Peter Hain’s Valedictory speech in the Commons

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Peter Hain gave his valedictory speech, his last act as a Member of Parliament.

The veteran politician and campaigner reflected on almost a quarter of a century in Westminster politics, paying tribute to his friends and family for the love and support which sustained him as an MP.

Joining in with other retiring Labour former cabinet members such as Gordon Brown & Jack Straw, the valedictory speeches followed an unusual and emotional day in the Commons.

You can read the full extract of Peter’s speech below:

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Mr Speaker, having served for 24 years, may I commend your role as in my view the greatest reforming Speaker in memory, by making the Commons immensely more user and citizen-friendly, and especially for the way in which you have enhanced Back-Bench influence? I thank all the Commons staff, including our excellent Serjeant at Arms and especially the Doorkeepers, with whom I have had a specially close relationship since I invited them in to share a few bottles of wine—South African wine—in the Leader of the Commons’ office.

I thank my constituents in Neath and Neath constituency Labour party for their tremendous loyalty and support. I was a Pretoria boy, but I am proud to have become a Neath man. When I first arrived I was shown into a local primary school, Godre’r Graig school in the Swansea valley: “This is a very important person to meet you, class.” A little boy in the front row put up his hand and asked, “Do you play rugby for Neath?” Clearly, he had his priorities right.

I have been privileged and fortunate to have the very best friend anybody could have in Howard Davies of Seven Sisters, what he calls God’s own country, in the Dulais valley in Neath. I first met him in February 1990, a former miner who was lodge secretary at Blaenant colliery during the heart-rending year-long strike in 1984-85. My first agent and office manager, Howard has always been completely loyal and supportive, but privately frank and direct—priceless virtues which I commend to anyone in national politics.

Having come from a world of radical protest and activism, I never expected to be a Minister for 12 years. It began when Alastair Campbell unexpectedly called and said, “Tony wants to make an honest man of you.” Some former comrades on the left were disparaging, but my response was, “I’ve never been an all-or-nothing person. I’m an all-or-something person.” I am proud of many of the achievements of our last Labour Government, some of which I helped a little with, including bringing peace to Northern Ireland and devolution to Wales.

However, there was a tabloid columnist who described me as the “second most boring member of the Cabinet”. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), the former Chancellor, came top. At least that was more civil than the editor of Sunday Express at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, when I led campaigns to disrupt whites-only South African rugby and cricket tours. He said: “It would be a mercy for humanity if this unpleasant little creep were to fall into a sewage tank. Up to his ankles. Head first.” That was nothing compared with the letter bomb I received, fortunately with a technical fault in it, or being put on trial for conspiracy at the Old Bailey for disrupting South African sports tours, or being charged with a bank theft that I knew nothing about, which was later discovered to have been set up by South African agents.

Despite serving as an MP and Cabinet Minister, and remaining a Privy Councillor, I have not changed my belief that progressive change comes only through a combination of extra-parliamentary and parliamentary action. We know that from the struggles of the Chartists, the suffragettes, the early trade unionists, anti-apartheid protesters, the Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism activists confronting groups such as the National Front and the British National party, and Greenpeace activists inspiring fights against climate change.

If I am asked for advice by young people, who often ask me, “Can you tell me how to have a career in politics?” I say, “It’s not about a career; it’s about a mission.” We should never be in it for ourselves, but for our values. For me, these are equality, social justice, equal opportunities, liberty and democracy in a society based on mutual care and mutual support, not the selfishness and greed now so sadly disfiguring Britain. These values underpinned the anti-apartheid struggle and brought me into the Labour party nearly 40 years ago, but nothing I was able to achieve as an MP or a Minister was possible without the support of my family—my wife Elizabeth Haywood, a rock to me, my wonderful sister Sally, her daughter Connie, my sons Sam and Jake, and their mum, my former wife Pat.

Above all, I am grateful to my mother Adelaine and my father Walter, for their values, courage, integrity, morality and principle. My mum when in jail on her own listened to black prisoners screaming in pain. My dad was banned and then deprived of his job. They did extraordinary things, but as Nelson Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”

After 50 years in politics some might say it is time to put my feet up, but I have been lucky to have the best father in the world, and he told me in the mid-1960s when I was a teenager living in apartheid South Africa, “If political change was easy, it would have happened a long time ago. Stick there for the long haul.” That is exactly what I will continue to do after leaving this House.

Mr Speaker: I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

The quiet rebels who opposed apartheid

Observer

History is replete with the most ordinary people carrying out the most extraordinary actions. Adelaine and Walter Hain, English-speaking white South Africans, spent years trying to protect anti-apartheid activists. Their heroics were low-key – hosting meetings, visiting prisoners, smuggling messages – but their constancy was admirable. The story of Ad and Wal is told by their better-known son, Peter, who came to the fore in the 1970s with his campaign against South African sports and rose to become a member of Tony Blair’s cabinet.

 

The pivotal moments of the apartheid regime, from the Sharpeville massacre to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, are well documented. This account spans these events and more, but its focus lies elsewhere. It is the small acts of cruelty and kindness that make this narrative so captivating.

 

The more active the Hain family became in fighting apartheid, the more debilitating and vindictive were the restrictions imposed on them. Special branch officers were regular visitors to their home, burly men with menacing voices, and on occasion Hain’s parents were taken in for questioning. Banned from public meetings and other activities “calculated to further the aims of communism”, Wal, an architect, was forced to watch young Peter playing sports from his parked car outside the school playing fields.

 

The pettiness of the apartheid regime’s attempt at racial segregation is well told. One couple, Fabian Ribeiro, a doctor, and his wife, Florence, were an extremely rare breed – wealthy blacks. Non-whites were not allowed to own a house in their township, send their children to the school of their choice or take their family on holiday, since there were no resorts for them. So the Ribeiros drove a Mercedes and dressed well. The problem was that non-whites were not allowed to try on clothes before purchasing. So Pretoria’s top clothes shop, which wanted Florence’s custom, arranged secret fittings for her after hours.

 

With so many comrades, black and white, in detention, Ad found ingenious ways of getting messages through to them by way of food parcels. She put pencil lead inside a sausage to enable one of the detainees to write. She took “the pith out of an orange, gluing it back after inserting a message inside, or after cooking a whole onion, sliding a note between the leaves to be covered as it cooled”.

 

The most horrific incident in the book is the hanging of their close friend John Harris, the only white man to be executed for political insurrection by the apartheid regime. The book begins with a graphic description of his last moments and the contortions of the dead body. Harris did plant a bomb in July 1964 at the whites-only concourse at Johannesburg railway station, killing an elderly woman and injuring two dozen other people. He had wanted to create a political moment, but not to kill. He had phoned through a warning to the authorities but they deliberately ignored it, calculating that the prospect of whites dying from terrorism would allow them to clamp down further. Eventually the harassment became too much for Ad and Wal, who left their homeland for Britain with a heavy heart. At this point the author becomes a leading light in the anti-apartheid struggle, but his use of the third person to describe his own activities, and even his personality, does jar.

 

That criticism aside, this is a beguiling book that casts a light not just on the politics of the time but on human motivation. There were some in the Hains’ circle, including members of their extended family, who shunned them for causing trouble. Others betrayed their friends, testifying against them either to secure their own release or plea bargain, or out of cowardice. Yet there were more who did what they could to stand up against injustice, including the unassuming but dogged Wal and Ad.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/02/ad-and-wal-review-peter-hain-anti-apartheid

Ad and Wal Hain: A love story of duty, values and sacrifice

Western Mail

Love, affection, and the ties that bind are characteristically strong beyond all imagination.

But there are some love stories where the testing times and constant strain pushes love’s very boundaries to the limit.

Bringing up a young family and keeping a household together can make or break a marriage, but for Adelaine and Walter Hain, the usual concerns of daily life paled into insignificance in apartheid South Africa.

The couple, parents of Neath MP former Welsh secretary Peter, met and married in a country which marked people out as a lesser race because of the colour of their skin.

Seeing injustice around them, they did what they say anyone would have – and joined the fight to stand side by side and free their beloved South Africa from the tyranny of a corrupt and immoral state.

Ad and Wal, as they are known, have shared their story with Peter, who’s published a book named for his parents.

For him, it was a true labour of love.

“The more I researched and wrote, the more I realised I learned a lot of things I hadn’t really understood about them before.

“It became clearer that they were more extraordinary in terms of being prepared to sacrifice everything they valued.”

Peter’s book starts back in his parents’ childhoods, telling the story of each, through their adolescence, meeting, marriage and bringing up their own family. The story runs until the present day, now Ad is 86 and Wal 89.

But far from being a biography of his parents, the book, subtitled ‘Values, duty, sacrifice in apartheid South Africa’, is a faithful account of the push towards freedom that Ad and Wal maintained and accelerated throughout their years in the country of their birth.

It’s a revealing story about a couple who lived under the ugliest of regimes and were shocked by repression and injustice, galvanised by their own humanity to speak out on behalf of those who were powerless and disenfranchised, and arrest the horror of socio-political apathy which seemed to paralyse their fellow South African whites.

Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times under Dutch rule, with apartheid, literally ‘apart-hood’ or separateness, made an official policy following the general election of 1948.

Legislation classified inhabitants into four racial groups, ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian’.

To Adelaine Stocks, whose great-great-grandfather moved to South Africa from Dublin in the 1820s, such laws would prove to be an anathema from the start.

Born in the small seaside town of Port Alfred on February 16, 1927, hers was an idyllic upbringing.

“We were both brought up in communities where there wasn’t any very strict apartheid. We lived in country communities where you came across all sorts of people and where black and mixed race and all sorts of people just lived really close to each other, so we were all next door.

“Everybody knew my dad as a very kind person who always helped everyone, so I suppose really we had that in us,” she smiles remembering her father Gerald who is said to have been ‘free-spirited’, while mum Edith was a strict Christian Scientist.

Although the deep racial divisions of the country had been there for centuries, it didn’t have much of an impact on young Ad, who attended Queen Alexandra Secondary School alongside coloured children.

Meanwhile in Northdene, a suburb of the city of Durban, Walter Hain was born into a family of Scottish immigrants on December 29, 1924.

His father Walter (senior) and mother Mary were raised in Glasgow’s Tollcross, before venturing to the African continent in 1920 due to post-war unemployment.

Except for the outdoors South African lifestyle, his was very much a British colonial upbringing.

Raised by parents who worked to instil traditional values of discipline, honesty and decency, he was also fortunate to have a questioning spirit which would later manifest itself as courage in the face of the establishment.

Walter, who was skilled in art, nevertheless wanted to do his bit for the war effort and at the age of 18 enlisted as a signaller and was posted to Italy, just in time for the battle of Cassino in April 1944.

Losing comrades throughout the war gave the young man a view of the wider world, and he returned to South Africa in 1946 to resume studies to be an architect.

It was while he was in Pretoria, where his parents lived, that he met Ad, then 19, and they became ‘great friends’.

It wasn’t long before romance blossomed and they were wed in Pretoria on September 1, 1948.

Around the year of their marriage – also that of the general election – things became markedly worse for black people in South Africa.

In the election, they both voted for the United Party, with whom Ad’s father Gerald was a prominent member.

In her teens, she often accompanied her father to public meetings, on one occasion challenging an MP from the meeting floor.

Ad’s first job after school was working for their local community freesheet, so it seems natural to assume she was the more politically aware of the couple, with a grasp of political organisation, when she became a 21-year-old bride.

“It’s difficult to explain when we realised we felt the same way about it all, we always got on so well with each other and got on well with people whatever.

“When things started happening and as they got worse and worse under apartheid after 1948, we were very fortunate that we both felt the same.

“Because a lot of people belonged to a different part of South Africa, once it started to get quite tough they left because some of them said they couldn’t do it because their husband didn’t agree, or their wife didn’t agree.

“It did split families – it split our family a lot,” recalls Ad.

The couple were living in a country that had legislated for white domination, but their main concerns in the beginning were for building a life together.

On February 16, 1950, their son Peter was born in Nairobi, where Wal was working. He was the first of their four children.

Those early years helped to cement the relationship between Ad and Wal, as well as develop their world view.

In particular, they remember fondly the five-week journey back from Nairobi to South Africa in an old car, which was characterised by engine trouble, but also by a ‘decency, almost innocent goodwill’ of the people they met on the way.

Throughout their early marriage, neither Ad nor Wal would have described themselves as ‘political’ – merely that they had strong moral values.

But it was in late 1953, when Wal’s job had taken them to Ladysmith, around 250 miles from Pretoria, when they were invited to join the Liberal Party that their approach changed.

Keen to support a party which was standing for a more respectful attitude to black people, they launched a new local branch.

“We were very fortunate that we both thought that way, because suddenly we were sort of involved. It’s difficult to explain how you suddenly come upon it,” Ad says.

Her younger sister Jo also joined, and became active in her local branch in Grahamstown, but not everyone in the family was so pleased.

“My mother had seven children and a lot of them didn’t approve of us at all, which was very difficult, but you couldn’t let that affect you.”

Ad’s own mother Edith expressed concern over friendships with black people too, asking: “How can they be friends like the rest of us?”

Back in Pretoria, with son Peter and his younger brother Tom, they continued their association with the Liberal Party, and their family shortly expanded to five with the arrival of baby girl Jo-anne.

By 1952, apartheid was present in schools and by 1954, black residents were being forced to leave their homes for Soweto.

Former President Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying of that time that it was “a crime to walk through a whites-only door, a crime to ride a whites-only bus, a crime to walk on a whites-only beach, a crime to be on the streets after 11pm, a crime not to have the right pass book and a crime to have the wrong signature on that book, a crime to be unemployed and a crime to be employed in the wrong place, a crime to live in certain places and a crime to have no place to live”.

It was against this backdrop that the Hains stepped up to rebel against the regime – not for its own sake, but because of the unfairness with which their society was shot through.

After a brief time living in London, in 1958 they returned home to Pretoria, the city where they had fallen in love, their family now making six thanks to newest arrival Sally.

They knew their country had changed, but little did they realise that writing to the local newspaper Pretoria News in anger – over a black teenager who had suffered a brutal attack – would have Wal’s name noted by Special Branch police.

Following that, Ad and Wal would often together write reasoned missives about the unfairness of the system typed neatly and signed ‘(Mrs) Adelaine Hain, Pretoria’.

Ad notes the letters as teaching them that when you’re working for change, the small measures are what mount to create a big impact – although at this point, they couldn’t have imagined the impact.

She explains: “Someone said, ‘You didn’t have to go on, what about your children?’, but I think once you start, you can’t stop without feeling that you’ve betrayed everyone.”

In the book, Peter notes that his parents were ‘very close, their love obvious to all’.

It was early in 1960 when Tom and Peter – then seven and nine – awoke before dawn to find security police searching for incriminating evidence in their bedroom.

At that point, the couple who are described by their son as ‘remarkably conventional, almost traditional’ were even more gelled together.

Ad used her previous experience to write for the Liberal Party news and comment magazine Contact, and started attending courts and police stations to help locate black prisoners who had been taken in.

“I was going to court and Walter was going out to work,” Ad recalls.

“It sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s actually true – there were times when the phone would go at seven o’clock in the morning and it would be someone saying, ‘My husband’s been arrested’ and you just couldn’t not go.

“Like in the case of Jimmy Makojaene who we knew quite well; when a friend phoned and said, ‘Jimmy’s escaped’, I had to go, because I knew what was going to happen to Jimmy if he was caught.

“You can’t just stop and say, ‘Oh dear, no, I can’t do that’. You can’t think about the risks to yourself. It’s difficult, but you don’t ever think, ‘I’m doing something brave’, you just do it – because what else can you do? You had to do those things.

“I helped out with cases as often as I could, with young boys of 15, 16.

“In South Africa they were able to be executed from the age of 16, so I knew those young boys were there for serious reasons, but in the end they got varying sentences and were sent to Robben Island.

“They did call Robben Island the University of Robben Island because people used to learn there,” she laughs.

“Once you get involved with people, you just get known; people would come and see you and trust you that you’re not going to say anything to the authorities.

“We had some lovely friends in the Liberal Party. The Pretoria branch was particularly active and I think other parts of the party used to look on us as very radical.”

Keeping abreast of the activities of the government became a full-time job for Ad, who took Peter and Tom out to leaflet in the leafy suburbs of Pretoria in an attempt to galvanise change.

She says it wouldn’t have occurred to them not to have their children help.

“I think the children thought it quite good fun.

“Some areas of Pretoria where we used to do the leafleting had these long avenues with huge houses, so we used to go out in what we called the combi, a VW camper, and we used to leaflet and then the camper would catch you up, whoever was driving, and you’d get more leaflets and go on.

“I think they thought it great fun to try and get the leaflets quickly before the combi caught them up!”

In February 1960, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan addressed the South African Parliament, talking about the ‘winds of change’.

But if such an address from an external force filled Ad and Wal with hope, their optimism was soon to be dashed by the Sharpeville massacre just a month later, when South African police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration killing 69 people.

“We were absolutely gobsmacked at Macmillan; we didn’t think that was going to happen, but of course it didn’t get him anywhere. It gave everyone hope, but we didn’t ever think it would change in our lifetime.

“If you haven’t lived under the regime, you can’t really imagine what it was like.

“It just went into every part of everyone’s life. If you were white and you didn’t care, you could live a wonderful life, but if not, it was just awful. It was so entrenched.”

Continuing their work with the Liberals, the Special Branch police were a near-constant presence and the family knew their phone was tapped and their mail intercepted. Despite these difficulties, they kept on campaigning.

It was in 1961 when the couple were arrested that they really saw the risks they were exposing themselves to.

Responding to a call from Mandela for a three day ‘stay at home’, Ad and Wal were distributing leaflets with two friends in the Lady Selborne township, but were surprised by the appearance of Special Branch.

Ad calmly chewed up a draft copy of an incriminating leaflet, but they were taken into custody.

Expecting to be held for two days before a charge was levied as was the law, the four were subsequently held for the newly-ratified 12-day detention.

Their children – Peter, 11, Tom, nine and Jo-anne and Sally just six and four – were looked after by family and friends.

Ad admits it was a scary time.

“One of the awful parts of it was when we were both jailed. Wal was in the men’s jail with [friends] Maritz van den Berg and Colyn van Reenen and I was in the women’s jail, so we didn’t see each other.

“That was very difficult because we couldn’t communicate and they were worried about me because I was on my own.”

The strength of the partnership held, and on their release Ad and Wal were as committed as ever to their cause.

Then Ad found herself sitting in on a court case in 1962 with the late Mandela, who she and Wal had already gotten to know.

“When we met Nelson and Walter Sisulu they were picketing. Walter had come from work to join me.

“Walter would, when he could, come and help, but he couldn’t go into courts because he was working.”

In August 1962, after a manhunt, police captured Mandela. Jailed in Johannesburg, he was charged with inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without permission.

Representing himself, Mandela disrupted proceedings, turning his plea of mitigation into a political speech.

Found guilty, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Ad attended every day, but after he was imprisoned, personal events overtook the couple.

On September 13, 1963, Ad was visited by Special Branch and handed a banning order – running for five years – which was intended to thwart her role in the freedom struggle.

“Before people were banned in different ways – they weren’t banned from speaking to other banned people. But by the time we were banned, it just got worse.

“Everyone who was banned had a new clause, for something they had done, like me and going into the courts. Afterwards everyone would have that clause for ever.

“I went to the Nelson Mandela trial which saw him sent to Robben Island, but when he had the big trial, I was already banned, so I couldn’t go into any court in the land.

“Although I was banned, I could do a lot from outside and over the phone.”

As well as being banned from courts, she was prohibited from taking part in a political gathering, forcing her to cancel her membership of the Liberal Party.

She was also barred from any social gathering, a measure which meant she missed Sally’s birthday party as she was limited to speaking to one other person at a time.

It was a difficult time to have to withdraw, as the couple’s friend John Harris was on trial.

As a member of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), he had telephoned to inform the Johannesburg Railway Police that a bomb had been planted on a whites-only platform of Johannesburg Railway Station.

The bomb later exploded, killing a 77-year-old woman and injuring 23 others.

The schoolteacher was convicted of murder, and hanged on April 1, 1965, the only white person executed for crimes in resistance to apartheid.

The Hains did not support John’s actions, but they did not let them cloud their judgement of him as a friend.

After Ad’s activities were curtailed, Wal stepped up his political work, but his re-dedication to the cause was short-lived and in September 1964, he too had a visit from the Special Branch, making the Hains the first married couple to be banned.

Ad remembers: “I was so angry when they came and gave me an addendum to my ban to say that I could communicate with my husband. I just wanted to shout, I really got angry, I said, ‘I would have done it anyway!’

“We were banned under the Suppression of Communism Act but they couldn’t call us communists because it was illegal to be a communist.

“When Wal was banned too we just tried new things and we were very fortunate with our children because they took over in a lot of ways. Peter did quite a bit.”

The funeral for John fell after Wal’s ban was handed over, meaning he wasn’t allowed to make the address, so 15-year-old Peter stepped up and spoke on behalf of the Hain family.

From there, the state pressed harder on them.

Wal lost his job at an architecture firm on the grounds they would be denied government contracts while he was still in their employ, so remaining in South Africa became untenable.

In 1965, the family made the sad decision to leave their home country behind and move to London.

“As banned people, we couldn’t speak to the press, they weren’t allowed to quote us, so we all wrote a letter to the press together and then Peter wrote it out and sent it.”

The letter was an emotional epitaph to the family’s residence in the country, and they headed from Cape Town to Southampton with heavy hearts.

The couple, who last September celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, did get to see apartheid rescinded in their lifetime, and also got to meet with Mandela on a return visit to South Africa in 2003.

Although the country still has its troubles, Ad and Wal feel they did what anyone would have in their situation to help bring South Africa out of the shadow of apartheid.

Settled in Wales, there are things about the sprawling Neath countryside which Ad says put her in mind of their home.

“Especially on sunny days it reminds me of Africa – its panoramic views, the sense of space are lovely.”

In spite of the trials, Ad says that they were always a happy family at their core.

“I think that joy at home came naturally to us all. I can remember Ann [Harris, wife of John] saying to us, ‘I’ve never laughed so much in all my life’, because I was just trying to keep her going for visits to John.

“We used to talk about everything and she used to laugh and laugh. It was like that.”

At the heart of the family, the strength of the couple was constant, but Ad contests she never thought about it in those terms.

“I suppose looking back on it, our partnership kept us going. Sixty five years is quite a long time, isn’t it? I think our love is just part of us.”

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/ad-wal-hain-love-story-6689651

Be It Nazi Germany Or Apartheid South Africa We Must Thank The Few Who Resist

Guardian, 20th January 2014

Discovering why only a minority of people actively resist adversity, in any country, at any time, even when injustice stares them in the face or affects them directly, can be tantalising.

Most people just get on with their lives and survive. In Nazi Germany, ignoring Hitler atrocities, villagers were in denial about nearby concentration camps. Yet a handful of German military chiefs lost their lives in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Former French president François Mitterand was first involved in the Vichy collaborationist regime, and was then a founder member of one of the first armed resistance movements in France, the Maquis, resisting Nazi occupation from 1942.

Sometimes, individuals have simply had enough, such as Rosa Parks, a black American seamstress. Having travelled all her life on segregated buses in the Deep South, in 1955, on an impulse, she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, triggering a wave of non-violent protests, which led to the great civil rights movement. In 1962, James Howard Meredith braved the Ku Klux Klan and angry white blockades to become the first black student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi.

Decorated twice for his Red Army service, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn never questioned Stalinist ideology until he was arrested in 1945 and sent to a forced labour camp for derogatory comments in a private letter about Stalin’s handling of the war. But that grim experience turned him into a fierce critic of Soviet totalitarianism, epitomised by the gulags, propelling him into exile.

The Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave, in which Solomon Northup is kidnapped and oppressed by a sadistic slave master but rebels, shows how slavery was rationalised by American plantation owners, and more importantly by ordinary white Americans – just as the majority of white South Africans were socialised into believing apartheid was excusable.

A mass of people may be behind movements fighting oppression – indeed, a mass following is invariably a prerequisite to success and liberation – but activists, the courageous people who take risks and make sacrifices, are usually small in number.

In making a stand they may have no inkling of the consequences – like my South African-born parents, Adelaine and Walter Hain. Their first small steps later became large strides; their modest local actions led to national controversies.

When they were first asked to help, they gave no thought to where it might lead. Saying yes didn’t seem at all fateful. Adelaine and Walter rather stumbled, oblivious, into it all. At the time, in 1953, it just seemed the right thing to do, in keeping with their values of caring, decency, fairness and, perhaps equally important, their sense of duty.

Staying true to such principles was important to them, even if that eventually meant sacrificing the comforts and certainties of job, lifestyle, family, friends, security and indeed country. Maintaining standards was fundamental to trying to live a life of integrity where principles mattered.

They had no plan. One thing led to another and, once they had started, there was no way they felt they could walk away or let others down. Had the consequences been known at the beginning – harassment, jailing, banning, losing all means of income and, finally, exile in 1966 – they might have had cause to pause and reflect.

They joined Nelson Mandela’s freedom struggle in the 1950s and 60s, despite being much like their white peers and relatives – in their own words, “just an ordinary couple” living a fairly conventional family life. Yet the great mass of other whites, including all but one of their many close relatives, did nothing, instead perhaps enjoying their privileged lifestyle.

Wherever we live, under whatever system, however democratic or undemocratic, we all owe our liberty to a brave few – even if, sadly, most of us do little, if anything, to fight for it.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/20/nazi-germany-apartheid-south-africa-nelson-mandela?CMP=twt_gu