The Whites Who Fought Apartheid



In South Africa at the beginning of the 1960s a group of mostly white liberals - students, post-graduates and young professionals - formed a network dedicated to opposing the regime, the African Resistance Movement.

Their aim: to halt apartheid by making South Africa ungovernable.

They were prepared to use violence - blowing up pylons and communications equipment.

This countered the jibes that, while communists, who dominated the ANC, were prepared to die for the struggle, the white liberals would not fight.

In fact the African Resistance Movement was active before Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's armed wing, and was the first group to use military action against the apartheid regime.

But its members were adamant that people should not be targeted and human life not be endangered.The people involved, once the flowering of South Africa's radical youth, went on to become writers, journalists and academics - many rising to the top of their professions.

The charismatic president of the National Union of South African Students, Adrian Leftwich, was one of their leaders.

Arrested by the police in July 1964, and terrified, he gave the names of ARM members and later became a state witness, giving evidence against them in court.

As the organisation imploded in a welter of , arrests, a new member, John Harris, planted a bomb in a Johannesburg station to prove the campaign was not over.

He alerted newspapers and the police, but they had little time to act and did not evacuate the building.

The bomb went off wounding 24 people, including a 77 year old woman, who later died.

Harris was executed for this in 1965.

Almost half a century after the end of their struggle the writer Horatio Clare seeks out survivors of the African Resistance Movement.

He interviews Eddie Daniels, one of the few black members, who was sentenced to fifteen years on Robben Island, and takes him back to the site of one of his sabotage operations.

He meets Hugh Lewin, who served seven years, Neville Rubin and the leader, Randolph Vigne, who managed to escape.

Myrtle Berman, now 85, describes how, while she and her husband were in prison, they conceived the idea of the group.

(She was also the jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela's foster-mother).

Sholto Cross, who was working with Umkhonte We Sizwe and R.


Johnson, South Africa's pre-eminent contemporary historian, give views of the ARM from outside the organisation.

On the steps of the campus of the University of Cape Town, Horatio interviews his father who as a student there knew several ARM members.

Such was the secrecy surrounding the ARM that he did not know that the woman he married was involved.

Horatio meets, too, the widow of John Harris, and his son, now a human rights lawyer.

They reflect on his what he did and how he is now commemorated in South Africa.

The programme follows the movement from its genesis through training, the sabotage operations, and finally to the melt-down; imprisonment, exile, execution.

All the contributors consider those days, their actions and the impact the ARM had on South Africa's history.

One thing they agree on is that their contribution to the liberation struggle, as the first people to strike a blow against apartheid, has been overlooked.

But, now, that might beginning to change.

Producer: Julian May.

Horatio Clare tells the story of the African Resistance Movement.