White Lies: Canon Collins and the Secret War against Apartheid/Anti-Apartheid: A History of the Movement in Britain. A Study in Pressure Group Politics

By Dale, Richard | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

White Lies: Canon Collins and the Secret War against Apartheid/Anti-Apartheid: A History of the Movement in Britain. A Study in Pressure Group Politics


Dale, Richard, African Studies Review


Denis Herbstein. White Lies: Canon Collins and the Secret War against Apartheid. Cape Town: HSRC Press/Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 2004. xxi + 386 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. £14.95. Paper.

Roger Fieldhouse. Anti-Apartheid: A History of the Movement in Britain. A Study in Pressure Group Politics. London: The Merlin Press Ltd., 2005. xiv + 546 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. £20.00. Paper. £50.00. Cloth.

These two accounts of the overseas humanitarian and solidarity groups that were founded in response to the increasing institutionalization of white minority rule, primarily in South Africa, can certainly be regarded as examples of what Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink have labeled "activists beyond borders" (Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Cornell University Press, 1998). Mark Israel, in his scholarly treatise South African Political Exile in the United Kingdom (St. Martin's Press, 1999) uses the felicitous term "international solidarity lobbyists" (82). What characterized both the International Defense and Aid Fund (IDAF) and the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) was that they attracted the attention of both British and South African exile activists, on the one hand, and South African government operatives and agents, on the other hand.

Denis Herbstein is a South African-born journalist who wrote for The Cape Times and later moved to Britain, where he is on the staff of the The Financial Times. He began his biography of the Rev. Lewis John Collins, one of the four canons of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, as researcher for a Channel Four British television show on this topic produced by Paul Yule in 1993. Collins was a key British figure in the development and operation of the IDAF, which traced its origin to the Treason Trial Defense Fund in South Africa. IDAF's original aim was to provide funds to secure defense attorneys for those Africans who were charged with a wide array of infractions against the prevailing and increasingly remorseless internal security legislation that became an integral part of the apartheid system after 1948. Not unsurprisingly, the Pretoria regime served a banning order on the IDAF in 1966 which remained in force until 1990, so that South African defense attorneys would be subject to as much as ten years in prison if they were funded overtly by the IDAF. The title "White lies," which was also the title of the Channel Four documentary, refers to the plausible deniability of any IDAF funds reaching South African defense attorneys in these internal security trials.

Neville Rubin, an exile South African lawyer whose late father, Leslie, was active in the South African Liberal Party before he immigrated to the United States, was the architect of a system of cutouts which hid the funding pipeline from the IDAF to the defense attorneys by using two layers of British legal firms and basically phantom trust funds sponsored by eminent left-leaning members of the British establishment who had a profound distaste for the apartheid judicial system. This James Bond-type of enterprise was never cracked by the South African regime, although suspicions existed about the system. Yet the IDAF was more than simply a well-camouflaged legal aid society. One of its two other tasks concerned welfare work for those near-destitute dependents of incarcerated Africans with whom a vast range of IDAF members in several Western European nations corresponded. Financial requests for aid were carefully vetted. The other task for which it was perhaps better known was as a fount of data on the status of white rule in Anglophone southern Africa. Indeed there is now a huge, indexed microfiche data bank of IDAF newspaper clippings at certain research libraries as a legacy of its information and research staff. …

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