Pat on the Jack
The last two noseweek covers have been great. You’ve definitely got the right guy in Dr Jack.
Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro)
I was upset to read “Pulped Fiction” concerning Sir Bob Hepple QC FBA in nose69. Issues concerning truth and suppression in the media in South Africa are never an easy matter.
Sir Bob has clout. He was formerly Dean and Head of Law at University College London. In addition he is Emeritus Master of Clare College and Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Cambridge, England. He is a Barrister at Blackstone Chambers, London.
It was upsetting to read that the book South Africa: The First Man, The Last Nation by my friend RW Johnson has been withdrawn from bookshops and pulped, following an out-of-court settlement on behalf of Sir Bob QC.
The point at issue, according to your article, is that “Johnson said (wrongly)” that in his previous incarnation as a South African in the 1960s, Hepple had “agreed to testify for the prosecution [at the Rivonia trial]”.
Let me give my recollection of the perception among my colleagues from those days.
During the Rivonia Trial I was editor in Johannesburg of the underground newspaper of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Freedom Fighter. Arrests in July 1964 finished off the newspaper after only three issues. My liaison with the Umkhonto High Command was through Hilda Bernstein, whose husband Rusty was one of the accused in the Rivonia Trial. A separate agency headed by Norma Kitson, printed the newspaper. Norma’s husband David was a member of the second tier of the high command.
I later served two years in Pretoria Prisons (1965-67) following my conviction as a member of the SACP. Among my prison colleagues were three members of the central committee – Bram Fischer, Ivan Schermbrucker and Eli Weinberg – two of whom (Fischer and Schermbrucker) had had responsibilities relating to Umkhonto. Denis Goldberg, a leading member and an accused in the Rivionia Trial serving a life sentence, was also a fellow prisoner, as was David Kitson, then serving a 20-year sentence for his membership of the high command. So too was your columnist, Harold Strachan.
Fellow prisoners and I believed that Bob Hepple had left South Africa under a cloud. Having been arrested in connection with the Rivonia trial, the perception was that he was spirited out of the country by the underground apparatus of the ANC/SACP in order to avoid his giving evidence for the prosecution in one or more political trials.
Subsequent to his marriage in London to my sister Beverley, Nandhagopal Naidoo told me that he too had left the country illegally, after the prosecution case against him evaporated when Hepple left the country. Naidoo was accused of having received military training abroad as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
It should not be difficult to recover the records of the prosecution case against Naidoo, and the prosecution records relating to the Rivonia trialists should also be available for study. This would settle the issue of what Bob Hepple did or did not undertake in relation to the prosecution of political trials in South Africa during the period 1963-65.
The suppression of Johnson’s book is extremely serious. It was one of very few books written by an informed South African with a proven record of hostility to the apartheid regime while still critical of the practice and history of the ANC and the SACP.
I am surprised that Paul Trewhela did not contact me for my side of the story before writing to you. I should be glad to send him an offprint of “Rivonia: The Story of Accused No.11”, which I wrote in 1964 (and which was recently published in UCT’s Social Dynamics vol.30, summer 2004).
It was false and defamatory for Mr Johnson to accuse me of treachery and/or betrayal of my comrades in the Rivonia Trial. Shortly before the first indictment was quashed, the prosecution announced that I was being released and that they intended to call me as a state witness. I immediately contacted Bram Fischer and with his help and that of other comrades I escaped from South Africa. The circumstances in which I made a statement to the security police under the pressure of solitary confinement, psychological abuse and continuous interrogation, were well-known to my fellow-accused and to their legal advisers.
Both during my detention and after my release., they were never left in any doubt that I had no intention of testifying for the state. Had I been called to the witness box I would have refused to testify. The lucky chance of being released allowed me to leave the country and, so avoid being called as a witness. Walter Sisulu wrote to me, shortly before he was sentenced in 1964, to say that the description of me as a traitor “certainly did not reflect my views about you.” More recently, Ahmed Kathrada, another co-accused, stated: “Advocate Hepple has been a worthy friend and comrade, and I had no reason to doubt his integrity.”
In a personal letter to me Mr RW Johnson has offered his sincere apologies and has stated that he “was obviously completely wrong”.
I should add, in view of Mr Trewhela’s hearsay allegations, that I have no knowledge whatsoever of Mr Nandhagopal Naidoo or of the circumstances of his trial or release.
Your articles “Frankenflora” (nose68) and “Weeds for the world” (nose69) put forward a compelling point-of-view – a view that epitomises those who wish to keep the world more-or-less exactly as it is/was. I call it the preservationist approach.
Conservationists, on the other hand, try and manage the world to allow for continuing evolutionary changes – who knows, maybe the “Frankenflora” is just one such example!
People have been responsible for plant introductions globally for perhaps the last 10,000 years. There is reason to speculate that our classic African monospecific baobab is in fact a “manuport” from Madagascar. Many plants we once considered “indigenous” are most certainly aliens – both in the sense of “Frankenflora”, and because they are manuports that have naturalised.
There are now other points-of-view emerging that take into account changes that we, Homo sapiens var “technocratensis” have vastly accelerated, putting the evolutionary clock into overwind – and there is no going back. Change is being forced on us globally and we need to embrace and digest some of the huge implications of modern discoveries and technological advances.
We are tasked with having to deal with a world that is verging on the Anthropocene – an epoch in the Earth’s evolutionary history when the predicted sixth global extinction will occur (the last being the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago): a future global extinction of a kind and magnitude previously unknown in the Earth’s geological history – and one created by the activities of a single species, Homo sapiens. I fear the preservationists are tied too tightly to the now obsolete concept of protected area conservation to have noticed.
There are far too few people able to recognise the harm we are doing to the planet and who are aware of the impending disaster! There is no “protected area”. Small incidents of genetic mixing may be fun to highlight, but there are much bigger global issues for noseweek to fry.
Biodiversity & Conservation Biology Dept,
University of the Western Cape
Hey, all we did was discover another one of those curious and delightful ironies of life. And, in passing, prick the earnest rectitude with which Kirstenbosch and the Botanical Society seek to make a buck. Serious as the issues you raise no doubt are, humour is as essential for the survival of the species – even if it is only padkos for the journey to Doomsday. Try some. – Ed.
I much appreciated your reports on the lot of the Botswana bushmen. In nose69 you refer briefly to BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson’s comment on the situation.
Your readers should know that Simpson’s weekly column appears on the BBC’s website – the world’s most widely read news site. And that he, too, has now declared that he believes, despite the denials of De Beers and the Botswana government, that the Bushmen were evicted from the Central Kalahari because of diamonds.
“I used not to believe that this was the real cause, but now I have changed my mind,” he says in his column. “Somehow, it is too much of a coincidence that so much wealth lies under the land of so few Bushmen.”
The full text of Simpson’s column on the Bushmen can be found at: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4480883.stm – Ed
Your Kenyan report about GM sweet potatoes (nose70) gives an idea of the power of Monsanto. Paying bribes is a small price for eventual control of a market. Once you have control you can manipulate the price of seed. That way you control the level of earnings of entire populations, keeping them perpetually in debt and unable to participate freely in the market.
As to sustainable development, a number of these multinationals’ claims are false. When they’re accepted by governments after bribes or whatever, bang goes the genetic diversity that has allowed for millennia of successful cultivation. If one specific type of crop falls prey to bug or disease or drought, then another in a neighbouring area would prove resistant, therefore allowing the populations a chance to survive.
See “Rammed down our throats” on page 22. – Ed.
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Chris D Binnington
MD: Legal Protection Services,
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