The fake-news factory at the Daily Telegraph this week revealed how “Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-apartheid efforts were snubbed by Nelson Mandela for ‘hindering’ the campaign against racial segregation in South Africa” (September 12).
The source material used to come to their wrong conclusion was Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid (2018), a book written by academics Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe. As ever, the Telegraph happily contorts and misrepresents the democratic debates that did take within progressive groups, in this case the anti-apartheid movement, in an attempt to weaponize them against Corbyn’s lifelong commitment to socialism.
The Telegraph’s primary case in this latest attack rests on the mistaken premise that Corbyn only supported the activities of the radical City of London Anti-Apartheid Group — made famous by their four-year long Non-Stop Picket outside of the South African embassy – but “not the mainstream marches and demonstrations that the AAM [Anti-Apartheid Movement] organised.” In promoting this divisive lie the Telegraph overlooked the simple fact that one of two pictures they used to illustrate their story showed Corbyn holding a banner at the front of a march organised by the mainstream Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Corbyn’s constituency is, of course Islington, which throughout the 1980s served as the home for the ANC’s London headquarters. Islington Borough Council had declared itself an apartheid-free zone, and David Kitson, one of the key people involved with the activism of the Non-Stop Picket, actually lived from 1984 onwards in Islington, that is, after his release from gaol in South Africa. So, it is hardly surprising that a socialist MP like Corbyn would act as a “sponsor” of the City Group’s Non-Stop-Picket. Likewise, it is fitting that working alongside leading AAM member, Ethel de Keyser, Corbyn also acted as a trustee of the more mainstream British Defence and Aid Fund for victims of apartheid.
The now-famous photograph of Corbyn getting arrested during an anti-apartheid was taken during a successful defence of the City Group’s right to engage in a political protest outside of the South African embassy. In this instance, Jeremy Corbyn was arrested along with many others, including two other Labour MPs (Tony Banks and Stuart Holland), and five other local Labour councillors.
But surely this is something to celebrate not attack. And even the Telegraph in their faux attempt to provide balance has to include one historical fact when at the tail end of their attack-piece they quote a spokesman for Mr Corbyn saying: “While members of the Conservative Party were calling for Nelson Mandela to be hanged, Jeremy was campaigning against the racist apartheid regime.”
Of course, none of this should gloss over the fact that significant political differences did exist between the City Group and the more mainstream AAM — which was led by the ANC and Britain’s most influential communists. Indeed, David Kitson himself, after serving 20 years in prison under the apartheid regime because of his underground activism for the South African Communist Party, was then expelled from the ANC because of his involvement with the City Group – a group that had been initially formed by his wife to fight for his own freedom. *
On this point it is critical to note that the two key ANC activists who were responsible for Kitson’s sectarian expulsion were later revealed to be working as spy’s for South Africa’s apartheid state. These two spy’s, Solly Smith, the then Chief Representative of the ANC in London, and Francis Meli, the editor of the ANC’s journal — as revealed in the Telegraph’s source book Youth Activism and Solidarity (but not revealed in the newspaper article based on the book) — were glad to help direct the AAM’s anti-democratic witch-hunt against the City Group. A fabricated witch-hunt which resulted in the City Group’s forced disaffiliation from AAM in February 1985.
The final twist in the Telegraph’s latest anti-democratic effort to smear Corbyn through his involvement in anti-racist campaigning, is that they refer to “declassified Special Branch files” which wrongly concluded that the City Group was simply “a front” for “a violence prone Trotskyist group known as the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG).” Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe’s book eloquently rebuts this simple-minded and all too-common smear, but this attack is especially ironic, because the declassified files that the newspaper referred to were actually unearthed by a Freedom of Information request submitted by Solomon Hughes (of the Morning Star) during investigations into the anti-democratic police surveillance of the anti-apartheid movement.