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.”

Ad & Wal, Book Review


What makes some apparently ordinary people defy tyranny, when outwardly there is nothing to distinguish them from the majority who opt to keep quiet and get along?

The cover of Peter Hain’s biography of his parents, Adelaine and Walter, shows a couple who appear utterly typical English-speaking white South Africans of the 1950s – Ad in a gingham cotton dress, Wal in ultra-short shorts and a bushy moustache. Yet somehow they lacked the wilful blindness of all but a handful of their peers to the injustice on which their privilege rested.

When Ad and Wal were asked to help the victims of apartheid, says their son, they gave no thought to where it might lead. Rather than any ideology, they were driven by “their values of caring, decency, fairness and, perhaps equally important, their sense of duty”. It isolated them from their fellow whites, and even from their own families, but won them the friendship and respect of non-white South Africans, including Nelson Mandela.

As they discovered the lengths to which the regime was prepared to go, particularly when 69 protesters were shot dead at Sharpeville in 1960, it did not occur to the couple to back down. “Once we had got involved, one thing led to another,” they told the author. “There was always some injustice to be tackled, so we got stuck in. People asked you to do things, and so you did.”

Ad and Wal even sheltered escaping members of underground sabotage groups, while refusing to engage in violence themselves. But they unquestioningly supported their friend, John Harris, the only white to be executed in the fight against apartheid: he planted a bomb at Johannesburg station which killed an elderly woman, despite telephoned warnings. Perhaps to suggest the source of his parents’ determination, Hain opens his book with a sickeningly detailed account of Harris’s hanging.

Inevitably, persecution of the Hains grew as the white government sought to stamp out all opposition. Their phone was tapped, security police camped outside their home, and in 1963 Ad was “banned” – prevented from writing for publication, visiting courts or black townships, or meeting more than one person at a time. Wal suffered the same fate a year later, and when he found that employers were afraid to give him work as an architect, the family was forced to leave for Britain on a one-way ticket.

As the eldest of the four children, Hain witnessed much himself, but insists on seeing events through his parents’ eyes. He writes with understanding of the loss of status and purpose they suffered in exile, but his decision to refer to himself throughout in the third person becomes a strain as he takes the lead in campaigning against Springbok sports tours of Britain, with Ad and Wal in supporting roles. There is a final jump forward a quarter of a century to the moment when the couple can return to the homeland they thought they might never see again, one which has embraced the principles they struggled for.

Peter has to admit that his parents, while proud that he became a government minister after 1997, never embraced “New Labour”, and disagreed eloquently with his defence of the Iraq war. What they thought of his seamless switch from Blair to Brown can only be surmised, but this affectionate memoir makes clear that the family has come through the worst of times unbowed.

Tribute to Nelson Mandela

I thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their perhaps over-generous remarks about my role. Let me simply underline that there were many tens of thousands of activists in the Anti-Apartheid Movement who deserve to be acknowledged as well.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your personal leadership in ensuring that this tribute debate is such a special event, as you said, for such a special person. I note that you are wearing the South African tie on this occasion. I specifically thank you—this is very important—for proposing, along with the Lord Speaker, Thursday afternoon’s Westminster Hall event for civil society including, importantly, veteran activists of the Anti-Apartheid Movement who worked so tirelessly over many tough and bitter decades both for Nelson Mandela’s release and for the sanctions against apartheid that he wanted and that ultimately triggered his freedom.

I have never really been into heroes but Nelson Mandela was mine from when I was a young boy in Pretoria and unique among my school friends and relatives in having parents who welcomed everybody to their house regardless of colour—activists in the anti-apartheid struggle. I remember that one fellow activist, Elliot Mngadi, remarked, “This is the first time I’ve ever come through the front door of a white man’s house.” Blacks acting as servants or gardeners might be allowed in the back door occasionally.

My mother, Adelaine, was often alone in the whites-only section of the public gallery at Nelson Mandela’s 1962 trial in Pretoria and when he entered the dock, he would always acknowledge her with a clenched fist, which she would return. His beautiful wife Winnie attended the trial each day, often magnificent in tribal dress. Once, when my tiny younger sisters went with my mother during a school holiday, Winnie bent down and kissed the two little blonde girls to the evident horror of the onlooking white policemen. A black woman kissing two little white children disgusted them.

Forty years later, I was escorting Nelson Mandela to speak at the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, but before that he had an appointment with the Prime Minister that had been very carefully scheduled. We were going down in the lift in the hotel and he said, “How’s the family?” I mentioned that my mother had broken her leg and was in hospital. “Ah,” he said, “I must phone her.” The Prime Minister was kept waiting while Nelson Mandela chatted to porters and cleaners and waitresses and waiters, all lined up as the minutes ticked by. I desperately tried directory inquiries to get her phone number, eventually got the ward and was put through. I said to her, “There’s a very special person who would like to speak to you,” and I handed the phone to him. He said, “This is Mandela from South Africa. Do you know who I am?”

Having been sentenced to five years on Robben Island after the Pretoria trial that my mother attended, Mandela was then brought back more than a year later, as has been mentioned, to be Accused No. 1 in the Rivonia trial, when, facing the death penalty and against the strong advice of his lawyer, he famously said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

I remember reading those powerful words aged 14, trying to take in their full significance, and aware they were a great inspiration to my parents and all those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, as Nelson Mandela faced the death penalty. In fact, after worldwide pleas for clemency, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in July 1964, Mandela returned to Robben Island, not to be seen or heard in public again for nearly 26 years.

Two years later, in 1966, after my parents had been jailed, declared banned persons and deprived of earning a living, our family sailed past Robben Island and into exile here in Britain, and we will always be grateful for the welcome that we were given in this country. I remember looking out over the Cape rollers and imagining how Mandela and his comrades were surviving in that cold bleak cell. As an African, he was permitted 5 oz of meat daily, whereas coloureds were allowed 6 oz; he was permitted ½ oz of fat, and coloureds 1 oz: the evil precision of apartheid penetrated every nook and cranny of life, banning inter-racial sex as well as segregating park benches, sport, jobs, schools, hospitals, and much, much more. The apartheid state had hoped that, out of sight on the former leper colony of Robben Island, with its freezing cold waters that had devoured all escapees, Mandela would be out of mind, but the longer he was imprisoned, the bigger a global leader he became.

In July 1988, his 70th birthday became a global celebration, with a pulsating. “Free Mandela” anti-apartheid rock concert attended by 100,000 people at Wembley stadium and watched on live television by 600 million worldwide, despite—I say for the record, not out of any recrimination—some Conservative Members pressing the BBC to pull the plug on its coverage. Then, almost miraculously, something occurred that we had dreamed of, but deep down doubted would ever, ever happen—on that historic day in February 1990 Mandela walked out of prison to freedom, providing an image for ever imprinted on me and on millions, perhaps even billions, across the world. I say “almost miraculously” because history gets compressed and rewritten over time, and we take change for granted.

The reality was very different. Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom, and that of his African National Congress, was long and bitter, taking nearly 100 years from the days under British colonial rule when the roots of apartheid were established. Under Britain in 1900, 50 years before apartheid was formally institutionalised in South Africa, most of its features were already in place in the bustling gold-rush city of Johannesburg. By then, Africans were prevented from walking on the pavements—they had to walk on the streets—they had to carry “passes” to work in the city, they could not use buses and trains designated for whites, they were dreadfully exploited in the mines, and they had no political rights.

We all say in Britain that we were against apartheid, and doubtless we were, but some did things about it—others did not. The anti-apartheid struggle was for most of its life engaged in a big fight, here in Britain too. The executive secretaries of the Anti-Apartheid Movement—first, Ethel de Keyser, then Mike Terry—were indefatigable. Its chairman, Lord Bob Hughes, and treasurer, Richard Caborn—former Members of Parliament—were real stalwarts, along with Neil Kinnock and Glenys as well. Protests to stop whites-only Springbok tours provoked fierce anger. I remember them well: “Hain the pain”, as I recall. Some people might still feel that. Yet, as Nelson Mandela confirmed to me, the Springboks’ sporting isolation was a key factor in making whites realise that they had to change, so that today that wonderful black rugby star Bryan Habana can be a Springbok, whereas his predecessors under apartheid at the time that we were demonstrating never could.

Demands for trade and economic sanctions were also resisted, yet their partial implementation, regrettably not by London, but by Washington, eventually helped to propel the white business community in the late 1980s to demand change from the very same apartheid Government from whom they had so long benefited.

Mr Speaker, forgive me if, for a brief moment, I strike what I hope will not be seen as too discordant a note on this occasion, which sees the House at its very best, coming together to salute the great man. Were it not for interventions in the media in recent days, I would have let pass correcting the historical record. I give credit especially to you, Mr Speaker, for volunteering most graciously that you were on the wrong side of the anti-apartheid struggle as a young Conservative. I give credit to the Prime Minister for apologising for his party’s record of what I have to describe as craven indulgence towards apartheid’s rulers. And if Nelson Mandela can forgive his oppressors without forgetting their crimes, who am I not to do the same for our opponents in the long decades of the anti-apartheid struggle?

But it really does stick in the craw when Lord Tebbit, Charles Moore and others similar tried over recent days to claim that their complicity with apartheid—that is what I think it was—somehow brought about its end. To my utter incredulity, Lord Tebbit even told BBC World in a debate with me that they had brought about Mandela’s freedom. I know for a fact that Nelson Mandela did not think so. At every possible opportunity he went out of his way to thank anti-apartheid activists across the world for freeing him and his people.

It is therefore especially welcome that Nelson Mandela always retained an almost touching faith in British parliamentary democracy. Even though—I disagree with the interpretation by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—over most of his life he was a believer in non-violent legal peaceful change. by force of circumstance—the suppression of his African National Congress’s non-violent campaign for over 60 years—he had to become a freedom fighter and to lead an underground campaign of guerrilla activity similar to the French resistance against the Nazis. Even when the majority in this Parliament, and the Government of the day, were not on his side, he still cherished our parliamentary democracy. I mention this because Mandela’s old foes became his new friends, his former adversaries his admirers. That was part, as others have said, of his greatness.

But that was Mandela the political leader. There was, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) remarked in his marvellous speech, another equally engaging side to his greatness. He had an infectious capacity for mischief. In London a few weeks after our marriage in 2003, I introduced my wife Elizabeth to him. “Is this your girlfriend?” he asked. When I replied: “No, she’s my wife”, he chuckled, “So she caught you then?” When Elizabeth, who can be somewhat feisty at times, exclaimed indignantly that she had taken a lot of persuading, he laughed, “That’s what they all say, Peter, but they trap you in the end!” By then she realised that he was teasing her and we all ended up laughing together. He had apologised earlier for not coming to our wedding, instead sending a message, which contained these impish words to us newly-weds: “But perhaps I will be able to come next time!”

It was not just his towering moral stature, his courage and capacity to inspire, that endeared Nelson Mandela to so many. Despite being one of the world’s most prominent statesmen—perhaps the most revered—he retained his extraordinary humanity. When he was with you, you had all his attention. When he greeted you, his eyes never wandered, even though you were surrounded by far more important people. Whether you were a mere child, a hotel porter, a cleaner, a waiter or a junior staff member, he was interested in you. And he never forgot a friend.

On the same occasion when Elizabeth met him in 2003, my parents were also present, enjoying a reunion. The conversation somehow turned to my ministerial driver, whom Mandela promptly summoned. “I was once a driver, too,” he told him as they shook hands, referring to the time in 1961-62 when he was on the run and went underground, dubbed the “Black Pimpernel”, often moving about the country dressed as a chauffeur, in order to invite no attention, with cap and uniform and his white “master” in the back, as was stereotypical in those days and so a good form of disguise.

An ordinariness combined with extraordinariness was not Mandela’s sole uniqueness. His capacity for forgiveness is what made him the absolutely critical figure, first during secret negotiations in the late 1980s from prison with the Afrikaner nationalist Government and then after his release, both in the transition and in healing a bitterly divided nation.

That brings me to his status. Gandhi, Kennedy and Churchill are all iconic figures, the last for his inspirational wartime leadership and the first two more for having been assassinated. Yet today ask almost anybody anywhere which global statesman they admire most, and “Nelson Mandela” will as likely as not be the answer. Other world figures are usually famous within their own professional disciplines, sections of society, interest groups or age groups. Many attract hostility, cynicism or plain indifference. Nelson Mandela’s unique achievement was to command fame, admiration and affection from virtually everyone, everywhere in the world.

So if, as I believe, he is more iconic than anybody else, why? His life story of sacrifice, courage, endurance and suffering in the great and noble cause of liberty, democracy and justice places him among a very select few: the Tolpuddle martyrs, Chartists, suffragettes, Gandhi himself, anti-colonial African leaders, Che Guevara, Lech Walesa, Solzhenitsyn and Aung San Suu Kyi, to name just some. But Mandela towers above them all in the popular imagination, perhaps in part because he was the first such figure to be projected to the world’s peoples through the powerful modern media of global television and the internet. He was quite simply far better known than any comparable figure.

Equally, however—this is the lesson I draw—he survived, and indeed prospered, even under the fierce media spotlight of 24-hour news, over-hype and spin. Uniquely, he remained untarnished and undiminished by that modern media beast’s unrivalled capacity for building up then knocking down, leaving him serenely above all its insatiable prurience and obsession for triviality and instant novelty. Where most political careers end in failure or opprobrium, Nelson Mandela’s continued to soar long after he stepped down as President.

Mandela’s greatness, his stature, derived not just from an extraordinary biography that dwarfs the rest of humankind; it came from the warm glow of humanity that he radiated, his common touch, humbleness, self-deprecation, humour and dignity. Prison could have embittered, adulation could have gone to his head and egotism could have triumphed. The clutching of the crowd and the intrusive pressures of the modern political age could have seen him retreat behind the barriers that most leaders and celebrities today erect around themselves, not necessarily through any fault of their own, but in part to retain some personal space, but the consequence of which all too often becomes either aloofness or insincerity and its companion, cynicism. But none of that happened to him. Throughout everything, Nelson Mandela remained his own man, neither seduced by the trappings of office, nor deluded by the adulation of admirers, always friendly and approachable. That is why, for me, he was the icon of icons, and perhaps always will be.

President Bill Clinton, who has such a wonderful way with words, said:

“Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room, we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we’d like to be him on our best day”.

Sadly, Nelson Mandela will not be walking into our rooms ever again, but we can all still strive to be like him on our best days. For, as he said in one of his many memorable proverbs:

“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.”

Nelson Mandela and the Conservative Party – Forgive But Never Forget


‘Forgive,’ urged Nelson Mandela after the battle against apartheid triumphed, ‘but never forget’.

He might have had in mind the British Conservative Party.

In very recent times its leaders have joined the rest of the world in seeing Mandela him as an almost saintly figure. But that was most emphatically not the Party’s history, as David Cameron himself acknowledged when, in his pre-election rebranding phase, he publicly apologised to Nelson Mandela in 2009 for Tory complicity in sustaining apartheid.

It went back a long way. After his African National Congress was banned and Mandela was forced underground, he travelled to London in 1962 seeking support. But Tory Cabinet Ministers refused to meet him and the ANC was shunned by the Foreign Office. Instead Mandela was welcomed by the Labour and Liberal leaders Hugh Gaitskell and Jo Grimond.

After a nationwide campaign of direct action in 1969-70 by the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign of which I was chairman, mounting pressure on cricket bosses forced the previously unthinkable: they cancelled the 1970 white South African cricket tour to Britain at the direct request of the Labour Government, but shrilly denounced by Tory leaders.

Soon white South Africa was propelled into sporting isolation – banned from competing internationally in rugby, cricket, football, the Olympics and all sports. It was a ban ecstatically welcomed by Mandela – who upon his release said it was decisive – but vigorously opposed by Tories.

When the Tories won the 1970 election they reversed Labour’s limited ban on selling arms to the apartheid state. Then back in opposition in 1974, Tory Leader Ted Heath welcomed the British Lions rugby tour to South Africa in direct breach of the UN sports boycott of whites-only South African teams. By contrast Labour’s Africa Minister Joan Lestor refused normal British embassy receptions and facilities for the Lions.

Consistently, as the struggle against apartheid escalated through the 1980s, Tory MPs aligned themselves with apartheid, enjoying generous travel and hospitality, one becoming known as the ‘Member for Pretoria’. One, Gerald Howarth, was even involved in a private prosecution against me for conspiracy to stop the tours, nearly having me jailed after a month-long Old Bailey trial in 1972. Conservative Students wore ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ badges and Margaret Thatcher denounced him as ‘a terrorist’ just a few years before he walked to freedom from prison.

When in 1988 the Anti-Apartheid Movement organised a great ‘Free Mandela’ concert which filled Wembley stadium to bursting, Steve Wonder flew in. George Michael, Sting, Dire Straits, Eurythmics and a host of other stars performed. They defied Tory backbenchers who tried right up to transmission to pull the plug on BBC2’s live broadcast as over 600 million watched worldwide.

Labour trade union leaders like Ron Todd, Rodney Bickerstaffe and Jimmy Knapp gave leadership and solidarity. So did Labour MPs like Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, Joan Lestor, Richard Caborn and Bob Hughes.

I record all this, not out of spite at a time of genuinely widespread grief over the passing of perhaps the greatest leader of the last half century, but simply because we should understand our history – not least to learn for the future.

Nelson Mandela and the Conservative Party – forgive, but never forget