Giant anti-apartheid activist has fallen

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Hanef Bhamjee.
Hanef Bhamjee.

Mohammed Hanef Bhamjee (OBE), boron on December 1, 1946 passed away peacefully on January 8 after a brief illness.

From an early age, Hanef was exposed to the effects of apartheid by not being able to attend a local school in Wolmaranstad (in the old Transvaal) and had to travel quite a distance to a school in an African area.

This set his lifelong dedication to the struggle against apartheid and for a free, democratic and non-racial South Africa.

His family moved to Pietermaritzburg in 1957. Hanef was enrolled at the Nizamia Primary School, where we met in Standard 4. My poor, working-class background, and his political awakening, led to our becoming lifelong friends.

Teenage recruit

In February 1961, at the age of 15, Hanef recruited and organised a whole group of pupils to attend essentially political education classes every week.

Politically, Hanef was part of a study group that included Harry Gwala and Goolam Suberdar, who played a significant role in shaping his Marxist thinking. This group included Truman Magubane and other comrades from Sobantu. Hanef was the youngest in the group.

The late Dr Chota Motala likened Hanef to a 1976 cadre active in the 1960 period of the struggle.

Hanef worked with Dr Chota Motala, Dr Vasu Chetty and A.S. Chetty (among others) in this period.

This led to the formation of the PMB branch of the Natal Indian Youth Congress. Some of us were recruited by Hanef to do underground work for uMkhonto we Sizwe in the Pietermaritzburg area. This included organising boycotts, distributing pamphlets, political education camps, painting slogans calling for the end of apartheid and the repeal of the 90-day detention laws.

Hanef also recruited young activists to engage in social responsibility projects that exposed them to the inhumane effects of apartheid.

Studying abroad

This resulted in Hanef being harassed by the local Security Branch, leading to interrogation on a number of occasions in the period leading up to his matriculation in 1964.

This increasing harassment, and on the advice of senior comrades, Hanef left South Africa to study to further his political education and training and to link up with the exiled leadership of the ANC in London.

Here, he immediately plunged into the political activities of the ANC, SACP, AAM and IDAF. Once again he was engaged in organising student political education classes all around the UK: London, Birmingham, Wales (Cardiff) and in Ireland (Dublin).

While being a disciplined member of the ANC and SACP (then CPSA), Hanef was an independent thinker with a keen grasp of politics and the struggle.

He didn’t hesitate to speak his mind and criticise leadership. This sometimes brought him into conflict with senior leadership and other fellow activists.

While in London he engaged with comrades Oliver Tambo, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Joe Slovo.

In 1971, Hanef, after completing a degree in social science at Birmingham University, relocated to Cardiff in Wales to continue with a master’s degree.

Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement 

However, he did not complete this degree as he was preoccupied with the founding of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (Waam) in 1972. Hanef served as Waam secretary until 1994 when Actsa was formed.

In order to earn a living , Hanef became a sociology tutor at the University of Cardiff, and later, a human rights lawyer with a local firm of attorneys.

In the lifetime he spent in Cardiff, Hanef travelled throughout the UK drumming up support for the struggle against apartheid. He addressed major conferences on the opposition to apartheid, including addressing the UN committee on the Boycott Apartheid movement.

Hanef’s work in the Waam led to him being awarded an OBE by England’s Queen in 2003, in recognition of his “services to race relations, the Wales Anti- Apartheid Movement, and the charity and voluntary sector”.

He accepted this award on behalf of the thousands of members and volunteers of Waam.

Here in South Africa, in 2009, the Gandhi Development Trust presented Hanef with a Satyagraha award for his “contribution to the struggle for freedom in South Africa”.

Scathing of corruption

Characteristically, in his acceptance speech, he was scathing in his criticism of corruption and lack of the delivery of services, as well as the jostling for power and patronage among comrades.

He was also critical of the many individuals who became extremely wealthy as beneficiaries of BEE, but did not give back some of their wealth to the communities from which they came.

Hanef viewed his involvement in the struggle as being of service to the poor and marginalised in the country. He was a humble, caring person, a committed revolutionary, a socialist and internationalist, a freedom fighter and fearless champion for the cause of social justice.

His political education, practical work and thinking influenced a whole generation of activists in London, Dublin, Wales, Mumbai and here in South Africa.

Hanef’s contribution not recognised 

Sadly, Hanef’s contribution, vital in the third pillar of the struggle against apartheid viz international boycott and isolation of the apartheid regime, has not been given due recognition in the country of his birth.

This was as a result of his strident criticism and talking truth to power.

The greatest tribute one can pay to Hanef is to emulate the ideals that he stood for, celebrate his life and continue the struggle. Hamba Kahle Comrade Hanef.

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