Red Reprisal strikes at Savimbi

When Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA (the South African and US backed group that was waging a guerrilla war against the Angolan government) visited London in early July 1988 he was met with protests.  In the early hours of 6 July, the front portico of Chatham House, where he was due to give his main speech of the visit, was painted with slogans opposing UNITA’s war against Southern African liberation movements.

Pro-MPLA graffiti adorns Chatham House, 6 July 1988 (Source: Dominic Thackray)

The graffiti was claimed, in an anonymous phone call left on the answering machine in the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group’s office, by a representative of “Red Reprisal”.  While many of the forms of direct action taken against apartheid’s supporters in Britain by City Group members were overt and open, covert graffiti-painting under cover of darkness was often claimed by ‘Chuck Paint’ from the mysterious group “Red Reprisal”.  This moniker was used by several City Group supporters when they took autonomous actions involving red paint.

On the evening of Savimbi’s talk to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, City Group members joined supporters of the national Anti-Apartheid Movement in a picket of the venue.  A little after 6.00pm, the police brutally arrested one black City Group member, Gary, as he walked away from the demonstration, violently pinning him to the ground.  Photos of his arrest made the following morning’s papers.  Gary was taken to Vine Street police station in central London where he was charged with actual bodily harm, threatening and abusive behaviour, and police obstruction.  Three other people, including two more black City Group supporters, were arrested for complaining about the nature of Gary’s arrest.  They were charged with police assault and police obstruction.

These protests (and the arrests that occurred at them) were significant for two reasons.  Although City Group stood in opposition to the apartheid regime’s military intervention in the Frontline states of Southern Africa, this was seldom an actual focus for their protests and campaigning.  In that respect, this protest was a (relatively) rare moment when solidarity with those experiencing the extra-territorial violence of apartheid was put into practice.  The arrests of Gary, Mathanan and Naheeda were significant as they marked the start of a summer in which Black (and Asian) anti-apartheid protesters were particularly targeted for arrest and harassment on (and in the vicinity of) the Non-Stop Picket.  City Group responded to this situation politically, launching a campaign to defend the right of black people in Britain to demonstrate their opposition to apartheid.  In a concrete sense, this was one of the ways in which City Group linked the politics of apartheid in South Africa with racism in Britain.


About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
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