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Another variation of the truth……

December 6, 2013

Inspired by @patmurphybbc , Luke Williams @interiorporn Tweets and Norman Tebbit on #R4 The World at One today Dec 06/13.

#Nelson Mandela’s death was always going to trigger a massive outpouring of grief given his monumental personal triumph over adversity whilst retaining a humility that belied his powerful influence as the most recognised African in the world .

In the huge Twitter response that reflected both admiration for Mandela and anger with his former detractors and revisionist commentators I noticed my friend Luke William’s suggestion that the moment was not appropriate for anything other than grief.

The point was well made, and knowing Luke, I have no doubt sincerely intended to discourage needless recrimination at a moment of celebratory outpouring of grief.

So the matter would have rested when @patmurphybbc pointed out the courage and prescience of a small group of voices forty years ago that stood against the then general public opinion and voiced opposition to the apartheid regime that existed in South Africa an it’s relationship with “sport”  which sought to proliferate the view that “sport was not political”.

Tweet:*Remembering brave men such as John Arlott,Mike Brearley,Rev David Sheppard & Peter Hain tonight when assessing sport’s impact on apartheid and added in a second  response to @spiritofswanton 1/2 And let’s not forget the rugby player John Taylor refusing to go on the Lions’ tour to SA in ’74.Or Peter Lever  2/2 refusing to play for the Duke of Norfolk’s XI v the 1960 South African tourists soon after the Sharpeville atrocity.

I am indebted to Pat Murphy, who I know only through our mutual village cricketing experiences at Sheepscombe, for bravely reminding any revisionists that some people remember how ghastly the racist sympathy was in Britain in 1970 which endorsed Rugby and Cricket tours with “white” South Africa, whilst Mandela was incarcerated in Roben Island as “a terrorist” and not the vaunted freedom fighter who resisted the repressive apartheid of white South Africa.

Such was Pat Murphy’s accurate reminder that I feel the need to recall my own humble contribution before too many others try to rewrite history or diminish how anyone opposing apartheid was marginalised.

Having arrived in Bournemouth in 1969 to orchestrate the opposition to the closure of Bournemouth School of Architecture by the then Education Minister Margaret Thatcher I became involved with a student group attached to the Bournemouth Art College who formed an Anti-Apartheid group to oppose the 1970’s White South African Rugby Association tour of Britain.

Stop the Seventies Tour

I recall picketing the Dormey Hotel in Ferndown where the  South African Rugby players were staying and training . I have the vaguest memory of being accused of destroying the training ground which was never proved and which caused great animosity.

It was at or about this time invited by Southern Television to attend their Southampton Studios to take part in a live discussion about apartheid in South Africa.

Peter Hain , based in London and the national representative of the Anti-Apartheid League could not make the appointment and I deputised as his “stand in”. The two other panellists were Liberal MP ,John Pardew and someone called Enoch Powell who in the preamble before”going live” was charm personified.

Matters changed as we went “on air”, each gave our account until ,( and I give you my oath I am not making this up), I slipped off my seat when I challenged Enoch Powell with “Why was the entire “make-up” of the South African side comprised of white players? His response delivered with a straight face ….”It was a coincidence“.

Regaining my composure I challenged his logic , shamelessly he repeated  his assertion . Such was my first public encounter with entrenched racism and the man that gave us probably the most irresponsible allusion that “blood would flow like the Tiber” in Britain.

In subsequent years I participated in marches through Brixton and the East End with Tom Robinson and Rock against Racism  and was vilified by National Front and many “middle Englanders” in the neighbourhoods we paraded through.

My own opposition to racist South Africa was directly due to my mother who had a friend at teacher training college driven under physical threat of violence from South Africa for showing empathy with black South African children ; white South Africa was brutally repressive and until international sanctions and fear of Mandela and his fellow ANC brought about his release, township raids and massacres such as Sharpeville were the commonplace experience of black South Africans.

I thank Pat Murphy once more, not for spoiling the tributes and reverential outpouring, but for reminding our nation it was not an easily won campaign and many people both politicians and ordinary individuals  in Britain were often abused and demonised for speaking out against racial injustice  .

One wonders what the dignified Basil d’Olivera would have achieved had he and generations of black cricketers enjoyed the freedom to “walk to the middle” in South Africa without reference to race .

Basdil d’Oliveria like NelsonMandela both rose above  bitterness and raised the bar of human dignity by example .

I haven’t forgotten their journey . We should not forget or romanticise the injustice.

Steve Tomlin.

Dec 06 /13 corrected

Asthall Leigh

I am aware Basil d’Oliveria was described in the context of contemporary SA as “coloured” an offensive euphemism to allow white SA an ” excuse” to justify the margins of their corrupt apartheid.

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