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London Recruits HoC 11.7.12

This is a really fascinating story of the global struggle against apartheid, with British activists sneaking into South Africa to spread anti-apartheid propaganda and able to do so because the South African government simply assumed that all whites supported white supremacy so why would anyone do this?

Ronald “Ronnie” Kasrils was a white man born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, who became a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle. In the early 1960s he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation in the isiZulu language), an offshoot of the African National Congress (ANC), and soon became the MK Commander in Natal province. By 1964, the movement inside the country had been crushed; to escape, Kasrils went into exile.

In 1965, Oliver Tambo, the President of the ANC who was then based in Zambia, had just begun to build a global solidarity movement. Their aim was to pressure the white minority government in South Africa to abandon apartheid. Their only recourse: take the struggle outside of South Africa to overthrow apartheid inside of it.

Tambo dispatched Kasrils to London, a city with long and deep connections to South Africa due to centuries of imperialism and migration. Along with a few other exiles, Kasril’s task was to recruit white men and women to join the movement. He found some at the left-leaning London School of Economics, but most came from the Young Communist League, which agreed to select suitable members (mostly workers) to pass on to him.

After modest training, from 1967 through 1971, teams of two flew to South Africa with fake-bottomed suitcases containing anti-apartheid propaganda and explosives. Tambo was correct that foreign whites easily could travel to South Africa: white South Africans presumed all Europeans supported white supremacy.

Posing as tourists, honeymooners or businessmen, they exploded leaflet bombs, unfurled anti-apartheid banners and promoted the struggle in other clever ways. They simultaneously coordinated their actions in important South African cities. One such leaflet declared: “The ANC says to Vorster [South Africa’s prime minister at the time] and his gang: Your days are coming to an end” and “We will take back our country!”

No one ever was hurt during these actions, though two were captured in 1972 and spent most of the 1970s in brutal South African prisons. By the early-mid 1970s, the movement inside South Africa had revived as the exile movement grew in numbers and strength.

So many interesting complexities in the history of the global anti-colonial struggle.

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