On Thu, 17 Jan 2019 18:30:32 +0200, Steve Hayes
Post by Steve Hayes
Anti-apartheid activist and award-winning author Hugh Lewin dies
Hugh Lewin, 1939–2019, RIP
JANUARY 17, 2019 JENNIFER MALEC
The Johannesburg Review of Books
Journalist, author and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Lewin has died,
Lewin passed away at his home in Killarney, Johannesburg yesterday.
Born in Lydenburg in 1939, to English missionary parents, Lewin
attended Rhodes University before beginning his journalistic career at
the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg. He also worked at Drum magazine
and Golden City Post in Johannesburg.
In July 1964, when he was twenty-four years old, Lewin was sentenced
to seven years in prison for his activities in the African Resistance
Movement, a small group of activists that executed acts of ‘protest
sabotage’ against the apartheid state, targeting, as Lewin wrote in
his 2011 memoir Stones Against the Mirror, victims ‘made of metal and
concrete, not flesh and blood’.
Lewin served the full term of his sentence in Pretoria, before leaving
South Africa on a ‘permanent departure permit’ in December 1971.
During his years in prison, Lewin secretly recorded his experiences
and those of his fellow inmates in the pages of his Bible, and on his
release these writings were published in London in 1974 as Bandiet:
Seven Years in a South African Prison. Hailed as a classic of prison
writing, the book remained banned in South Africa for many years,
until it was published by David Philip in 1989.
Lewin spent a decade in exile in London, where he worked as an
information officer of the International Defence and Aid Fund and as a
journalist for The Observer and The Guardian, followed by another ten
years in Zimbabwe, where he became a founding member of the Dambudzo
Marechera Trust, before returning to South Africa in 1992. He took up
the post of director of the Institute for the Advancement of
Journalism in Johannesburg and founded Baobab Press. He was also a
member of the Human Rights Violations Committee of the South African
Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In 2003, he was awarded the Olive Schreiner Prize for his memoir,
republished in South Africa, with the addition of new material, as
Bandiet out of Jail.
In 2012, Lewin won the Alan Paton Award for Stones Against the Mirror,
with the judges described the book as ‘a beautifully written and
intensely personal story of friendship, betrayal and struggle’.
Nadine Gordimer called Stones Against the Mirror ‘a book that was
waiting to be written’, adding:
‘There have been many accounts of life in the active struggle against
the apartheid regime but this one is a fearless exploration into the
deepest ground – the personal moral ambiguity of betrayal under brutal
interrogation – actual betrayal of the writer by the most trusted
associate and closest friend; and the lifetime question of whether one
would have betrayed that same friend under such circumstances,
oneself. Hugh Lewin is the man to have faced this with the courage of
a fine writer. Unforgettable, invaluable in facing now the ambiguities
of our present and future.’
In addition to his non-fiction, Lewin was also the author of the Jafta
series of children’s books and the young adult novels Picture That
Came Alive and Follow the Crow.
In one of his final public appearances, last February, Lewin was
honoured at St John’s College in Johannesburg, which he attended from
1948 until 1957, and whose school history block is now named after
Read Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Foreword to Bandiet out of Jail:
Quite often in the public hearings of the Truth & Reconciliation
Commission I remarked that the revelations of a spirit of forgiveness
led us into the presence of something holy. I used to say that we were
standing on holy ground and should metaphorically remove our shoes. In
South Africa we are blessed by some truly remarkable people of all
races, and each one is a person of extraordinary nobility of spirit.
Many were involved in the struggle against apartheid and they paid a
very heavy price for that involvement.
One such is Hugh Lewin, whose passionate commitment to justice and
freedom led him to oppose injustice and oppression with every fibre of
his being. For this he paid a heavy price: seven and a half years of
incarceration and twenty-one years in exile. This book describes what
happened to him and his associates in apartheid’s jails and his
encounters with the dreaded Security Branch. Some readers might feel
that he is exaggerating when describing the methods of the police,
that torture was rare, indulged in only by what some political leaders
were to tell the TRC were ‘bad apples” the exceptions in a Force that
otherwise behaved impeccably. Hugh Lewin went through sheer hell and
emerged, not devastated, not broken, and not consumed with bitterness
or a lust for revenge. He amazed, he humbled with his gentleness, his
generosity of spirit, his willingness to forgive, when he could have
been otherwise, and made a telling contribution to the work of the TRC
as a member of its Human Rights Violations Committee. He is endowed
with ubuntu – humanness, the very essence of being human. He revea ls
another quality of many who suffered: a resilience that prevented him
and his fellow ‘politicals’ from going to pieces when they had the
stuffing knocked out of them. Instead, they staged plays and found
ways to beat the system and to laugh, even at themselves.
Enriched by Hugh’s reflections on postapartheid South Africa, this
book reveals again his way with words. He writes like a journalist who
is a poet. Or should that be the other way round? And his gentle wry
humour is a bonus.
This deeply moving account reminds us where we come from and how high
a price has been paid for our freedom. Let us cherish it.
Stephen Hayes, Author of The Year of the Dragon
Sample or purchase The Year of the Dragon:
Web site: http://www.khanya.org.za/stevesig.htm