Youngest 1950s treason trialist turns 80

2015-10-12 13:39
Lionel Morrison. Picture: Kashif Ali

Lionel Morrison. Picture: Kashif Ali

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Cape Town - Lionel Morrison, the youngest accused in South Africa’s notorious 1956 treason trial, celebrated his 80th birthday at a party in London on Saturday. Among the numerous guests were the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of Britain and Ireland general-secretary Michelle Stanistreet and South African National Editors’ Forum director and former City Press editor Mathatha Tsedu.

From South Africa, 86-year-old fellow treason trialist Leon Levy and retired constitutional court judge Albie Sachs were among those who sent messages included in a "birthday book" of remembrances.

Known locally for the most part as a trade union activist, former president and honorary NUJ life member, Morrison was arrested 49 years ago, aged 21, and charged with treason along with 155 other South Africans.

His arrest came just six days after completing three months of a four-month sentence for painting slogans on walls in Cape Town. Inspired by the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955, he painted "Let us Black folk in" on a wall in the parliamentary precinct and "The People Shall Govern" on another nearby wall.

The treason trial dragged on for four years, although most of the accused were acquitted much earlier. Among the early releases was Morrison, who went back to journalism and political activism.

In 1960, in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre, Morrison was again detained when a state of emergency was declared. After spending five months in jail, much of it in the "hanging prison" Pretoria Central, he went into exile in Britain.

By then, concerned about the African National Congress's (ANC) multi-racial policies, he had joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) which he felt had a non-racial constitution.

As a PAC member, Morrison was divorced from the mainstream of South African exile politics, but dedicated himself to encouraging greater black participation in both trade unions and journalism.

Along with helping establish some of Britain’s first newspapers serving the black community, he was the principal information officer for Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality. Elected NUJ president in 1987, he was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s 1999 honours list.

Read more on:    anc  |  pac

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