Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “dissidents”

Inside Quatro: ANC and Swapo prison camps

Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPOInside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO by Paul Trewhela
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s taken me nearly six years to read this book. It’s about prison camps run by the ANC and Swapo, mostly in Angola and Zambia, in which party dissidents were detained without trial, and sometimes tortured. The book consists mainly of essays reprinted from a publication called Searchlight South Africa edited by the author, Paul Trewhela, and his colleague Baruch Hirson, both of whom had been jailed for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa.

The articles, it seemed to me, varied greatly in quality, and that was one reason it took me so long to read it. Another reason was that there seemed to be no way of verifying the claims that are made, and so I didn’t really feel competent to write a review — so let anyone reading this review beware.

Some of the articles seemed factual, and thus believable, while others seemed to be much more tendentuious. The title, too, is misleading. It is not the exile history of the ANC and Swapo — that has yet to be written, or maybe it has been, but I haven’t seen it. There were some things I knew a bit more about — churches in Namibia, for example — but Trewhela dealt with a period after I had been deported from Namibia, and so was out of touch. But again, it did seem to be very patchy and incomplete. In part that is because of the nature of the material.The articles were all topical articles in a magazine, and so could not really be expected to provide a comprehensive history.

I was initially put off be a couple of the early articles, which had “Stalinist” in almost every paragraph, to describe the ANC. Paul Trewhela had been a member of the South African Communist Party, which was inclined to be Stalinist. He left it and became a Trotskyist, and I had read somewhere that many of the American Neocons who had pushed the US into war in the early years of the century had originally been Trotskyists, and some of the early essays seemed to lend support to that thesis. They seemed to be the kind of thing the National Party government would say to try to discredit the ANC and Swapo as “communist”. So I put the book aside, and only picked it up occasionally to read another of the essays.

The later ones generally seem better than the earlier ones, but there is no way of determining how accurate they are without a great deal of historical research, and that is the kind of research that I would prefer to leave to others. I’m interested in writing about periods that I do know something about, where I have at least some first-hand knowledge.

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The sheer lunacy of anti-gun control freaks

I’ve always thought that anti-gun control freaks were a bit nuts, but this takes the cake. Hat-tip to Mark Stoneman’s Clio and me. Did gun control in Australia lead to more murders there last year?:

In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated

The picture is utterly bizarre.

If dissidents in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany had had firearms and used them to resist arrest, most of them would have died sooner rather than later, and many more of them would have died.

If you want to avoid arrest in a totalitarian country, your best chance is to avoid or evade the police, not confront them, whether you are armed or not. And then try to skip across the border into a free(er) country, assuming there is one nearby.

I know something of this from personal experience.

Last week I got together with a friend, and we compared our police files from the apartheid era, which recently became available in the archives. We’re planning to write an article on memoiries of a surveillance society, based on the contents of the files, and comparing the fantasies of the Security Police and the Department of Justice with reality.

In my file I discovered that the Minister of Justice had signed a banning order for me on 11 January 1966. I never received it, so I didn’t know about it until I saw it in the file.

At the time I was working as a bus driver in Johannesburg, trying to save enough money to go and study overseas. On the afternoon of 18 January 1966, when I was about to go to work, I had a phone call from a Detective Sergeant van den Heever, asking if he could come and see me. I said I was about to go to work. He then asked if he could come and see me in the morning. I said I would be doing overtime in the morning, but said that I could go and see him between my overtime and my regular shift if he told me where I could find him.

I did not go to work, that afternoon, but went to see an Anglican priest friend, the student chaplain at the university, to tell him about this and ask his advice. We thought that Van den Heever would either be coming to confiscate my passport, or to give me a banning order, in which case I would not be able to study overseas. We decided that the wisest course would be to leave the country immediately.

So at 10:00 pm we set out for Beit Bridge and the Rhodesian border, which we crossed the next morning when the customs post opened at 6:00 am. The priest friend came to drive my mother’s car back. My mother arranged with a travel agent in Johannesburg for me to collect a plane ticket at Bulawayo, and I got on a plane in Bulawayo, and arrived in London two days later, on 20 January 1966.

Now imagine what would have happened if I had done what the gun nut above suggested.

Detective Sergeant van den Heever comes to my door with the banning order, and I have a gun and shoot him.

The SB (Security Police) usually went in pairs, and so I’d have to be pretty quick to shoot his buddy as well before he either overpowered me or shot me.

We lived in a block of flats, and at that time of day people would be arriving home from work, so the incident would probably be witnessed by other residents who would undoubtedly call the police, even if they didn’t know that the two bodies lying at the door of my flat were those of policemen in plain clothes.

So banning might be delayed, but arrest for a real crime would follow shortly. Then would follow a period of interrogation, with the possibility of slipping in the shower and falling through a 7th-floor window (defenestration). If that didn’t happen there would be an appearance in court, an open and shut case of murder, followed by hanging.


One bloke who was banned tried to follow the path of armed resistance. Not with firearms; he took a suitcase full of explosives and took it to Johannesburg station. It killed an old lady and disfigured her granddaughter. His name was John Harris. He was hanged on 1 April 1965.

Or, of course, one could use firearms. Go to Norwood police station (where, if my banning order had been delivered, I would have had to report every Monday between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm) and make like Columbine High School — shoot everyone in sight.

Ultimately, the result would be the same.

But the gun nuts who write stuff like that above are too stupid to see it.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps they would go into a school or a shopping mall and open fire on everyone in sight, and think that that would save them from the Gulag or whatever. Or they could join their likeminded buddies in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

So instead of saying idiotic things like “In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated”, let the gun nuts say exactly how having legal firearms would have prevented them from being rounded up and exterminated.

And if they feel so strongly about it, perhaps they could strike a blow for freedom and smuggle arms to all the poor dissidents cooped up in Guantanamo Bay.

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