Saturday, 22 May 2010

From Our Archives (1966) - Historic Documents of the anti-apartheid struggle

From  Our  Archives (1966)
Historic Documents of the anti-apartheid struggle
during the 1960s
Presented by Franz J. T. Lee

International Socialist Review, Summer 1966

The Alexander Defense Committee (ADC) Under Attack
By: Robert Langston

From International Socialist Review,
Vol.27 No.3, Summer 1966, pp.107-108.

Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Alexander Defense Committee, an organization providing funds for legal defense and family relief to persecuted opponents of the racist South African regime, has been ordered by the US Justice Department to register as an “agent of a foreign principal” under the provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

Civil liberties attorney Stanley Faulkner, who has been retained as counsel, has advised the Committee to ignore the order, as the Act is not applicable to it, and he has so informed the Justice Department.

In a letter to President Johnson, A.D.C. officers Paul Houtelle, Robert H. Langston, Berta Green and Dave Dellinger requested that he order the Justice Department to stop this harassment. As Chief Executive, the President is responsible for the conduct of the Justice Department. The letter points out the A.D.C. is a purely American organization, having no “agency agreement” with anyone, which decides for itself what cases it will support on a basis of specific pleas for aid. The organization has no salaried personnel, and every cent collected above minimal operating expenses is sent to the victims of apartheid barbarism. In a speech Johnson made on May 26th at a White House reception commemorating the third anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, Johnson pledged the people and the government of the United States to the cause of the peoples of Africa in their efforts to win “freedom, equality, justice and dignity.” He expressed “repugnance” at “the outmoded policy which in some parts of Africa permits the few to rule at the expense of the many” and declared:

“Just as we are determined to remove the remnants of inequality from our own midst, we are also with you – heart and soul – as you try to do the same.” He further promised that “we shall continue to provide our full share of assistance to refugees from social and political oppression.”

Citing Johnson’s speech, the letter states that “we take the sentiment you expressed with utmost seriousness.” It then asks:

“But how can the people of Africa, or the people of America, believe that you do likewise when, at the very moment you were uttering these things, your Department of Justice was moving to harass an American organization devoted to translating into reality, in whatever limited way, these very principals.”

The letter recalls that a short time ago the Verwoerd government crushed Defense and Aid, the last organization operating openly in South Africa to provide legal aid to opponents of the regime, and affirms: “We trust you would not wish to imitate Verwoerd by suppressing our organization.”

The organization that the Justice Department is trying to stigmatize as a “foreign agent” was formed in February 1965 in response to the persecution of Dr. Neville Alexander and ten of his colleagues. Dr. Alexander is a young scholar who was the first non-white South African to receive a Humboldt scholarship for advanced study in West Germany. He was awarded a Ph.D. degree in German literature by the University of Tuebingen in 1962 and, refusing offers of academic posts in Europe and England, returned to South Africa to become a high-school teacher. The Eleven were arrested in July 1963 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to ten years. In reality, they have been sentenced to indefinite terms, since under South African law, a prisoner can be held after having served his sentence as long as his further detention is deemed by the Minister of Justice to be in the “interest of public order.” Dr. Alexander and his friends were never accused of having committed, nor even having planned, any act of violence. The prosecution sought to show only that they had formed study groups to investigate possible ways 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. Although Dr. Alexander had been active at the University of Capetown in student groups affiliated to the Unity Movement of South Africa, his initiative in forming the study groups was his first act of political leadership. Dr. Alexander and the other male defendants have been in the notorious Robben Island concentration camp since 1963. Much of this time, Dr. Alexander was held in solitary ;onfinement, and he suffered a serious ear injury as a result of a beating administered by sadistic guards. This is the “foreign principal” whose “agent” the Justice Department alleges the A.D.C. to be.

It is useless to speculate on the easons for this attack on the Alexander Defense Committee. But that it is an attack is certain. For if the officers, yielding to the threat of five year prison sentences and fines of ten thousand dollars, should comply with the order to register, they would be legally bound to hand over to the Justice Department all records of the organization, including lists of contributors. This would make the raising of funds extraordinarily difficult.

The A.D.C. therefore cannot comply with the Justice Department order. Under no circumstances would the Committee commit the perjury that such compliance would necessarily involve. Nor would it breach the trust of its contributors. And the A.D.C. will certainly win a court battle if the Justice Department pursues this matter further.

However a long legal struggle would interfere seriously with the work of the committee. It would force it to divert energy and, worse than that, funds, from its proper work to the task of simple self-preservation.

Although no further legal steps are possible in the Alexander case, the families of the Alexander Eleven must be supported, as they were left destitute by the imprisonment of their breadwinners. The case itself must continue to be publicized as widely as possible. There are some 3,500 prisoners in South Africa who have been convicted of political offenses; and there are an incalculable number of others who are being held in police stations throughout the “Native Reserves” under Proclamation 400, which allows any policeman in the Reserves to arrest any African at any time and to hold him indefinitely, incommunicado, without charges.
Need for Defense

These victims are mostly very poor, and without help from abroad their families will, quite simply, starve. There is a continuous stream of political exiles from South Africa who need financial aid in relocating. And there are thousands still active in the liberation struggle inside South Africa who may yet be arrested and tried for their activities. They will need funds for legal defense, and these funds must come from outside, since anyone within South Africa who solicits money for the defense in political cases makes himself liable to prosecution under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Typical of those who are being aided by the A.D.C. are the following whose cases are sketched here briefly:

        * P. Gcabashe. Mr. Gcabashe is a sixty-year-old former teacher who, shortly before he was due to retire, gave up his teaching position, and thereby also his claim to a pension, to become a full time organizer for the Unity Movement among the peasants in northern Natal Province.

          In December, 1964, Mr. Gcabashe was seized by the political police. Frantic appeals by his wife to be informed of his whereabouts were unanswered. Finally, in a letter which he was able to smuggle out, it was learned that he was being held in a jail in Pondoland under Proclamation 400. So far as is known, Mr. Gcabashe is still in prison. It is unlikely that he will ever be tried in a regular court of law where a legal defense would be possible. His family lacks any form of support.
        * Leo Sihlali and Louis Mtshizana. Mr. Sihlali is a teacher who was fired and black-listed for his leadership in opposition to the “Bantu Education” scheme, whereby the South African regime hopes to fragment the African community through re-tribalization. Mr. Mtshizana is a lawyer who has defended hundreds of persons accused of political offenses. Over the years, they have been subjected to relentless persecution. After Mr. Sihlali was fired from his teaching post, he was hounded from town to town, everywhere refused a residence permit and always prevented by the police from finding a job. Mr. Mtshizana has been framed on a weapons possession charge, although he was finally acquitted. He has been convicted of “seeking to defeat the ends of justice” for advising some school boys charged under the Suppression of Communism Act of their constitutional right to refuse to testify against themselves.

          In July, 1963, Mr. Mtshizana was banned for five years. Mr. Sihlali was served with similar banning orders in March, 1964 and, in addition, was placed under house arrest. In April, 1964, both men were convicted of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and of seeking to leave South Africa without valid documents. Both are now in the Robben Island concentration camp. The families of both victims need help urgently. Mr. Sihlali is the father of four children, and Mr. Mtshizana of three. Mrs. Sihlali was subjected to bitter persecution after Mr. Sihlali’s conviction, and her friends have recently lost all contact with her.

New Tour Planned

In order to raise funds to aid such victims, the Alexander Defense Committee seeks to awaken the American people to the realities of the South African situation. In 1965, the A.D.C. brought I.B. Tabata to the United States for a national lecture tour. Mr. Tabata, who is now in exile in Zambia, is one of the most prominent of the South African liberation leaders and is currently president of the Unity Movement of South Africa and of the African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa.

The Committee has invited Mr. Franz J.T. Lee to come to the United States for a similar tour during the late summer and early fall of this year.  ...  Franz Lee who is a close personal friend of Neville Alexander, is secretary of the German Alexander Defense Committee and European representative of the African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa. He has written extensively and lectured throughout Europe on South African affairs.

Funds are urgently needed to carry on the work of the committee and to counter the attack on it by the Justice Department. All queries and contributions should be addressed to the Alexander Defense Committee, 873 Broadway 2nd Floor South, New York, N.Y. 10003.


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