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London Recruits film could inspire a new generation of activists

The award-winning documentary on British anti-apartheid heroes has already sparked passionate discussions — now trade unions and progressives must integrate it into training and education courses, argues ROGER McKENZIE

AFTER 10 years in the making, the landmark film London Recruits is now set for its international release. The film tells the story of the heroic contribution made by activists from across Britain to the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

These activists put themselves on the line to support the fight against the racist apartheid regime. The film’s world premiere took place at the Johannesburg Film Festival earlier this year, where the film won the award for the best documentary.

Further official selections at the New York African Film Festival in May and at Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival in June have underlined the importance of this Welsh/South African co-production has been well received by African audiences, both at home and in the diaspora.

More European and British premiers of the film are planned and more importantly a wider public release.

The film has already sparked passionate discussion during audience reaction testing. The example of the London Recruits seems to inspire those watching to want to find ways to bring about real change.

They can see that change requires action and that theory demands practice. The producers are looking to team up with the trade union movement and other organisations to use the film as a catalyst for practical action for change in the same way that the original brave London Recruits stepped up to the plate when they were needed.

A key part of the process is to use the film as an educational resource to support people to work towards a better world.

There will need to be deeper consideration of how this film can reach the parts of the community that films such as this do not reach.

A key target must be how the film can be used to reach out to the black community as well as how this can be used on trade union courses — not just to show and have a quick discussion — but also how a specific course on the London Recruits could be developed in its own right.

The aim is to screen the film in more than 200 independent cinemas across Britain this autumn with post-screening discussions led by local trade unionists and activists.

I’m sure that there is no assumption that the trade unionists and activists leading these discussions are already equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively guide these sessions towards action.

This suggests that a programme of training needs to be put in place to support these discussion leaders and we should be careful to make sure that this is a diverse group of activists.

The General Federation of Trade Unions, individual unions and other organisations, such as the Marx Memorial Library, will be central to taking this work forward. I am delighted that Manifesto Press, my own publisher, has also committed to supporting this work.

General Federation of Trade Unions general secretary Gawain Little said: “London Recruits is an outstanding film that shows that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

“The story of the recruits is told in an exciting and engaging way, which will inspire a new generation of activists to take part in changing the world.”

Manifesto Press said: “London Recruits is a film whose time has come.”

The publishers added: “Thirty years after apartheid fell in South Africa the generations who fought against the racist state, in exile, in the townships, in the bush and on the streets of the imperial metropolis can evaluate the heroic period with the benefit of experience and with pride.”

Manifesto Press has published a London Recruits educational resource, created by the National Education Union and with it an introduction by Ronnie Kasrils, the South African Communist Party guide to underground work against the apartheid regime. These resources will be invaluable to keep alive the history and lessons of the London Recruits.

The London Recruits placed themselves in serious harm’s way for a set of core principles including social justice and equality and the hope of creating a socialist world.

These principles have never changed but the actions of those of us involved in working for revolutionary change have always been led by those on the ground at the sharp end of oppression.

The recent loss of the African National Congress majority after South Africa’s recent general election has worried some about the direction the country may be taking with its new government of national unity.

It is the height of arrogance to place ourselves above the people of South Africa and decide that we know better than them as we sit in our relative comfort.

A sad trait among many on the left is to insert their own political ideology above the experience of people living the struggle on the ground.

We see this in the way that some decide that they know better than Cubans, Nicaraguans or Chinese people, for example, how best to conduct their revolutions.

I have been told more than once over the years by well-meaning white activists how best to conduct my fight against racism. On the latest developments in South Africa, I prefer to take my lead from the country’s Communist Party.

The SACP welcomed the return of the ANC as South Africa’s largest party and the re-election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president, even though the party lost its majority. The SACP told the ANC that it was strongly opposed to a coalition with the Democratic Alliance and others and reaffirmed its position against “neoliberalism, state capture and attempts at counter-revolutionary destabilisation.”

The SACP put forward the option of the ANC leading a minority government “with the features of a tight government of national unity.” But the ANC preferred a wider government of national unity. However, each of the two options hinged on a majority constituting support from other parties, inclusive of the ANC’s seats, to elect the president.

The SACP said: “The possible line-up of political parties that could have participated in supporting an ANC-led minority government with the features of a government of national unity included those who made untenable demands, without guarantees.

“They were more hell-bent on seeking to destroy the ANC than anything else. There is nothing progressive about this and by extension a rejection of a more leftward shift and orientation in the government.”

The SACP is insisting that even within the government of national unity the ANC must deal with soaring levels of unemployment, and tackle poverty and inequality.

The SACP is calling on the government to introduce a high-impact industrial policy as a matter of priority. It is also calling for working-class unity to be strengthened. The SACP sees this as crucial to achieving these demands.

The SACP plans to hold a special congress later this year to review the period from 2022 to the present “from the perspective of the entire 30 years of the democratic period of the country.”

I much prefer to wait for the outcome of those discussions before leaping to conclusions and then being ready and willing to offer my support and solidarity as appropriate in the same way that the London Recruits did.

Roger McKenzie is the author of African Uhuru, out now, published by Manifesto Press. The book is available via the Morning Star shop (shop.morningstaronline.co.uk) and every order made gives a slice of the cover price to our daily paper of working-class power and liberation.

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