Uncompromising and Courageous: Laurence's Life-Long Fight for Liberation

Article excerpt

Patrick Laurence, a contributing editor of The Star and twice a victim of the apartheid National Party government's draconian laws against the media, has died after a distinguished career in journalism. He was 74.

Laurence became a reporter on The Star in the mid-1960s after gaining an MA degree in history at the University of Natal and teaching for a few years at St Stithian's College and Jeppe Boys' High School in Joburg.

The thesis for his degree was on the emergence of African nationalism in Lesotho. The choice was prophetic because he later specialised in black politics, paying particular attention to the Bantustan policies of the Nationalist government and to the black townships in "white" South Africa.

This led him into his first confrontation with the law when in 1973 he interviewed the leader of the PAC, Robert Sobukwe, banned under the Suppression of Communism Act and therefore barred from having his statements or views published.

Laurence intended the interview to be published in The Observer in London and posted it to a friend there.

It is uncertain how his letter landed in the hands of the Security Police. One version is that it was intercepted in London and sent to the Security Police in Joburg, but the more likely version is that he posted the letter in a mailbox outside the offices of the Rand Daily Mail where he was then working.

Later it was disclosed that the contents of this mailbox were regularly inspected by the Security Police and his letter was probably intercepted by them.

He was arrested and tried on a charge of quoting a banned person and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment suspended for three years.

The second serious encounter with the Security Police was in March 1991, after he returned to The Star and wrote an article quoting a confidential source about the disappearance of a key witness during the trial of Winnie Mandela on charges of kidnapping.

The police used the notorious Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the law enabling them to force journalists to appear before magistrates to answer questions about their confidential sources.

Laurence refused to disclose his source and was sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment. The consequence he faced was another term of imprisonment if he failed to reveal his source, and such sentences continuing indefinitely until he did identify the person.

He later recalled being kindly treated by the jailers at the Joburg prison, a Captain Daniel Opperman ensuring he had a pair of clean pyjamas, food and a toothbrush. …