PETER FROST reviews the book London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid

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 Various Authors, Edited by Ken Keable, Merlin Press paperback


Today it’s hard to find anyone without a good word for Nelson Mandela. Tory Ministers, High church bishops, Daily Mail Editors, they all try to get us to think they always knew he was a fine man that he always had their support.

Those of us old enough to have been active in the exciting young communist movement in the 1960’s know that that is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete bollocks.

Mandela and his comrades were reviled by the obcene Apartheid government and just as reviled by the British establishment and media busy cosying up to the racist state that was South Africa.

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Mandela was called a terrorist, a communist, a criminal. He and his brave comrades were locked up the keys thrown away and in Britain Tory politicians and their media lackeys heaped insult and abuse on the brave comrades of the Umkhonto we Sizwe – Spear of the Nation – the armed wing of the African National Congress.

The British establishment and media welcomed the news of all the arrests – including Nelson Mandela – with the same warmth it welcomed the all white South African sporting teams.

Racist white South Africa and their allies and supporters were both delighted after the political and military leadership of the South African liberation movement had been arrested and sentenced to decades in jail. They thought they had killed all opposition forever.

Both the banned African National Congress and Communist Party of South Africa saw so many of their leading cadres jailed. However some prominent members of both organisations managed to escape arrest and flee the country. They soon established a new political movement in exile both in various African countries and also in London.

Their first priority was to show supporters and sympathisers still in South Africa that resistance to apartheid had survived the removal of most of its leadership. Number one priority was active propaganda. The movement needed to show it still had the ability to regroup and continue the fightback.

Ronnie Kasrils (Below) was one member of Spear of the Nation who made it to London.  He knew the arrogant racist thought process of the South African security forces. He knew they would never believe that British white people could be opponents of apartheid. Or that they would take action to end the horrific system.

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Kasrils knew that young white recruits could visit and travel freely to the apartheid state. He found many ready to volunteer among members of the young communist league (YCL) and other organisations on the left.

A substantial number of these brave volunteers agreed to deliver propaganda materials in South Africa, post letters, set off leaflet bombs, unfurl banners and a dozen other public displays that the movement was still alive.

Later, as the network developed more volunteers would help to set up safe houses, deliver weapons, establish arms caches and transport South African Liberation fighters across borders and around the country.

Ken Keable (below) was one of the first recruits. He wrote his own memoirs and set out to contact as many recruits as possible to get them to put down their memories on paper. This amazing, heart warming and inspiring book is the result.

Ken and Ronnie meet again in London.

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There are many worthy political tomes that you ought to read but unlike this one few also read like a rip-roaring adventure yarn. It deserves a place on every bookshelf.

Many of the London Recruits are still active in political struggle today the Alliance of Green Socialists’ own London Organiser Eddie Adams was one of those asked to go. Those of us that have worked with him will read of his amazing and heart stopping adventures and gain a new insight into one man’s political education and development.

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Ronnie Kasrils was another who never gave up the struggle. He would later head Spear of the Nation’s special operations unit before serving as an ANC government minister in the defence and military intelligence departments.

To misquote communist artist Ken Sprague. “Heroes aren’t a special kind of people – Every person is a special kind of hero.” Every London Recruit was certainly an amazing and very special kind of hero.

This review first appeared in the Magazine of the Alliance of Green Socialists


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