David Kitson was not directly involved in the formation of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group; but, without him, City Group would not have come into being. David was the longest-serving white political prisoner in apartheid’s jails until his release in 1984. His wife Norma and their children Amandla and Steven were central to the formation of City Group, which directly grew out of the Free Steve Kitson campaign which was convened in 1981 after Steve was detained while visiting his father in jail in South Africa.
As a member of the South African Communist Party, David was jailed for his role in the leadership of Umkhonto we Siswe, the armed wing of the ANC, in 1964. Although never technically a member of the ANC (because white South African could not join the organisation when he was jailed) he was suspended from the ANC and the SACP following his release from jail for refusing to distance himself from City Group’s direct action campaigning against apartheid. In the process, he also found that the funding for the post at Ruskin College, the trade union college in Oxford, that had been promised to him during his imprisonment, had been withdrawn by the leadership of his union, TASS (now part of Unite). David lost his main source of income as a result. In his official history of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, Roger Fieldhouse (2005: 409) acknowledges that the union’s decision to rescind the funding for David Kitson’s post at Ruskin following his suspension from the ANC was “not a very edifying episode”.
On 21 May 1988, a Justice for Kitson campaign conference was held at Camden Town Hall in London. Although City Group supported the campaign, it was largely driven by older British communists who had worked with David in the Hornsey branch of the Communist Party in the 1950s, along with supportive members of his union and the Ruskin College community. The Justice for Kitson Campaign fought for Norma and David’s reinstatement to the ANC, for the reinstatement of the union’s funding for David’s post at Ruskin, and sought to establish a fund to support David and others in similar situations.
To an extent, although they were generally supportive of the campaign’s aims, the hard slog of winning support for David through the trade unions was not an attractive form of campaigning for many of the young activists who sustained the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy at the time. Conversely, few of David’s old comrades from his union and the Communist Party could sustain long shifts on the pavement outside the embassy. There was something of an age defined division of labour between these complementary campaigns.