When researching last week’s blog post about Viraj Mendis, I was reminded that within days of Viraj’s deportation the network of activists associated with the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group suffered another significant loss. On 23 January 1989, Terry O’Halloran died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 36.
Terry O’Halloran was a journalist. He had been secretary and then chair of the London Freelance Branch of the National Union of Journalists and sat on the NUJ’s Ethics Council. Within the Ethics Council he fought for the union to fully implement its codes of practice to tackle the endemic racism within the British press. He was central to winning the NUJ to a position of supporting all sections of the liberation movement in South Africa.
Terry had a long-standing, regular shift on the Non-Stop Picket. Within City Group, he used his journalistic skills to good effect. Terry was centrally involved in the production of early issues of the group’s newsletter Non-Stop News – in particular, he wrote about press censorship under apartheid and covered several of City Group’s court cases. In December 1986, he arranged for four leading members of the NUJ to attend a rally on the Non-Stop Picket with the union’s national banner. This was followed up in January 1987 with a special City Group meeting on the theme of “Apartheid – press censorship” at which Terry spoke alongside Aidan White of The Guardian.
Terry’s partner, Simone, was also a long-term City Group activist and was one of the women picketers subjected to sexual harassment and assault during an arrest in September 1986 [see Hands Off Women Picketers].
Terry had been a member of the Revolutionary Communist Group for nearly 14 years, leaving only a few months before his death – although he continued to work closely with them, writing for Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! In addition to contributing to their South African solidarity work, he was central to their Irish solidarity activism and to their work supporting prisoners’ rights.
More than 200 people attended Terry’s funeral on 2 February, squeezed into a tiny chapel at the crematorium in Streatham, South London. Sinn Fein sent a floral tribute in the form of the Irish tricolour; the RCG a hammer and sickle made from red carnations. The City Group Singers sang at his funeral, as they had done the night before when City Group laid flowers on the gates of the South African Embassy in Terry’s memory.
Over the coming months, we plan to add a new page to this blog, containing obituaries and memories of former City Group activists who died during the period of the Non-Stop Picket and in the two decades since its end. Terry O’Halloran will, of course, be amongst them. For now, I am left wondering what the impact of double blow of Viraj Mendis’s deportation and Terry O’Halloran’s death had on the organisational capacity of City Group at the time. Of course, Terry’s comrades said “Don’t mourn, organise!” and, to some extent, we did; but, that huge sense of loss must also have impacted on key individuals and affected interpersonal dynamics within the group.
What are your memories of Terry?