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Book Review Know thy enemy

Peter Hain knew well apartheid's vulnerabilities and used this knowledge to seriously undermine the regime’s international reputation

A Pretoria Boy - The Story of South Africa’s “Public Enemy Number One”
by Peter Hain
Icon Books £20

MY relationship with Peter began in our shared struggle against apartheid. It continues in Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement of which he is Honorary Vice-President.

Hain’s latest biography begins with his childhood introduction to the methods of the Apartheid Special Branch as they pursued his activist parents. He describes his emotions at their imprisonment; among the first detainees without trial under the 12-day detention laws.  

Peter’s parents were members of the Liberal Party and a friend, John Harris, joined the “Liberal” Armed Resistance Movement which bombed Johannesburg Central Station. Harris was sentenced to death and shortly after his execution in 1964 the Hains left South Africa for the UK.

Peter came to prominence in the Stop The Seventies Tour Committee targeting upcoming South African rugby and cricket tours. The militant campaign against the rugby tour succeeded and the cricket tour was cancelled. South Africa was then expelled from world sport.

In retaliation, Francis Bennion, who had links with the South African Bureau for State Security (BOSS) and MI5, launched an unsuccessful private prosecution against Hain for conspiracy “with persons unknown” to disrupt the sporting tours.

BOSS tried to implicate him in a robbery of Barclays Bank in Putney. He was charged with robbery but the case collapsed when a schoolboy witness was adamant that Peter was not the man that he had seen.

Throughout the recollections in this book, Peter shares insights into the workings of BOSS and MI5 interspersed with tales of plots against Jeremy Thorpe and the coup attempt against the Wilson government.

Recently, Peter has used speeches in the Lords to expose the role of British PR company Bell Pottinger in trying to cover up corruption and state capture by President Zuma and his allies and money laundering by “respected” financial institutions.  

In considering the wider question of post liberation corruption, he cites discussions by Rusty Bernstein and Ronnie Kasrils of the SACP.

Peter recalls personal conversations with giants from the struggle against apartheid. He shares anecdotes from his journey from radical Young Liberal to the House of Lords. 

He concludes with some thoughts for the future reflecting on Nelson Mandela’s words: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”

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