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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Youth Activism & Solidarity: a dedication

Now that Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid has been published and had its launch, we wanted to share the book’s dedication.

Book_Dedication

We have told the stories of Norma, David and Steve Kitson on this blog a number of times over the years. But we want to remind readers about the lives of the other former picketers to whom we dedicated the book. I think it is fair to say that when Helen Yaffe and I started work on the ‘non-stop against apartheid’ research project, and began writing this blog, we did not anticipate that we would end up writing so many obituaries for people that we had known on the Non-Stop Picket in the 1980s – especially of people who were, in some cases, our near-peers.

Two of the people we dedicated the book to unfortunately died before we had an opportunity to record their memories about the Non-Stop Picket. Solomon Odeleye came to Britain from Nigeria in the late 1960s to study at a boarding school for blind students. He trained as a teacher and taught English for many years. He was involved in many anti-racist campaigns over the decades. One of our favourite stories about him involves his involvement in invading a cricket pitch with Richard (who told us the story), in a protest against Mike Gatting’s rebel cricket tour to South Africa, :

My abiding memory of running on to a cricket pitch was with Solomon who is blind. I hated it because you had to sit for hours waiting to run on and I felt sick with fear. When we did run I was holding hands with Solomon. I realized I could get to the cricket stumps so I shouted to Solomon, `can I let go?’ `Yes!’ he shouted and he let go of my hand and he kept running on his own. I was amazed at how brave he was especially as a policeman then rugby tackled him (that’s not cricket) and he had no idea it was coming. I got to the stumps and pulled them up.

Zolile Keke, or Comrade Keke, as he was universally known to non-stop picketers, was the Chief Representative in the UK of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in the mid-1980s. He was a former Robben Island prisoner and a defendant in the Bethal treason trial after the Soweto Uprising by school students in 1976. When City Group launched its Non-Stop Picket of the South African embassy in London, on 19 April 1986, Comrade Keke was there at the rally that started the Picket to speak on behalf of the PAC.  Excerpts from his speech can be seen here (at about 9 minutes into the film). Amongst his many visits to the Non-Stop Picket, he appeared there on Christmas Day 1988 as ‘Father Freedom’. Zolile Keke helped educate a generation of British solidarity activists that it was not enough  to achieve a ‘democratic South Africa’, Azania had to be fully decolonized.

Andrew Privett (who used the name Gardner at the time of the Non-Stop Picket) was one of the first people we interviewed for our research. He died unexpectedly in October 2012. Andy stumbled across the Non-Stop Picket in June 1986, just a couple of months after it started. He played an active role in the Non-Stop Picket for most of its duration, and contributed to key City Group campaigns in the years after it ended. Like many City Group activists, Andy spent more than his fair share of time in the cells at Cannon Row and other police stations.  He calculated that he had probably been arrested around a dozen times on the Picket – twice for police obstruction, four times for noise pollution (which was not technically an arrestable offence), and twice for threatening behaviour.  When City Group was banned from protesting directly outside the Embassy in May 1987, and the Picket was forced to relocate to the steps of St. Martin-in-the-fields Church for two months, Andy was one of the activists who defied the ban, crossed the road, and attempted to re-establish the Picket’s right to protest where it chose.  He was arrested six times for ‘disregarding Commissioner’s Directions’.  As Andy said,

It was very daunting being arrested the first time – but I was carried through it by the empowering experience (I was seldom arrested alone) of singing in the cells, and people waiting outside for my release.

Ken Bodden, who during the time of the Non-Stop Picket worked politically under the name Ken Hughes, died on 20 October 2013 following a heart attack. Ken was born in Panama in 1950 and lost his sight at a very early age as a result of retinoblastoma. Like Solomon, he came to the UK to attend a specialist boarding school for blind people and that is where he first became politicized. Initially, the main outlet for his politics came through his love of sport. Ken was passionate about creating opportunities for blind and partially sighted children to participate in organised sports – becoming a Paraolympic cross-country skier.  As the 1970s progressed, he also became increasingly involved in anti-racist campaigning.  It was in that context that he first met members of the Revolutionary Communist Group, which he would later join and remain a supporter of for many years. Ken was a fine singer and played a key role in the development of City Group Singers – a task that he understood as a political contribution to the group’s campaigning and the vitality of the Picket. He also regular sang a wider repertoire of protest songs at City Group’s social events – few socials were over until Ken had been persuaded to sing The Ballad of Joe McDonnell. Here he is singing at a party more recently:

The final person we dedicated the book to was Jacky Sutton. We have not previously written about her death on this blog. In the years after the Non-Stop Picket, Jacky became a journalist, and worked for the BBC World Service in the late 1990s. She went on to work for the United Nations in various conflict and post-conflict locations. At the time of her death, she was working as the acting director in Iraq for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). When her body was found in a toilet at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport in October 2015, while she was in transit back to Iraq, there was widespread concern that it appeared suspicious (especially as her predecessor at IWPR Iraq had been murdered a short while previously). Her family have since accepted a coroner’s verdict that she took her own life.

Jacky joined the Non-Stop Picket mid-way through its existence, after returning from two years living in Canada. Her older sister, Jenny, was already heavily involved in the Non-Stop Picket. For much of the time, Jacky juggled her commitment to the Non-Stop Picket with part-time studying and a secretarial job at the Angolan embassy. She was a committed member of the picket, regularly doing the Saturday over-night shift, as well as contributing to City Group’s committee and many of its key campaigns, especially the one for the Upington 26 (14). The following extract from her interview captures something of the energy and enthusiasm by which many picketers remember her:

I am not a good singer but I have good lungs and a loud voice. That was great – I found the cassette a couple of years back and I often find myself singing [along] at odd moments. The rallies were exhilarating and I remember losing my voice for three days.

Between them, these five people embodied so much of the spirit of the Non-Stop Picket. We are proud to be able to dedicate Youth Activism and Apartheid to all of them.

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Book launch event (27 November, Leicester)

Youth Activism & Solidarity Leicester Book Launch

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Mementos of Steve Kitson

Sunday 12 November 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Steven Kitson. Steve was born in 1957 as the eldest child of the South African communists and anti-apartheid activists David and Norma Kitson. In the 1980s, he became a leading member of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (after it grew out of the Free Steve Kitson Campaign which had been formed to protest his own brief detention by the apartheid regime in January 1982).

We told much of Steve’s biography in a blog post written on the 15th anniversary of his death from cancer in 1997:

Steve was born in London; but, as an infant, returned to South Africa with his parents in 1959, when they decided to deepen their involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle.  His father, a member of the second High Command of Umkhonto we Siswe (the armed wing of the ANC), was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to twenty years in gaol the following year.  Along with his mother and sister, Amandla, Steve endured two years of constant police harassment in South Africa following his father’s imprisonment before Norma moved her young family to London.  Each December, from the age of sixteen, he used the holiday period to return to South Africa to visit David.

On 6 January 1982, while visiting his father in gaol in Pretoria, Steve was detained by the South African authorities, accused of being an ANC courier and breaching prison security by sketching the institution.  Steve was violently interrogated – tortured – during his detention.  Norma and her colleague at Red Lion Setters, Carol Brickley (a member of the Revolutionary Communist Group), quickly mobilised everyone they could think of to demand Steve’s freedom.  The Free Steven Kitson Campaign was a success and he was released after six days.  Within hours of phoning London with news of his release, Steve’s aunt, Joan Weinberg (Norma’s older sister), was murdered in her flat in Johannesburg.  With Norma and the children in London, Joan had been David’s most frequent visitor throughout his imprisonment.  Her killers were never found; indeed, they were never sought.

During its brief existence, the Free Steven Kitson Campaign drew scores of new people into anti-apartheid campaigning for the first time.  In order not to lose this momentum, it was decided to transform the campaign into the City Of London Anti-Apartheid Group.  Steve played an active role in City Group over the years.  On both the 86-day picket of the South African Embassy in 1982 and the Non-Stop Picket four years later, as well as many protests in between, Steve taught picketers South African liberation songs. He frequently performed with City Group Singers. For many years he was a member of City Group’s committee, often working tirelessly in the office on the group’s financial and membership records, as well as contributing to its political leadership.  He used his software skills to develop a membership database for the group at a time when few comparable organisations could invest in such technology.

In our research, several people remembered the time and patience that Steve would invest during his picket shifts, explaining the history of South Africa, apartheid, and resistance to it. He was central to the political education of many picketers. Like other members of the Kitson family, Steve was sometimes targeted by the police, but was also prepared to risk arrest to defend the right to protest against apartheid. In that context, one of the other voices that attested to Steve’s caring personality came from a (now retired) police officer. She told the following story:

Weirdly one of my most abiding memories was of being on the picket one evening and a call for assistance from a colleague coming over the radio. There was a fight happening around the corner in the Strand. I remember leaving my post and running round to help out, having a bit of a roll around on the floor helping to arrest a drunken yob and then having to trot back to the picket as by right I shouldn’t have left it in the first place but some things would always take precedence. I was obviously out of breath, a bit pale and the after effects of the adrenaline had kicked in and my hands were shaking. Steven Kitson was on the picket that evening and after looking at me in a concerned fashion for a minute or two he came over and asked me if I was alright. I was really rather touched. You have to appreciate there was very little contact with the pickets, they didn’t talk to us and we didn’t to them unless it was to raise an issue. It was a very nice gesture.

To mark this anniversary, I wanted to post something new, that might help enrich this picture of Steve. So, I dipped once again into the two crates of his papers that still sit in my office. Two items from the files for 1984 intrigued me. They both serve as a reminder that, prior to his parents’ suspension from membership of the ANC and SACP, and City Group’s ‘disaffiliation’ from the national Anti-Apartheid Movement, there were high profile members of the ANC and SACP in London who were prepared to work closely with them.

The first item is a facsimile of a Passbook that was produced for an exhibition about apartheid, The Signs of Apartheid, that was organised by the Greater London Council’s London Against Racism campaign in 1984.

Passbook 1

What is perhaps most significant about this small brown booklet, that mimicked the internal passports used to control black workers (but, instead, contained information about apartheid), is the annotation inside it in Steve’s handwriting.

Passbook 2

In Steve’s small, precise, script it states “given to me by Adelaide Tambo”. I take this both as a personal aide memoire of a small gift from a leading anti-apartheid campaigner who remained close to the Kitson family throughout; but also as political act – archiving evidence of Adelaide Tambo’s friendship against accusations that the Kitson family were ill-disciplined and outside the ANC fold.

The second item from Steve’s papers speaks to the centrality of music to his life and his political work. It is a photocopy of an image of Steve, the City Group Choir, and the South African cultural activist James Madhlope-Phillips. Having arrived in London from South Africa in the 1960s, Madhlope-Phillips’ home was be a key site of comfort and welcome for new exiles as they arrived in England; it was also a crucial early meeting place for ANC members in London before a formal office was established there. In the 1970s, he was central to the formation of the ANC’s cultural arm Mayibuye. Out of that contribution, he dedicated himself to teaching the freedom songs of Southern African liberation movements to progressive choirs around the world.

James Madhlope Phillips with City Group Choir

James Madhlope-Phillips (centre) with City Group Choir. Steve Kitson is third from left. (Source: Steve Kitson papers)

The card thanks Madhlope-Phillips for his ‘guidance’ and for leading the choir in song at a conference (as part of City Group’s contribution to month of action against apartheid in March of that year). Once again, Steve’s decision to keep a photocopy of the thank you card they sent to Madhlope-Phillips suggests a double motivation. It is, of course, a memento of a fun and energizing day of singing. But, it was also an insurance policy, recording a day of cooperation with a leading member of the ANC’s cultural wing, at a time when the relationship between City Group and the AAM (as well as between Norma Kitson and the ANC) was heavily under strain. Even so, that a high profile member of the ANC/SACP did cooperate with City Group at this time suggests that the strain on those relationships was not shared universally.

Many of the songs that were central to Madhlope-Phillips’ repertoire became favourites for City Group members – frequently led by Steve Kitson, both as part of the choir, but also more spontaneously on shifts on the Non-Stop Picket. So here, then is a wonderful recording of James Madhlope-Phillips leading Shosholoza. Sing along and remember Steve Kitson.

 

 

 

 

 

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A suitable anniversary: youth and student action to close apartheid’s embassy

It is a joyful coincidence that our book Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid has been published on 19 October 2017. On this day, thirty-two years ago, hundreds of students and other young people took mass direct action outside the South African Embassy in London to try to close down apartheid’s diplomatic mission. Here’s how we describe those event, and their significance, in our book:

“Exactly six months to the day before the Non-Stop Picket started, [the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group] led a spectacular protest outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square. On 19 October 1985, 322 people were arrested for blocking the road directly in front of the Embassy.

In the weeks preceding the demonstration, City Group had circulated a call to surround the South African Embassy. On the day, City Group’s numbers were swollen by students participating in a National Union of Students (NUS) demonstration against apartheid in Trafalgar Square. Over the course of the afternoon, hundreds of students relocated from the centre of Trafalgar Square to protest directly outside the South African Embassy and eventually blocked the road in front of it.

Raw footage of the protest held on the Independent Television News (ITN) Archive shows hundreds of young people blocking the road. Both the pavement outside the Embassy and the roadway itself were packed full of people. At the start of the clip, some are standing in the road, and some are sitting. Two buses are caught in the crowd, prevented from moving. A familiar City Group chant is heard coming from the crowd – “Close down the nest of spies! Stop the murder! Stop the lies!” As the police move in to make arrests and clear the road, student protesters make their bodies limp and are carried away. More seasoned City Group activists continue chanting for the release of Nelson Mandela as they are arrested, and a legal observer busily weaves between the police trying to record the names of arrestees. …

The sit down protest on 19 October 1985 demonstrated that hundreds of young people were prepared to take direct action and risk arrest in pursuit of the closure of the South African Embassy. Although City Group probably did not mobilise the majority of participants in the 19 October protest, it is clear that City Group’s vision of what the anti-apartheid protest could be (and their practical intervention amongst the demonstrators) was decisive on the day. The events that afternoon helped consolidate City Group’s reputation for direct action against apartheid in a way that, and six months later, would make the launch of the Non-Stop Picket viable. (Brown and Yaffe 2017: 31-32).

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Students block Trafalgar Square, 19 October 1987 (Photo: Gavin Brown)

This anniversary has particular significance for Gavin as this was the first time he came into contact with City Group and, as a fifteen year old, was excited by the vibrancy and daring of their protest style. If he had not stumbled across their protest on that day, he might never have written this blog or our book.

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“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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“It was a dark and stormy night” (against apartheid)

This weekend England is remembering the 30th anniversary of “The Great Storm” of 1987. On the night of 15 October, the South of England and France’s Atlantic coast were hit by one of the most powerful storms in living memory. The strength of the hurricane force winds were said at the time to be a 1 in 200 years event (but, then, those seem to be getting more common, these days!).

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David Wright [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For many people, as with much of the media coverage currently surrounding the anniversary, the event is mostly remembered for (the television weather forecaster) Michael Fish’s infamous and inaccurate reassurance the evening beforehand that there was no hurricane on the way (watch it here). But, for anyone who was associated with the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy at the time, that night is remembered because the Picket remained continually throughout the storm. While the winds caused huge damage and disruption, not even a hurricane, they remember, could disrupt stop the Non-Stop Picket.

Here is the report that City Group published in the first issue of Non-Stop Against Apartheid after the hurricane. Mike Burgess’s report began with humorous and knowing nod to the much-mocked writing of the 19th century English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton (and, we hope, Snoopy). We reproduce the story in full here:

HURRICANE?

Business as usual!

THE ONE THING THE HURRICANE DIDN’T FLATTEN WAS THE NON-STOP PICKET

It was a dark and stormy night… Penny and I were due on the picket at 4am. She drove us through a hail of tree timber to arrive at 4.20. “Hold your hands in front of you, Mike, in case the windscreen shatters!” In strong winds it is not uncommon for the odd country road to be closed due to fallen trees, but Northumberland Avenue? … Chelsea Embankment?

The picket was three strong: Patrick, Martin, and Steve Kitson who was holding the furled banner against his shoulder and looking to all the world like something blown inland from the Cromer lifeboat. They had seen scaffold planks and twenty foot hoardings blown down from the front of the National Gallery. The police of course were tucked up snugly in their white van with the headlights on and the engine running – winter hibernation. Penny let Martin have her car keys so that he could doss down in shelter for an hour or so.

So when Steve went, there were three of us. At 4.30 the lights went out. I mean all the lights. Ten minutes later the Embassy lights came on again. They have their own generator. We had brought two flasks of coffee, which was useful until the cups blew away. And we stood holding the soggy banner and trying to stay upright in the wind.

At ten to six Penny had to go to work. She’s a bus driver. But the buses didn’t run, the cafes and the banks didn’t open. Brixton tube station didn’t open but Theo walked to the picket to relieve me at 6.45am. Only on the Non-Stop Picket was it business as usual.

It’s a story of determination, told with humour. Published as it was, in the public-facing newsletter of a protest that had been running continuously for almost exactly 18 months at that point, the story was used to demonstrate the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group’s worthiness and commitment to the anti-apartheid cause. When the rest of London ground to a halt, their activists were so determined that they battled through the winds to ensure the protest remained ‘non-stop against apartheid’. Over the next 28 months, whenever numbers dwindled, energy flagged, or tempers flared, the story of that ‘dark and stormy night’ was often retold to remind picketers of their collective commitment.

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Lost Legends: Leicester’s Black History

Lost Legends is a project celebrating thirty years of Black History Month in Leicester. At the heart of the project is a current exhibition at Newarke Houses museum in the city. The exhibition aims to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African and African Caribbean heritage people in the city. But it does a great job of contextualizing those achievements in wider social, cultural and political changes in Britain and beyond.

Earlier in the year, Gavin was approached to advise the Lost Legends project on the history of anti-apartheid campaigning in Leicester. He was happy to share with them stories about a number of key events and campaigns within the city and to signpost their researcher team to people and places who could give more detailed information.

The Lost Legends exhibition contains a number of stories about anti-apartheid campaigning in the city – from the renaming of Welford Road Recreation Ground as Nelson Mandela Park in the 1980s; the campaign to make the Highfields area of the city an ‘apartheid free zone’; and recurring controversies about the Leicester Tigers Rugby Club’s links with South African rugby teams in contravention of the international sports boycott of apartheid-era South Africa. In this context, it was great to see details in the exhibition of a couple of stories that came directly from our Non-Stop Against Apartheid research.

The exhibition remembers how striking SARMCOL workers from South Africa, on a speaking tour of Britain in early 1990, participated in a demonstration in Leicester’s Town Hall Square against the Poll Tax.

BHM Sarmcol text.jpg

Here are a couple photos of them at that demonstration :

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While it was interesting to see this story included in the exhibition, it was a shame that (as far as we could see), the exhibition didn’t acknowledge the stories of the many more South African and Namibian anti-apartheid campaigners who spent time in exile in the UK and passed through either of Leicester’s two universities (often using British Council scholarships as a means of legitimately leaving their home countries). Several future parliamentarians and senior diplomats from both South Africa and Namibia spent time studying in Leicester before the end of apartheid. For a while, in the late 1980s, the UK offices of the South West African National Union (SWANU) – a Namibian national liberation movement – were based in Leicester’s West End (although, sadly, this too seems to have been overlooked in the Lost Legends exhibition). While I think it is important to examine the role of anti-apartheid campaigning within Black British history, as Elizabeth Williams has shown, sometimes telling the story of the Black British contribution to anti-apartheid solidarity can mean challenging the ANC’s dominant retelling of anti-apartheid history, and recognizing the resonance that Black Consciousness and Pan-African liberation movements had with many Afrocentric activists in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. There are other Lost Legends still to be remembered here.

 

Posted in Archival research, Dissemination, Gavin Brown, Popular & Informal Education, Project staff | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment