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.
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.