Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle against Apartheid

Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle against Apartheid

Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle against Apartheid

Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle against Apartheid

Excerpt

This book had its origins in my first trip to South Africa in 1983. During those three months, on the eve of the United Democratic Front's formation, I met white South Africans of different generations who were working -- as activists, journalists, lawyers, and in other capacities -- to end apartheid. Perhaps the most enlightening moments of the trip were spent with Helen Joseph at her home in a Johannesburg suburb, the same house to which she was confined as the first South African house arrestee in October 1962.

Helen Joseph was a founding member of the Congress of Democrats, the white partner organization of the African National Congress during the Congress Alliance period of the 1950s. The Congress Alliance was formed when organizations representing Africans, Indians, Coloureds, and antiapartheid whites joined forces to protest the government's structure of systematic, legislated, racial- and ethnic-based oppression of the majority of South Africans. As a leader in both the Congress of Democrats and the nonracial Federation of South African Women, Joseph's anti-apartheid activities had spanned thirty years at the time I met her, and would continue for another decade, until her death at the age of eighty-seven in late 1992.

During one of my visits to Joseph's home that winter, the members of the Students' Representative Council at the University of the Witwatersrand came to visit Joseph (apparently an annual occurrence) and hear her recount the history, as she lived it, of multi-racial anti-apartheid struggle in the 1950s, including the presentation of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People, the women's marches on Parliament, and the Treason Trial, during which 156 members of the Congress affiliates were rounded up and charged with high treason. Listening to Joseph was a revelation, not so much for the general historical outlines of her story, as for her elucidation and incarnation of white South African involvement in the national liberation movement. From the remove of the United States, I had found the fact, and history, of white involvement difficult to grasp. Nor had I come across any treatment of this involvement at greater than incidental length prior to my experiences in South Africa.

Perhaps it was Joseph's grandmotherly appearance that magnified the impact of her own history as a white activist who had been banned, jailed, put . . .

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