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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Peter Hain- Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid and Labour principles

On Thursday evening, Peter Hain (previous Secretary for Wales) came to Transport House to give a talk about Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid campaign.

When I read the title of the talk Peter Hain was giving, I was not really able to see the link between the two. As much as I am ashamed to admit it, I didn’t know much about Hain, but I couldn’t quite see the link between Welsh Secretary and Mandela. It was good thing then that Peter Hain began his talk by answering that very query. “Where do I fit in?” he asked, rhetorically.

Well, Hain was born and brought up in South Africa. His parents were devoted anti-apartheid protestors. He remembers being woken up in the middle of the night when he was only 11 to be told that his parents had been arrested, and he was left to look after his younger siblings. This was not the only time, the police often raided their house and searched his room for any hint of political activity. His mother and father both received banning orders, meaning that they were not allowed to attend any social gatherings, which was defined as you and another person. They were the first married couple to both receive a banning order, so they had to be given special allowance so that they could both live together. Part of the banning order was that you were unable to move or travel out of the area without permission. The police prevented Hain’s father from being able to work in the area, and because of this, his family were forced into exile and moved to London.

Being so involved in the anti-apartheid campaign through his family, meant that Hain, obviously, had a keen interest in continuing to campaign during his teenage years. It was Hain who first thought to use sport in the campaign. At the time, the Springbox was an emblem of white supremacy, so Hain, and his fellow protestors, followed the Springbox tour, bought tickets to the matches and raided the pitch. Hain only believed in peaceful protest so he only ever intended to stop play and sat peacefully on the pitch. As with recent protests, the peaceful protests were sometimes hijacked, which came to cause Hain big difficulties (I’ll explain later), so when he talks about protest, Hain is speaking from experience. When Hain met Mandela in 1991, during his trip to Westminster. Mandela talked with him about his time in prison, he was not allowed to be told or read about current affairs or politics but the prison guards were Springbox fans. Mandela and the other prisoners heard about the protests because the guards were so annoyed about the stops to play. Unknowingly, the prison guards gave hope to the prisoners, the protests at the rugby were the only news of the campaign which he heard during his whole imprisonment.

From the rugby onwards, South Africa was banned from cricket, and then the Olympics and onwards. Sport played a key role in the anti-apartheid campaign.

Hain’s political involvement did not come without risk though. He was sent a letter bomb by the South African police. Many, many protestors were killed by the police through letter bombs, Hain was lucky that his bomb had a technical fault which prevented it from going off. He also was tried in the High Court for his involvement in the sport protests. As part of the charges, Hain was accused of putting tin pins on the pitch, which he hadn’t. He had to track down the person who had put the pins down, and they gave a witness report that Hain hadn’t been involved in that part of the protest. This was a scary time for Hain, the judge clearly wanted to prosecute and imprison him, but he was lucky because two members of the jury were from ethnic minorities and refused to find him guilty. After a painfully four week long trial, he was eventually acquitted. This is a side of Peter Hain which I never knew existed, it’s comforting, and even inspiring, to know that members of the party, and of Parliament have taken great personal risks to campaign against injustice and for the rights of others.

On the flip side, it is also quite alarming to know that there are current members of the Tory party who saw Mandela as a terrorist and campaigned for his hanging. The only name which Hain would divulge was John Bercow, the current Speaker of the House. Bercow, however, now bitterly regrets, and is ashamed of his protest to hang Mandela. Unfortunately, others have not repented.

Hain finished his talk by reminding the audience that the Labour party has always been a part of grass root movements, fighting against injustice and for the rights of others. Knowing how big an affect the protests, of which he were apart, had, he clearly believes in protest, and grass root movements. It’s something that most students are either cynical or do not think of at all, but maybe Hain might stir us up. Hopefully it will provide inspiration for students, and especially Labour students, to do all we can to fight against the injustice which surrounds us.

Peter Hain has written a biography of Nelson Mandela. The current biographies are quite long so Hain wanted there to be something a bit more readable. The book rrps at £12.99, but can be bought for £6.99 from your Labour club.

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