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International Socialist Review, Summer 1965


Robert Langston

Apartheid Arrests Continue


From International Socialist Review, Vol.26 No.3, Summer 1965, pp.66, 95.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Robert Langston is Executive Secretary of the Alexander Defense Committee

* * *

On March 25, 1965, the Appellate Division of the South African Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Dr. Neville Alexander and his ten comrades. Arrested in July 1963 and indicted under the “Sabotage Law,” the Eleven were convicted on April 15, 1964 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to ten years. In reality, they have been sentenced to indefinite terms: Under South African law, any prisoner can be held after having completed his sentence as long as the Minister of Justice deems his further detention to be in the “public interest.”

Dr. Alexander and his friends were never accused of having committed any act of violence; nor even of having planned one. The prosecution sought to prove only that they had formed study groups to investigate various possible methods of conducting the struggle against apartheid and had read and discussed Marxist literature and works on guerrilla warfare. Nor had any of the defendants a long political past. Dr. Alexander, it is true, had been active at the University of Capetown in student groups affiliated with the Unity Movement of South Africa. But his initiative in forming the study groups was his first act of political leadership. For the other defendants, joining the study groups was their first political action of any sort. That such severe penalties were imposed on such novices, whose efforts were still in the stage of general discussion, demonstrates how terrified the South African regime is of any potentially serious opposition.

Since November, 1963, the male defendants have been held in the maximum security prison on Robben Island. Despositions of former inmates and smuggled information indicate that conditions there are not very different from those of a Nazi concentration camp. In June, 1964, Dr. Alexander suffered a serious ear injury as a result of a beating administered by guards. At last report, all except one of the defendants were in solitary confinement, and Dr. Alexander has been held in solitary almost continuously since his arrest. In spite of the atrocious conditions, Dr. Alexander’s mother, who was allowed to see him briefly on March 6th, was able to report that “although he is still kept in solitary confinement, he looks well, is in high spirit and has hope for the future.”

No further legal steps are possible in the Alexander case. But funds are still needed. The families of the victims are destitute. The case itself must continue to be publicized as widely as possible. Not only the Alexander Eleven, but the thousands who will follow them into the dungeons of South Africa, must have the assurance that their families will be cared for and that their plight and their cause will not be forgotten. The knowledge that there is sustained international concern surely nourishes that courage which enables Dr. Alexander and his comrades to suffer the agony of uninterrupted solitary confinement “in high spirit” and with “hope for the future.”

In the case of the Alexander Eleven, draconian punishments were imposed on a group of young men and women just taking their first steps toward political involvement. A case which has recently come to the attention of the Alexander Defense Committee illustrates a different pattern of repression: a gradual intensification of persecution over a period of many years, culminating in the sentencing of the victims to long (in reality, indefinite) prison terms.

Leo L. Sihlali was born and reared in Cape province. By dint of extraordinary ability and energy, he was able to win one of the rarest possessions that a black in South Africa can acquire: a university education. Along the way, he also gained something more dangerous than all else to the ruling powers of that Republic: an intense and lucid political consciousness.

After completing his university studies, Mr. Sihlali became a secondary-school teacher. For some years, in the face of the increasing oppressiveness of the tyranny and in spite of his political and civic activities, Mr. Sihlali’s personal life was spared. An outstanding teacher and an exceptional leader, he advanced rapidly in his profession and was elected President of the Cape African Teachers’ Association.

Then, in 1955, the Bantu Education Act was implemented in the Cape. This law, passed in 1953, re-organized the South African educational system in such a way that Africans of different groups would be isolated from each other culturally and linguistically and that all Africans would remain “uninfected” by any ideas through which they might understand and change the world which oppresses them. The Cape African Teachers’ Association had been in the vanguard of the opposition to the Act. As a consequence, all members of the Executive of the Association, including Mr. Sihlali, were summarily dismissed from their teaching posts and were black-listed throughout South Africa. From the day of his discharge, Mr. Sihlali’s life became an unending struggle to feed his family and to find the opportunity to continue his political work; it became a struggle for a chance to struggle.

He was expelled from the city of his birth: because he had grown up elsewhere and was unemployed, he had no right of residence there. He was expelled from the city in which he had grown up, owned a house, and had taught for many years: because he had been born elsewhere and was unemployed, he had no right of residence there. As soon as he had found a job as a construction worker, his employer was visited by the police; Mr. Sihlali was fired immediately and without explanation.

Finally, with the aid of friends, he was able to open a small business. This enabled him to get the precious residence permit, to eke out a living, to continue his political work, and to be reunited with his family. (After his dismissal from the teaching profession, Mr. Sihlali had sent his wife and children to live with his mother, where they were at least assured of shelter, if not food. His children became seriously ill; later, when they were able to receive adequate medical attention, they were found to be suffering from malnutrition.)

The harassment continued: His home and shop were raided by the police again and again; books, letters, business papers were confiscated. His shop was frequently burglarized, but the thieves were never caught nor his property recovered. During the General State of Emergency, declared after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Mr. Sihlali escaped to Bechuanaland. After a few weeks he returned to South Africa and, as President of the Unity Movement of South Africa, worked underground in Johannesburg, in Natal, and in the Cape. In 1964, he was finally caught by the police, banned, and placed under house arrest.

Louis L. Mtshizana has had a similar fate. Mr. Mtshizana is a lawyer who has defended hundreds of persons charged with political “crimes.” His skill as an attorney as well as his own political activities – he was formerly Chairman of the East London branch of the Society of Young Africa, an affiliate of the Unity Movement – made him particularly disliked by the police. He was framed on a weapons-possession charge and, although acquitted and awarded damages for false arrest, he was placed by the police under ban for five years.

In 1963, he defended some schoolboys indicted under the Suppression of Communism Act. He advised them of their constitutional right to refuse to answer certain questions. This advice, in the opinion of the police, was tantamount to “attempting to defeat the ends of justice.” For this “crime,” Mr. Mtshizana was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Pending the outcome of the appeal, which has not yet been decided, Mr. Mtshizana was released on five hundred pounds bail and placed under additional banning orders. And he was not even able to appear for the schoolboys in court: At the time their case came to trial, Mr. Mtshizana was in jail, held under the “Ninety Days’ Detention Clause.”

On February 24, 1965, Mr. Sihlali and Mr. Mtshizana were again arrested. On April 28, they were found guilty of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and of seeking to leave South Africa without valid documents. Mr. Mtshizana was sentenced to 4½ years imprisonment, and Mr. Sihlali to 2½ years. Only through vigorous international action is there a chance to save Mr. Mtshizana and Mr. Sihlali from Robben Island. They must have funds for an appeal, and anyone within South Africa soliciting money to support the defense in political cases is himself liable to be prosecuted under the Suppression of Communism Act.

The families of the Alexander Eleven must be supported. The legal defense of Mtshizana and Sihlali must be financed. The world must not be allowed to forget the plight of these brave men and women. International action must continue until they and the thirty five hundred other political prisoners in South Africa are free to maintain their families in dignity and to work for a new and better South Africa. Contributions and correspondence should be sent to: Alexander Defense Committee, P.O. Box 345, Canal Street Station, New York, N.Y. 10013.

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