitutional right. The ‘equality clause’ in the 1996 South African Constitution was an attempt to overcome the legal inequalities (based on race and ethnicity) that had shaped South African society throughout the colonial and apartheid eras.

However, the specific inclusion of protection against discrimination based on sexuality was a direct response to the visible role that some LGBT people had played in the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s. As LGBT people became more visible in the anti-apartheid struggle, they organised around the slogan “no liberation without gay liberation” (using terminology that made sense at the time). They argued that it was not enough to opposed racial inequalities in South Africa, but that a post-apartheid nation had to oppose all forms of social and legal inequalities.

Here we tell the story of two gay anti-apartheid activists, and the LGBT groups they worked with, who helped raise the visibility of LGBT rights in South Africa during the last years of the apartheid system. We focus on the stories of Simon Nkoli and Ivan Toms, but there are many other important LGBT activists who campaigned with them. They include Zackie Achmat, Sheila Lapinsky, Alfred Machela, Bev Ditsie, Edwin Cameron and others.

Simon Nkoli attending a rally celebrating his release from jail in London (Photographer: Gordon Rainsford)
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Adelaide Tambo and the politics of care

Gavin Brown has recently written some articles for the website of the Anti-Apartheid Legacy Centre for Memory and Learning in London – the museum planned for the site of the former London ANC offices on Penton Street in Islington.

The first article examines the legacy of Adelaide Tambo and explores how a politics of care runs through her early activism under apartheid, her political work in exile in London, and her engagement in post-apartheid South African politics. As the article says,

From the early days of their time in London, Adelaide played a key role in helping South African opposition members adjust to exile in the UK and looking out for their welfare. She was famous for attending and helping to organise marriages and funerals within the South African exile community, extending her care not just to ANC members and their allies, but also to supporters of the Pan Africanist Congress and other organisations.

In October 1987, she challenged fellow ANC members against unproductive arguments between the ANC and PAC over their history and politics. Despite her long political commitment to the ANC, Adelaide tended to approach problems within the exile community not in terms of political rhetoric, but by focusing on practical solutions. After the Soweto Uprising in 1976, she was active in raising financial support for the families of young people who were forced into exile. At her funeral in 2007, Mandela described Ma Tambo as “a mother to the liberation movement in exile”. She often made space in her home to accommodate recently arrived exiles, particularly unaccompanied young activists.

In addition to her paid and unpaid care work, Adelaide continued to be involved in political and diplomatic work for the ANC. During her time in exile, Ma Tambo became a founding member of Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement and the Pan-African Women’s Organisation (PAWO). In London she made it her duty to get to know diplomats from African and Asian countries and raise the profile of the ANC amongst them. She threw lavish parties at her home to build these networks. At the same time, she was active in the ANC Women’s League and was not afraid of using her influence there to challenge decisions made by the men in the ANC’s leadership.

She also played a key role in ensuring that ANC women made connections with feminist organisations in London and internationally. She was a close friend of Selma James, one of the co-founders of the international Wages for Housework Campaign, which sought to make women’s unwaged care work visible and valued.

Women played a key role in every aspect of the anti-apartheid struggle – they organised in their unions, churches, and communities, they led protests, and they fought in the armed struggle.

However, as Adelaide Tambo’s personal and political life shows they also organised and supplied care for members of the liberation movements and their families.

Too often women’s care work is overlooked or undervalued. But it was essential to the survival of the anti-apartheid movement. Remembering the political contribution of this care work is not only important for how we understand the role of women in the anti-apartheid struggle, but also crucial to fighting against oppression and inequality today. Without valuing care for the people we campaign alongside, we cannot hope to create a more just world with care for each other and care for the planet at its centre.

Image: Leaflet for ANC ‘Year of the Women’ public meeting in London, 1984 (Image from the Steve Kitson Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute).
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The Marikana Massacre 10 Years Later

Andy Higginbottom, who was the Secretary of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group for many years in the 1980s has asked us to help publicize this event being organised by the Marikana Solidarity Collective.

Sunday 26 June 2022, 15.00 – 17.30 (BST) 

The Marikana Massacre 10 Years Later: Spotlight on British Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism in South 


Cecil Gutzmore, “The Non-Revolutionary Armed Struggle of Nelson Mandela.”
Andrew Feinstein, “Inside BAE’s Arms Deal with the ANC Government.”
Nonhle Mbuthuma, “ANC Freedom Charter Promises and Realities, AmaMpondo Resistance to MRC and Shell.”
Andy Higginbottom, “Is ‘White Monopoly Capital’ just rhetoric? Neocolonialism, Britain and South Africa Today.”
Thumeka Magwanqwana (Sinethemba Women’s Organisation), “Fine Words but Foul Deeds by Sibanye Stillwater.” 

On August 16th 2012, 34 mineworkers on strike for a living wage were shot dead by the police in two massacres at Marikana platinum mine in South Africa, owned by Lonmin, a British mining company. Another 78 suffered life-changing injuries. 

The police unlawfully arrested, and tortured 270 of the striking mineworkers and charged them with common purpose, accusing them of causing the deaths of their colleagues. 

Despite a commission of inquiry costing millions, not a single police officer has been charged for the killing. Nor has there been any reckoning for the institutions of state that were in command. There has been a total lack of justice. Why has state repression continued against the working class? 

This specific case brings fundamental questions about the nature of post-Apartheid state and politics that need to be addressed. 

Founded in 1909 as Lonrho (the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company), Lonmin’s formation is entangled in the history of European settler colonial expansion across southern Africa. By 1945 Lonrho was the biggest company in a country ruled by just 6% of its population, and its ruthless manager was known as ‘Rhodesia’s Uncrowned King.’ 

10 years on from the Marikana Massacre, Lonmin has sold the mine to Sibanye Stillwater. One of its major shareholders has become the President of South Africa, while the communities in Marikana continue to struggle for justice and reparations. 

To remember the Marikana Massacre accurately after another decade of injustices, the Marikana Solidarity Collective in London believes it necessary to critically re-interrogate the question of neo-colonialism and British imperialism in southern Africa. During this public webinar on Sunday 26th June, the anniversary of the Freedom Charter, interventions from a range of speakers will trace the ongoing plunder of natural resources by white monopoly capital, the role of pivotal state institutions inherited from the colonial state—including the police, military and prison—as well as the persistent defiance and revolutionary spirit of the African masses.  This public discussion has been organised by the Marikana Solidarity Collective, including members from the London Mining Network, Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike, Pan-Afrikan Society Community Forum, in collaboration with comrades in Marikana and Azania. Please join the discussion! 

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Contribution to Decolonising Geography

This week Gavin Brown has contributed a post about the Non-Stop Picket and the forms of informal, anti-racist political education that took place on it, to the Decolonising Geography blog.

Gavin concludes his contribution by stating:

Although the Non-Stop Picket had the release of Mandela as its central demand, the group never restricted their solidarity to Mandela’s African National Congress. City Group was committed to providing ‘non-sectarian’ solidarity to all those political tendencies who opposed apartheid in South Africa. In practice, this meant that the Non-Stop Picket created space on the streets of London to amplify the voices of those South Africans from Pan-Africanist and Black Consciousness traditions who didn’t limit their demands to achieving democratic rights for all South Africans, but who wanted to undo settler colonial structures and relationships in their country and build a decolonized Azania in its place. For teachers who are committed to decolonizing Geography, the Non-Stop Picket provides a useful case study in how to build a grassroots movement in Britain that is in solidarity with decolonial movements elsewhere. An archive of City Group’s papers is now publicly available at the Bishopsgate Institute, offering a wealth of resources for thinking through these issues. Studying the decolonial analysis and praxis of the Southern African movements who opposed apartheid helps challenge Eurocentric assumptions about who produces geopolitical theory and knowledge. But I also think it is a powerful reminder (to quote Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang) that decolonization is not a metaphor.

The Decolonising Geography Educators Group is a group of geography educators who are looking at ways to decolonise the curriculum. They aim to challenge the reproduction of colonial practices of knowledge in our classrooms. The Decolonising Geography website contributes to developing curricula that challenge ‘universal truths’ and ‘objective knowledge’ in Geography by offering: pedagogical techniques to empower students to co-create knowledge and build critical geographies; a space for critical reflection on the content we teach in geography education; and practical teaching resources.

In this context, Gavin’s contribution asks what the historical experiences of the Non-Stop Picket can teach us about both picketing and geography today. His contribution was timed to coincide (and as an act of solidarity) with the latest wave of strikes by members of the University and College Union at 63 universities in the UK. This strike is motivated by a wide range of grievances, including the significant racialised pay gaps amongst staff in the British university sector.

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Interview with Zephaniah Mothopeng

We recently posted the newly released video of the Zephaniah Mothopeng speaking at a rally which the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group helped to organise with member of the Pan-Africanist Congress in London in 1989. Here is a companion video of an interview, recorded by members of the Dutch Azania Komitee, with Zephaniah Mothopeng during his time in London. These edited highlights of a long afternoon of conversations cover a wide range of topics, including: Mothopeng’s childhood and family background, his early politicization and involvement with the ANC Youth League in the 1940s. He talks at length about the reasons why the Pan-Africanist Congress was formed in 1959 and the purpose of their early campaigns, including the campaign against the Pass Laws in March 1960 which resulted in the Sharpeville Massacre. He explains how the PAC responded to being banned through the organisation of POQO guerrillas in the early 1960s. He describes the influence of Pan-Africanism (alongside Black Consciousness ideas) on the generation of young South Africans who participated in the Soweto uprising of June 1976. Finally, he offers an assessment of the balance of forces in South Africa at the time of the interview, and issues a call – to members of the African diaspora, as well as, to progressive white supporters – to not only increase their solidarity with those resisting apartheid, but to prepare to contribute to rebuilding Azania-South Africa, in a Pan-African context, after apartheid.

Given how rarely the voices of leading Pan-Africanists from the apartheid era are heard, this video is a rich resource for anyone interested in Pan-Africanism or the diversity of voices within the global anti-apartheid movement. What feels very current in the interview is Mothopeng’s repeated insistence that opposition to apartheid was not just about civil rights or democracy, but was fundamentally a struggle to decolonize South Africa.

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Zephania Mothopeng in London, 1989

Some time ago, we wrote about the rally organised in London in July 1989 at which Zephania Mothopeng, the President of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania spoke. Thanks to friends in the Netherlands who were previously involved with the Azania Komite there, footage of Mothopeng’s speech at that rally is now available for the first time. Although it is clear how gravely ill Mothopeng was at this point, he gives a powerful speech offering a Pan-Africanist analysis of settler colonialism in South Africa and calling on the global African diaspora to intervene in support of a Pan-African decolonial vision for Azania/South Africa and the continent as a whole.

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City Group’s Solidarity with Pan-Africanist Exiles in London

Charine John in conversation with Thapelo Moloantoa from Pan-Africanist Congress on Saturday 26 September

As part of its Heritage Month, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania is pleased to re-connect with those who were part of the international anti-apartheid movement. Those who not only showed solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle, but also, in various ways supported the party and its military wing the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA).

The Non-Stop Against Apartheid research team have been working with PAC members in London to help reconstruct an archive of their movement in exile and the British-based campaigners who worked with them and offered solidarity to their movement. As part of this initiative, the PAC are hosting a livestreamed discussion with a former City Group activists.

Charine John, was a member of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group – who spent days upon days on the frontline of the marathon Non-Stop Picket that took place from April 1986 to February 1990, on the doorstep of the South African Embassy in London.

The PAC will host Charine in an informal discussion about those years, about her trip to Zimbabwe in 1988 where she attended a PAC Women’s Conference and met some of the PAC leadership at the time, including Johnson Mlambo. Charine and another City Group activist also visited the burial site of the late PAC stalwart John Nyati Pokela in Zimbabwe.

This is the first of a series of livestream discussions whose purpose is not only to acknowledge the solidarity support that the international community provided to the PAC, but also to inform and educate PAC members about some of the intricate details of the exile years.

Izwe Lethu – Iafrika

The full livestream details are as follows:

Topic:       The PAC and the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (City Group)                  – Solidarity and Support During The Exile Years 
Date:        Saturday, 26 September 2020
Time:        20:00 (CAT) 19:00 (BST)
Platform: Facebook.com/mypaconline

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The PAC in London

The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania has recently started a social media project to educate their members and supporters about the history of the movement and their contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. As part of this work, they are also attempting to reconstruct a comprehensive digital and physical archive of the movement. In one of their recent #PACHistoryFriday posts on Twitter (@MyPAConline), they posted this short video of the PAC’s work, in exile, in London in which photos of the PAC with the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group figure heavily.

Helen Yaffe and Gavin Brown are looking forward to working more closely with contemporary PAC representatives in London to help them access, gather and interpret archival material about their exiled members political work and lives in the UK from the 1960s until the end of apartheid.

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Video of “Youth Activism and Solidarity” pavement book launch

On 9 August 2019, we held a launch event for the paperback edition of our book Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid. The launch took place on the pavement in front of South Africa House where the Non-Stop Picket stood, continuously, from April 1986 until February 1990. The event attracted many former participants in the Non-Stop Picket, as well as their friends and families, and people who they continue to campaign alongside around a range of local, national and global issues.

In addition to Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe, the authors of the book, many former picketers also spoke at the event. One of the recurring themes was that recording the history of the Non-Stop Picket, its anti-apartheid solidarity, and its methods of organising, is only valuable if those lessons are carried forward into contemporary struggles.

This video gives a flavour of the event and the reflections on solidarity by Gavin, Helen and many other participants in the Non-Stop Picket.

If you buy the book through the publisher’s website before 31 December 2019, you can use the code ADS19 to get a 30% discount off the cover price.

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Viva Carol, our convenor. No one tougher, no one meaner

Carol Brickley, the Convenor of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group throughout the 12 years of its existence, died in September. Carol was central to the formation of City Group and her revolutionary communist politics played a key role in shaping City Group’s anti-imperialist approach to anti-apartheid solidarity, as well as the group’s organisational culture and direct action tactics. She leaves a lasting impact on the political lives of many people who campaigned alongside her, even many of those who did not share all of her politics.


Carol Brickley being arrested defying police ban on anti-apartheid protests, 1987

Carol was born in a working class family in Staffordshire, the daughter of coal miner. She was part of the post-war generation of working class young people who benefited from the expansion of higher education in the 1960s and studied Fine Art in Newcastle. In 1971, in the wake of the post-1968 upsurge of radical politics and rapid social change, she moved to Brighton, as a youth worker.

In Brighton, Carol became politically active in the International Socialists (IS), the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party. However, she rapidly became disillusioned by what she saw as the inadequacy of IS’s politics to respond to the political circumstances of the world in the early 1970s. She joined the discussion group within the Brighton IS branch, which had been established partly under the influence of the veteran British Trotskyist, Roy Tearse. This drew her into the faction fight within IS which led, first to the expulsion of the Revolutionary Opposition faction, and then to her helping to found the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) with David Yaffe and others. Over the next few years, the RCG developed a distinctive anti-imperialist politics which saw solidarity with the national liberation struggles in Ireland and South Africa, and active anti-racist organising, as being key tasks for revolutionary communists in Britain. Carol remained in the political leadership of the RCG and centrally involved in the production of its paper, Fight Racism Fight Imperialism, for more than another four decades.

In 1976, Carol moved to London to become an artworker at Red Lion Setters, a typesetting and design company which had been set up by the exiled South African communist, Norma Kitson. Carol quickly became a Director of the company. Norma’s husband, David, was still in gaol in South Africa at the time, for his part in the leadership of Umkhonto we Siswe, the armed organisation formed by the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party in the early 1960s. When, in early 1982, Norma’s son Steven was detained in South Africa whilst visiting his father, Carol and other workers at Red Lion Setters leapt into action to campaign for his release. This intense period of campaigning secured Steven’s release in less than a week. The political alliance between Norma Kitson, Carol and, through her, the RCG was consolidated during the Free Steven Kitson Campaign and, in order not to lose momentum, they formed the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group together.

Over the next twelve years, City Group developed a distinctive approach to anti-apartheid campaigning and solidarity under Carol’s leadership, which included offering ‘non-sectarian’ support for all political tendencies within the liberation movement, and linking the struggle against apartheid to the fight against racism in Britain. City Group held two ‘non-stop pickets’ of the South African Embassy in London. The first, in 1982, lasted for 86 days. The second, which began on 19 April 1986 lasted for nearly four years until just after Nelson Mandela had been released from gaol. Even outside these periods of continuous protests City Group sustained weekly protests outside South Africa House and regularly took direct action to confront apartheid’s supporters in Britain and disrupt the political, economic and cultural links between Britain and apartheid South Africa. In the process, City Group defeated two attempts by the Metropolitan Police to ban protests outside the embassy through a combination of civil disobedience in defiance of these bans and strategic use the resulting court cases.



Cartoon by Ian (Ira) Smith  (Source: City Group)

The idea for the second Non-Stop Picket was Norma Kitson’s. In an interview for our Non-Stop Against Apartheid research project Carol reflected on why she supported the proposal:

I thought it was something that you take on, but you don’t project yourself to the end of it. You don’t say I am doing this because it’s possible, because frankly it didn’t seem altogether possible. But the value of it was in the doing of it rather than in the end of it. Especially given what was going on in South Africa. I mean, it’s not that you decide that sort of thing in isolation. There was an enormous build-up of militancy in the townships in South Africa from 1985 onwards which was extraordinary and very different from what had gone before. So that was the background to us making any decisions. … The Non-Stop Picket was a response to that, it wasn’t that we suddenly decided that Nelson Mandela and all the political prisoners needed to be free. It was a way of bringing people’s attention to what was going on in South Africa. Not only the prisoners but also the share brutality of the regime. They were murdering people.


Carol alongside the City Group Singers (Source: City Group)

When City Group held demonstrations, or larger rallies on the Non-Stop Picket, it was usually Carol who liaised with the police in advance and acted as ‘chief steward’ on the day, providing political and tactical leadership to protests, and coordinating their security. She explained her approach to this role in the following terms:

I had always done the negotiations for it with the police. So I knew what the deal was. Although we didn’t do deals, we always really obstructed what the police wanted. Usually they wanted us not to have it or to tone it down or whatever. I was quite good at handling those situations where we wanted to do something that the police didn’t want us to do, and we would go ahead and do it.


Carol Brickley speaks at City Groups protest against MI5 phone tapping, 1985 (Source: City Group)

Carol was a thorn in the side of the Metropolitan Police and the South African Embassy. So much so, that in the mid-80s she exposed the security service’s surveillance of her home. Whenever the police sought to restrict City Group’s activities, Carol’s instinct was to make political capital out of it – unambiguously presenting their actions as evidence of the British state’s collaboration with apartheid. Sometimes, however, City Group responded with humour, drawing attention to the absurdity of the police’s actions, and making them the butt of the joke. For example,

I remember at one point the police decided that they would allow us to put down on the pavement only a box the size of A4. If we put anything else down they would take it away. So what we did is we arranged for a lot of rubbish on the picket, I mean large quantities of rubble effectively, which we then refused to move, which they then had to take to Cannon Row police station and store as our property. They used to send me letters about this rubbish, saying they were storing it and what did we want to do with it. We wrote back saying we hoped that they were keeping it carefully.

Carol’s determination in refusing to be cowed by the police, nor to make concessions to their attempts to restrict the effectiveness of City Group’s protests was something that rubbed off on many who worked alongside her during that period.

Carol Brickley speaks torchlit rally NSP (Jon Kempster 45-9)

Carol Brickley speaks on the Non-Stop Picket, 31 August 1987 (Photographer: Jon Kempster)

If Carol left her mark on the politics and campaigning practices of many former City Group activists, she also felt she had developed politically through her interactions with them. When we held a launch event for the paperback edition of Youth Activism and Solidarity: the non-stop picket against apartheid this August on the pavement in Trafalgar Square where the Non-Stop Picket had stood, Carol was too ill to attend. She did, however, ask for a short extract from the book’s conclusion, in which she reflected on the experience of the Non-Stop Picket to be read out on her behalf. She said.

It was the most important formative political experience of my life and I see it as a political experience, not as a personal one. I learnt a lot. And I had the opportunity to mix with some amazing people who had given their all, their lives, to the struggle. That’s a privilege to see that. Those things that happen are important for the consciousness of any movement; they become part of its history and its future. They aren’t lost. Those victories aren’t lost. The City Group experience is a starting point, rather than the end point. The next movement will incorporate that knowledge and that experience. It’s important to pass it on and I’m glad that it’s being passed on.

On that occasion, former picketers responded to her words by chanting a rhyme developed on City Group pickets in her honour. The words celebrate her uncompromising politics, inspiring leadership and her unwavering commitment to defend City Group members (as well as capturing a certain ruthlessness in pursuing her perspective). It seems fitting to end this obituary (as we started it) with those words:

Viva Carol, our convenor, no-one tougher, no-one meaner. Have you ever been to see her? Viva! Viva Carol!


We have been informed that the RCG will be holding an event in celebration of Carol Brickley’s life on Saturday 26 October, 2-5pm, at the London Irish Centre, 50-52 Camden Square, London NW1 9XB. Everyone who knew Carol, including former City Group activists, is welcome to attend and to contribute their thoughts and memories; those who cannot make it but would like to send a message should write to the RCG address BCM Box 5909, London WC1N 3XX or email editorial@rcgfrfi.plus.com .

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