The White Part of the Apartheid Struggle

Written by Jane Baffi


During oppressive struggles and environments a few key leaders emerge to organize and lead the masses in uprising to create change. During Apartheid in South Africa, there were many people standing behind Nelson Mandela in the fight for freedom. Most interestingly to me, were the whites standing behind him fighting for basic human rights. These men and women helped fight apartheid, all across the world, from South Africa to London to the United States, even though they did not have much to gain from the end of apartheid. Despite that, they were still fighting as if their lives depended on it. My interest in our class discussions in the fall prep class, our class discussions here in South Africa, and our visit to the Lillieleaf Farm in Johannesburg focused on the work these whites did for blacks in South Africa and why they were compelled to help.

Lillieleaf Farm was a secret meeting place for the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1960s. There were three main white people or operations, discussed at Lillieleaf Farm that significantly helped the ANC and blacks in South Africa. They were the Goldreich Family, Denis Goldberg, and The African Hinterland Operations.

Lillieleaf Farm was purchased using ANC funds but Arthur and Hazel Goldreich, and their children, provided the needed “acceptable family façade in the affluent white community of Rivonia” so the real purpose of the farm was not discovered by the police (Lillieleaf Museum 2017). Mandela said ‘Arthur’s presence provided a safe cover for our activities…his politics were unknown to the police and he had never been questioned or raided” (Lillieleaf Museum 2017).

Among the ANC activists that met at Lillieleaf farm was Denis Goldberg, a white man. He was a civil engineer from Cape Town, “a member of the South African Communist Party, and helped established the Congress of Democrats in 1953” (Lillieleaf Museum). After being arrested at Lillieleaf Farm during the raid of 1963, he was sent to Pretoria Central Prison, where white political prisoners were sent, for 22 years. After his release he continued to work for the ANC in London. In addition, he was one of the voices of Radio Freedom, an underground radio broadcast for the ANC.

My favorite part of the Lillieleaf Farm Museum was learning about the unsuspecting tourists that helped the ANC during apartheid. The “Africa Hinterland – African Overland Expeditions” were safari expeditions for tourists created by Rodney Wilkinson and the ANC designed to create a diversion so the ANC could smuggle weapons into South Africa. Six white European drivers from the United Kingdom and Holland were chosen to drive these safari trucks. The tourists were unaware of the arms and explosives located in hidden compartments of the Bedford trucks and “between 1986 and 1993 the operation made over 40 trips into South Africa, transporting about 500 tourists. On each trip the truck carried approximately a ton of AK-47s, pistols, limpet mines, grenades, explosives, and ammunition” (Lillieleaf Museum 2017). The police never knew of the weapons.

In our fall prep course, we discussed in detail the divestment movement of university students in the United States to help end apartheid. The basis of the divestment movement was for higher education establishments in the United States to pull their funds and essentially boycott South Africa. In Jackson’s (1898) dissertation at The Ohio State University titled The Student Divestment Movement: Anti-Apartheid Activism on U.S. College and University Campuses, states that although divestment protests started off week in the spring on 1985, by the organized anti-apartheid protest day on in April 1986, “more than one hundred campuses across the country” participated, and “more than 2,000 activist had been arrested to-date” (Jackson 1989 pg 10). The anti-apartheid divestment movement worked in the United States and was a significant movement that helped blacks in South Africa. I would love to be a student in the 1980s to better understand why these students, thousands of miles away, protested and rallied together to help end an oppressive environment, which they were not a part of or directly connected to.

In our class discussions here in South Africa we talked about how the Jews and Muslims helped in the anti-apartheid struggle even though they were given white privileges. We based our discussion on Feld’s (2010) article American Jews and the Struggle Over Apartheid. We discussed in this class what might inspire a Jew to help a black South African noting, at the time only 2% of the white population in South Africa was Jewish but 60% of the white anti-apartheid activists in South Africa were Jewish (Feld 2010). We discussed the similarities that the Jewish people went through during the Holocaust and how the empathy they feel towards black South Africans might factor into why they decided to help fight against apartheid.

In conclusion, the white anti-apartheid activists around the world, whether that be the white ANC activists involved in Lillieleaf Farms, the white university students protesting in the United States, or the Jewish people in South Africa fighting against apartheid, have interested me the most as I have continued to learn about apartheid. Why would they want to help when they are not involved or they are benefiting from the laws of apartheid? These questions can only be answered by the people that were there but as I return to the United States, I wonder how the struggles and oppression blacks, and other minority groups, feel in the United States today could be changed by whites stepping up and fighting back against the government.

Works Cited

Herd, M. (2010). American Jews and the Struggle Over Apartheid. Babson Faculty   Research Fund Working Papers. Paper 65.

Jackson, J. (2010). The Student Divestment Movement: Anti-Apartheid Activism On U.S. College and University Campuses. The Ohio State University.

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