Monday, February 21, 2005

Peter Hain on civil liberty

This book review by Peter Hain, published in the Guardian last year, is full of ironies that he is obviously blind to himself. He is writing about the memoirs of the anti-Apartheid activist Hilda Bernstein:

We met Hilda for the first time in the 1960s when she called at our Pretoria home seeking help for locally held black detainees. This was the time of the state of emergency declared after the Sharpeville shootings, and by then my parents were regular visitors to black townships, as they were increasingly drawn into the same struggle, being jailed in 1961, followed wherever they went by the special branch, and then both subject to banning orders blocking them from political activity and even social contact. However, the Bernsteins had it much tougher.

At the time of the Rivonia arrests in July 1963, Rusty had already spent nine months under house arrest: only able to leave his house between 6.30am and 6.30pm (except on Sundays and public holidays, when he couldn't leave at all), obliged to report to police HQ between noon and 2pm each day and confined to the Johannesburg magisterial district.

He had been carrying out his architectural work from their bedroom since his release from jail in 1960 and Hilda's description of the family waiting for him to get home before the 6.30pm deadline on the day that he was arrested at Rivonia makes riveting reading.

Though acquitted at Rivonia, Rusty was immediately rearrested, charged with breaches of the catch-all Suppression of Communism Act (you were a communist if the minister said so).

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