Obituary: Randolph Vigne, liberal who tried sabotage, angered Alan Paton and had to flee apartheid

26 June 2016 - 02:32 By Chris Barron

Randolph Vigne, who has died in Canterbury, England, at the age of 87, was a founder member of the National Committee of Liberation, a militant anti-apartheid movement that was started in 1960 and committed acts of sabotage It became known as the African Resistance Movement.When student leader and fellow founder Adrian Leftwich was arrested in 1964 and word got out that he was talking, Vigne, who had been banned in 1963 and deprived of his passport, fled South Africa on board a Norwegian ship bound for Canada.He got a friend to book a berth and took his place at the last moment. Shortly afterwards his house in Cape Town was firebombed.He stayed with a cousin in Ottawa until the editor of The Spectator magazine for which he wrote arranged a temporary permit for him to enter Britain. He remained there for the rest of his life apart from annual summer visits to his home in Fish Hoek.In England he was a member of the national committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and worked with the International Defence and Aid Fund (Idaf) which paid the legal costs of anti-apartheid activists in South Africa and supported their families when they were jailed.Vigne worked hard to ensure that the fund was also used for activists opposing the Matanzima regime in Transkei, who were being sentenced to long jail terms by South African judges who, he said, showed "no compassion, no attempt to understand anything", and Namibians opposing South Africa's occupation of what was then South-West Africa.He met opposition from the SACP and ANC camp of which he was not part, and which had a tight grip on the Idaf.He had a good personal relationship with the founder of the Idaf, Canon John Collins, dean of St Paul's Cathedral. Vigne would solicit Collins's support while they walked round the small garden, known as Amen Court, at the back of the dean's residence, to avoid being bugged.Vigne had befriended many future leaders of the South-West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo) during a visits to Namibia ("like a giant prison for Africans", he described it) in the late '50s and early '60s, including the, leader Sam Nujoma.He worked closely with them when they arrived in London as exiles. In 1969 he advised them to open a Swapo office in London.In the early 1970s he started the Namibian Support Committee to lobby British parliamentarians and the UN for an end to South Africa's occupation and the creation of an independent Namibia.Vigne was born in Kimberley in 1928, grew up in Port Elizabeth and matriculated at St Andrew's College in Grahamstown. In 1946 he went to Oxford University.When he returned to South Africa he joined the Liberal Party, South Africa's first non-racial political party which was started in 1953. He became national deputy chairman and stood for the party in the 1961 general election.The party was committed to non-violence - its leader, Alan Paton, passionately so. Paton did not know that prominent members of the Liberal Party, including Vigne, were also secret members of the illegal ARM.When he sought an assurance from Vigne that he was not involved in any illegal activity, Vigne, who was closely involved in initiating ARM's campaign of bombing mostly electricity pylons, gave it to him.When the truth emerged, Paton accused him of betraying the party and the liberal cause in South Africa, and handing the government a weapon with which to destroy it.When Vigne fled the country Paton was scathing. "He used the force of his personality to persuade younger people to undertake sabotage and then left them to face the consequences," he wrote in 1965.Days after Vigne's hurried departure, ARM member John Harris planted a bomb at Johannesburg station which killed an elderly woman and severely injured others, including her granddaughter.The government gleefully exploited the connection between ARM and the Liberal Party, which never recovered.A year later party chairman Peter Brown was given a five-year banning order. He was quicker to forgive Vigne than Paton was. Vigne subsequently wrote a book about him.In the early 1960s Vigne worked with activists in Transkei opposed to the "independence" that KD Matanzima and the South African government were determined to impose on it.He was involved in the formation of the anti-independence Democratic Party which won the nominally autonomous region's first elections in 1963. However, only 45 of the 109 members in the regional parliament were elected. The rest were ex officio chiefs who supported Matanzima.Vigne was charged with trying to subvert the authority of the Transkei state Matanzima.In 1963 he was issued with a five-year banning order which he believed was linked to his activities in Transkei.In England he was a journalist and wrote books, including many about the Huguenots who left France in the 17th century. His ancestors were among them and he had an abiding passion for the subject.Other books included Liberals Against Apartheid; A Dwelling Place of Our Own, about the struggle for Namibian independence; The Transkei - A South African Tragedy; and, more recently, a biography of Thomas Pringle.When his father was dying of cancer in Port Elizabeth in the late 1960s, the local National Party MP offered to facilitate a visit for him. He said he didn't trust the Nats and didn't want their favours. As a result he never saw his father again.Vigne received the Order of Luthuli in silver from President Jacob Zuma in 2010 for his contribution to the struggle against apartheid.He is survived by his wife Gillian and two children.1928-2016

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.