Peter Hain: the making of a 'traitor'

The 'Orwellian' world of apartheid, in which both his parents were banned, set Peter Hain on a journey from Pretoria Boys' High to the House of Lords

29 July 2018 - 00:00 By Ray Hartley

When Peter Hain was 16, he found himself on a ship leaving Cape Town for England. His parents, Walter and Adelaine, were going into exile following severe harassment by the apartheid security forces.
Hain's childhood had been split between two worlds. He attended a school in the heart of the establishment - Pretoria Boys' High, whose badge included an ox wagon. But at home, he was drawn into the world of anti-apartheid politics where his parents, who would both be banned for their involvement in the Liberal Party, were enemies of the state.
"We used to hold parties in our living room for diplomats, for ambassadors, so they could meet black activists they hadn't had a chance to meet otherwise - a lot of them in the ANC, which was banned by then," says Hain.But they were parties with a twist. After his mother was served with a banning order preventing her from attending meetings, the parties went on, but she would stay out of the living room.
"Next door was the kitchen and she used to sit on her own in the kitchen and I used to take the ambassadors, as I was directed by my dad, one by one to see her."
"Kafkaesque?" I ask. "Orwellian," Hain replies.
The absurd, sometimes brutal, methods the security police employed to control opposition were sometimes darkly comic.
When his mother was ordered to desist from communist activities, she replied: "I'm not a communist and I don't know what you mean. Tell me what I shouldn't be doing."
Hain says: "The answer was effectively: 'You know what you shouldn't be doing.' They didn't explain anything at all."
The absurdity mounted when his father was also banned. A clause in the banning orders prohibited one banned person from conversing with another.
"They inserted special clauses in their banning orders - my mom's was an addendum to hers, brought to the door by a burly special branch guy - giving them exceptional permission to talk to one other banned person."
In Hain's other life, he was just another kid on the playing fields of Pretoria Boys' High.
With his parents gathering notoriety, you would have expected Hain to have been the target of his fellow white pupils.
A SPLIT LIFE
"I only had a few run-ins with other boys calling me a communist occasionally. That didn't happen very often. I was very fortunate because a number of the teachers were privately very sympathetic.
"I had this split life of, on the one hand, just a normal white South African upbringing of sport and school and friends and so on and, on the other, a completely abnormal one co-existing alongside each other where we had black friends coming to our house, through the front door, as one put it. He had never been through the front door of a white man's house before.
"My close friends knew that we had a completely different relationship to the African majority to their own. And we didn't have any problem with their parents either. Their parents kept a distance."
The biggest disruption occurred among his close relatives. "My mom's older brothers - particularly her elder brother - cut her off completely and the same more or less happened on my dad's side."
Hain would gain notoriety himself with the white establishment.
Just 15 years old, he spoke at the funeral of John Harris, who had been hanged for bombing Johannesburg railway station. The bomb had injured 23 people and killed 77-year-old Ethyl Rhys.
Although the Hains strongly opposed the bombing, they lent their support to his widow, Ann.
Hain was thrown into the limelight. "Reading the address at the funeral, which my dad had written with John's wife, Ann, and my mom, was not something I expected to do. It happened at the last minute."
INTOLERABLE HARASSMENT
When the harassment became intolerable, the Hains left South Africa for exile in London.
"I was mad keen on sport, so when my younger brother and I arrived in Britain in 1966, the first weekend we went off to see the football team we supported, Chelsea. My mom and dad went on a nuclear disarmament march."
As he grew older, he joined them in London's thriving Anti-Apartheid Movement.Hain would add to his notoriety by striking at the heart of apartheid culture.
The England cricket team were set to tour South Africa over the summer of 1968-69. One of the team's shining stars was the South Africa-born Basil D'Oliveira, who had left to play abroad because only white players could be selected for the national side.
The English cricket authorities initially left D'Oliveira out of the team after striking an astonishing deal with South Africa to avoid embarrassment. When an English player was injured, they relented and included D'Oliveira.
The response from South Africa's prime minister, BJ Vorster, was outrage. "He said this was the team of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and banned the tour."
What angered Hain was the English decision, barely four months later, to invite the South African cricket team to tour the country.
"In January 1969, the MCC announced that the South Africans were being invited in 1970 despite being massively insulted. It was as if nothing had happened - 'You're welcome, boys'."
Hain, a member of the Young Liberals, issued a statement saying the tour would be stopped by direct action. "I didn't think I was going to be the leader of it, I was only 19 at the time."
But he was once more in the thick of it as the leader of the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign.
Their first target was the Springbok rugby tour of 1969-70, which was heavily disrupted.
The cricket tour was next. "It would have been completely wrecked, there would have been hundreds and thousands protesting. There were a couple of guys whose aunts had a flat overlooking Lord's. They were model-airplane enthusiasts. They were literally going to buzz the ground," says Hain.
The cricket tour was called off.
Years later, Hain would discuss the campaign with Nelson Mandela, then still on Robben Island and, in those days, with restricted access to the news."He told me the story about how they knew about the Stop the Seventy Tour protests. They knew about them although there was a news blackout at that stage.
"He knew about the rugby protests because the white warders - rugby fanatics to a man - were absolutely infuriated and kept talking about the 'betogers' [protesters]. They talked about 'that bastard Hain', but they blamed Mandela. They blamed them for wrecking the Springbok tour as if they had orchestrated it from Robben Island. Of course they knew nothing about it."
To many white South Africans, Hain became "public enemy No1".
"People kept saying in South African newspapers: 'He's a traitor.'"
Hain has just released Mandela - His Essential Life.
Why yet another Mandela book?"I wanted to write a book that you could just pick up and read over a weekend, on a long plane journey or in a relaxed way, rather than thinking you really have to work at it."
Hain believes that in the era of the strongman - Donald Trump in the US, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China - "Mandela stands as an absolutely stark contrast to this. Somebody who was very tough but compassionate, a people's president. I'm not setting him up as a saint because I don't believe there are any saints in the world, but he is a real example of how you should try to live your life, particularly if you're in a leadership role."
Hain's take on Mandela is that he honed his leadership skills in prison.
"He matured as a leader and, I think, deepened his understanding and strategy of how the country could be transformed.
"Everybody who knew him beforehand said he did change a lot in prison. He became perhaps less arrogant, more humble, with more of a sense of humility, a stronger leader, a much better leader.
"What might have happened if he'd become president or prime minister in the early '60s instead of going into jail? Would he have been as effective a leader as he was? I think probably the answer is no."
Mandela's global image was boosted by international calls for his release.
"There was a conscious decision by the Anti-Apartheid Movement to make Nelson Mandela the figurehead and to rescue his role as a leader, which had faded in international understanding to the point where he'd almost disappeared."
These efforts culminated in the 1988 concert at Wembley Stadium to celebrate Mandela's 70th birthday.
Not all of England's politicians wanted Mandela freed.
"There are a sizable number of Conservative MPs in the British parliament who actually used to wear 'Hang Nelson Mandela' badges. As we were elevating him in public recognition, they were countering, trying to push back against us.
"I don't think any of us thought he'd be out of prison two years later. That was just unimaginable".PIVOTAL MOMENT
Mandela's release was a pivotal moment for Hain.
"We saw it on TV. I was sitting in London with my mom and dad and until that moment, you couldn't believe that it was actually going to happen."
Hain's own political career flourished in England. After electoral defeats in 1983 and 1987, he was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Neath in 1991. When Labour took power in 1997, he joined the government, eventually serving as the minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, bringing him close to South Africa and Mandela on many occasions.In 2015, Hain was awarded the title Baron Hain of Neath and has since been Lord Hain.
These days, the Mandela brand is under fresh assault, this time from radical voices who say the deal he concluded to end apartheid was weak and has failed to deliver change to the lives of the poorest.Hain remains Mandela's defender.
"My view is this: I think people drastically underestimate the power imbalance that there was between the white state and the ANC. Obviously, it had got to the point where the white state realised that the game was up, but it was still very powerful. It still had the army, the police and the security services and the wealth behind it.
"I do not believe that, broadly speaking, any other transition was possible at the time. Nor do I think it would have happened without Mandela and his close comrades, who were just an extraordinary, extraordinary generation."
Hain paints a picture of what would have happened if the "quasi-revolutionary change of the kind that some critics now seem to be advocating" had taken place in the early 1990s.
"In retrospect, you'd have had a massive economic collapse, an exodus of capital, a drying up of foreign investment, an exodus of whites taking their skills with them.
"Look at what happened when the Portuguese left Mozambique and Angola when fascism was overturned in Portugal. It was very quick, it was not negotiated. They just left. They took their skills with them, their capital. These two countries descended into a bitter civil war that went on for decades. And they still haven't recovered from it. Mozambique is still haunted by it."
Hain agrees that economic change hasn't been "anything like radical or deep enough".
He says: "It's extremely difficult to run a progressive government under the umbrella of the neoliberal global economy. There's been a massive amount of change. It's not deep enough and I don't think you can blame Mandela for that."
Hain blames the Jacob Zuma years, "the big elephant in the room, which corrupted the Mandela legacy and betrayed it and has done massive seismic damage to the South African economy, society and culture, from which Cyril Ramaphosa is trying to rescue it".SIMPLISTIC SLOGANEERING
South Africa is "very badly damaged" and he is concerned about "trying to deepen economic transformation with a zero growth economy".
He says: "It's not easy to redistribute wealth. You end up redistributing poverty if you're not careful. I think there's a lot of simplistic sloganeering going on."He was scheduled to participate in a debate on the Mandela legacy. "Maybe I'll be shouted down as a white British lord, defending the status quo," he says.
Hain has never been far from controversy and a new one has flared over his business relationship with businessman Zunaid Moti, who has connections with Zimbabwe's elite.The Mail&Guardian reported: "Moti is no stranger to scandal. Most recently, Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for him and several associates. They were wanted for fraud in Lebanon, after a mining deal with a Russian businessperson went sour. Although these arrest warrants were confirmed in a South African court in August last year, Moti says they have been withdrawn. Neither Interpol nor the South African Police Service responded to requests to confirm this."
Hain dismisses the allegations and defends Moti: "All of that stuff has been rebutted comprehensively. He never went to Lebanon. He got involved in a dispute with a Russian where the Russian was actually the one in the wrong. He's the largest foreign investor in Zimbabwe, he's created 1,500 jobs rising to 2,000 and beyond in [Midlands province] which is just jobless and poverty stricken."
Controversy also flared over Moti's sponsorship of an exhibition to mark the centenary of Mandela's birth.
"I was pleased to have that sponsorship because the exhibition is free to visitors [thanks to] the sponsorship of the Moti Group, Anglo American, Old Mutual, Rothschild. "If I thought there was anything dodgy about the Moti Group I would have had nothing to do with them. I wouldn't have become an adviser. I did my due diligence."

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