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Jews and the struggle for human rights, "Alan Fine interview"

Alan Fine was born in Benoni in 1953. He joined the Progressive Party in 1971 and started attending National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and SRC demonstrations when he started university in 1972. After graduating with a degree in economics from the University of the Witwatersrand he worked as a trade unionist for the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union in the 1980s. He was detained without charge twice for his anti-apartheid activities. He was arrested a third time in 1981 and this time he was charged under the Terrorism Act and Internal Security Act. Fine spent a total of 14 months in custody, the first six months for interrogation purposes, before he was eventually acquitted. He continued to work for the trade union movement after his trial and then worked as a journalist covering the transition from apartheid to democracy before working for AngloGold Ashanti focussing on issues of sustainability and public policy. He is the associate director at the R& A Strategic Communications agency.

In this interview Alan Fine describes growing up in a Jewish family in Benoni and how the holocaust loomed large in the memory of his parents’ generation. He talks about some of the influences that led him towards liberal and then more left-wing politics. He discusses his time in the Habonim youth movement, being conscripted into the South African Defence Force and joining the Young Progressives. He explains his decision to resign from the Progressive Party in the wake of the Western Deep Levels shootings in 1973. Fine speaks about the research he conducted for the Wages Commission, a sub-committee of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the formation of the Industrial Aid Society, the resuscitation of the black trade union movement, and how he became involved in the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). He describes his parents’ attitude to his involvement in politics and talks about his stints in detention, including being interrogated by a former Wits SRC member who had been a campus spy. He discusses the circumstances leading to his arrest, the year he spent in custody charged under the Terrorism Act and Internal Security Act, his trial and eventual acquittal. He talks about continuing his trade union work after the trial and then working as a journalist, documenting the political transition from apartheid to democracy. He also talks about his relationship with Judaism, his position on Israel and his views on South Africa in the post-apartheid era [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer

Jews and the struggle for human rights, "David Lewis interview"

David Lewis was born in Klerksdorp in the North West Province in 1949. He received his training in economics from the universities of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town. After graduating he became involved in the trade union movement, he headed up the General Workers’ Union and was appointed national organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union. He was detained at the start of the meat workers’ strike in Cape Town in 1980 and spent three months in detention.
In 1990, he directed UCT’s Development Policy Research Unit, which specialises in trade and industrial policy. Between 1994 and 1996, he was special adviser to the Minister of Labour and co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Labour Market Policy. Later, he was a member of the task team that advised the Minister of Trade and Industry on the development of competition policy. Lewis participated in the drafting of the Competition Act, was a member of the Competition Board, and was appointed chairperson of the Competition Tribunal in 1999.
He was appointed an extraordinary professor at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and is the author of Thieves at the Dinner Table. In 2012 he became the executive director of Corruption Watch, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to combating corruption.

In this interview David Lewis talks about growing up in a liberal Jewish family in the conservative town of Klerksdorp in the North West Province. He describes his integration into opposition politics, how he became part of the “cultural left” at the University of the Witwatersrand and why he was drawn to the Wages Commission of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). He also talks about his time as a conscript in the South African Defence Force in 1967. Lewis reflects on his parents’ attitude to his involvement in opposition politics. He explains the different political factions of the developing labour movement and the role of the General Workers Union - and his own role as the general secretary, which involved recruiting African workers in Cape Town. He discusses the political environment of Cape Town in the 1980s, referring to the meat strike in the Western Cape in 1980 and his arrest 10 days after the strike was launched. He recalls the three months he spent in detention. Lewis talks about his work after the unbanning of the ANC, which included joining UCT’s Development Policy Research Unit, where he led the Industrial Strategy Project to determine the country’s economic policy. He also discusses his Jewish identity, his views on Israel and gives insight into the issues facing South Africa 26 years after democracy [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer

Jews and the struggle for human rights, "Janet Love interview"

Janet Love was born in Johannesburg in 1957 and attended King David Linksfield nursery school, King David Victory Park Primary School and King David Linksfield High School. She studied at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she was elected as a member of the Student Representative Council and was on the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) leadership on the campus. She was recruited into the ANC in 1975 and left the country at the end of 1977 after a number of anti-apartheid organisations were banned in October 1977. Love was meant to return to South Africa after 10 weeks but ended up staying for 10 years in exile, where she continued to work for the ANC and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). She was smuggled back into the country in 1987 as part of Operation Vula, which was to take forward the ANC’s mission to settle members of its leadership from exile within South Africa. Following her period in the underground structures, in 1991 Love was involved in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and other negotiations that were part of establishing the transitional arrangements that resulted in the first democratic elections in South Africa. She served as an ANC Member of Parliament from 1994 to 1999. She was part of the body responsible for creating the country’s constitution. She worked for the SA Human Rights Commission, the Legal Resources Centre and was appointed the vice-chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 2018.

In the interview Janet Love talks about her mother Dora Rabinowitz, who had been in the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland and her father Frank Love, a British soldier. They both came to South Africa in 1949. Love speaks about growing up in Johannesburg and going to a Jewish day school where she faced discrimination because her father was not Jewish. She talks about her reasons for becoming involved in the struggle for human rights in South Africa and her work in the Wits University Wages Commission, and provides an overview of its work.
Love talks about being recruited into the ANC, her role as a courier and taking an oath of allegiance to uMkhonto we Sizwe. She describes how she ended up going into exile and reflects on her time outside South Africa and the work she did in exile including within one of the anti-apartheid organisations in the Netherlands.
Love talks about coming back into South Africa as part of Operation Vula, outlining her role in the underground operation, and how she established an undercover identity and then, after receiving indemnity, her role in the transitional negotiations.
Love also describes her relationship with Judaism, her position on Israel and shares her views on South Africa 26 years after the transition to democracy [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer

Jews and the struggle for human rights, "Laurie Nathan interview"

Laurie Nathan was born in 1959 and grew up in Sea Point in Cape Town. He went to school at Weitzman Primary and SACS and then studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he completed business science and law degrees, followed by a Master’s in Philosophy at Bradford University's School of Peace Studies, and a doctorate from UCT.
Nathan became politically conscious at UCT and joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). He was elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC) as the education officer in 1979 and the following year became SRC president. He was a founding member of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), which opposed the system of compulsory military service for white men, and served as the organisation’s national organiser. The ECC was banned in 1988 and Nathan went into hiding to evade arrest. After the unbanning of the ANC he worked as a policy researcher, focusing on the legislative and policy dimensions of intelligence and defence transformation. He headed up the Centre for Conflict Resolution and became a senior mediation adviser to the United Nations and the African Union. He is based at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, where he is the directior of the mediation programme.

In this interview, Laurie Nathan talks about growing up in a liberal Jewish family in Cape Town and the three specific turning points in his life that led to his decision to become a fulltime political activist. He also explains how the formation of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) came about and reflects on the debates among the left around the issue of conscription into the South African Defence Force. He discusses the role of the ECC to mobilise the white community against apartheid and how it reached into the liberal sector of the white community for support in order to broaden its appeal. He also talks about being recruited into the ANC underground.
Nathan discusses his post-apartheid work as a policy researcher around security sector reform, focusing on the legislative and policy dimensions of intelligence and defence transformation. He discusses growing up with a Jewish sense of justice and hatred of injustice and talks about his “complicated” relationship with Judaism and his views on Israel. He also talks about the anger of the members of the Fallist Movement and reflects on post-apartheid South Africa that has gone from being a model democracy to a country in crisis [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer

Jews and the struggle for human rights, "Merle Favis interview"

Merle Favis was born in 1957 and grew up in the Johannesburg suburb of Dewetshof. She went to King David Linksfield High School and to Wits University, where she became involved in student politics. She joined the Wages Commission, a subcommittee of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). She graduated with an honours in industrial sociology and was appointed editor of the Durban-based South African Labour Bulletin. She was detained in connection with her anti-apartheid activities. She moved into the development field in the 1980s, working at the University of Natal Durban (UND) as the allocations officer for a small fund, then worked for Interfund, an international donor consortium, and continues to be a development activist. She is the co-director of Isibuko Sempilo Consulting, which promotes asset-based community development and financial sustainability planning with civil society organisations.

In this interview Merle Favis talks about going to King David High School during the 1970s where she was encouraged to question what was happening in South Africa and the world and the role of Jewish ethics as a force to push Jews into human rights struggles. She discusses her role as editor of the South African Labour Bulletin and her involvement in the labour movement, as well as the tension within the movement over support for the ANC. Favis also talks about Barbara Hogan’s Close Comrades’ list which was intercepted by the security police and the detentions that followed, including her own. Favis recounts her arrest and subsequent detention; the solidarity with the other detainees and the secret codes used to send messages to each other, as well as the emotional turmoil of being in detention. She talks about the negative response from the Jewish leadership and the broader Jewish community to her activism. She discusses her relationship with Judaism and shares her views on the difficulties facing South Africa in the current political environment [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer

Jews and the struggle for human rights, "Sue Rabkin interview"

Sue Rabkin was born in 1948 and grew up in Hampstead in North London. Her grandparents came to Britain from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. She met David Rabkin whose family had left South Africa in 1962 to live in England. Sue and David became involved in left-wing politics, joining the International Socialists and were recruited into the communist movement and the ANC. Sue and David got married and were sent by the ANC/SACP to South Africa to distribute movement propaganda. The unit, consisting of the Rabkins and Jeremy Cronin, was based in the Cape Town suburb of Clifton. After operating underground for four years the police arrested the trio in 1976. David Rabkin was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Cronin received an eight-year term and Sue Rabkin, who was pregnant, received a 12-month sentence, of which eleven months were suspended. Rabkin was released and deported to Britain where she continued her work for the liberation movement. Three years later she moved with her two children to Mozambique to rebuild the ANC underground in South Africa. David Rabkin was released in 1983 and joined the family in Mozambique. Two years later he was killed in a training exercise in Angola. After South Africa’s transition to democracy Rabkin worked with the Department of Defence, first in the civilian secretariat, and then as a special adviser to the minister - she advised three ministers in 12 years. She was appointed to the Denel Board in 2018 and serves on the ANC’s Integrity Commission.

In this interview Sue Rabkin talks about growing up in a left-wing Jewish family in London. She speaks about her experience volunteering for the Six-Day War in 1967. She recounts meeting David and being recruited into the communist movement and the ANC - and the training she received. Rabkin speaks about being sent to South Africa in 1972 as a member of the ANC with the mission to distribute SACP/ANC propaganda and set off leaflet bombs. She describes how the cell operated and the stress of working secretly in a dangerous political environment and how the security police cracked the unit. She talks about giving birth to her daughter Franny under prison guard in Pollsmoor Prison. She explains that after she was released from prison she lost all interest in Britain and realised her life was in South Africa. She reflects on her time in England working with the ANC and talks about typing Nelson Mandela’s autobiography that Mac Maharaj had smuggled out of Robben Island. She speaks about leaving England and being at the heart of the ANC’s political machinery in Mozambique, where she worked alongside Jacob Zuma. She talks about being reunited with David, and the family’s trauma of his accidental death. Rabkin reflects on her relationship with Zuma in Mozambique and her disillusionment when he was the president of South Africa. She talks about her children and her relationship with Judaism and explains why she is optimistic about South Africa’s future [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer

Jews and the struggle for human rights, "Taffy Adler interview"

Taffy Adler was born in 1950 and grew up in the eastern suburbs of Johannesburg. His parents were from Lithuania and arrived in South Africa in the early 1920s. His father was a communist and, for Adler, getting involved in opposition politics was a natural progression. After matriculating from Athlone Boys in 1967 he studied at the University of Witwatersrand where he joined the Human Rights Society, which was on the radical left of university politics. He also became involved with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), and was appointed the organisation’s local chairperson. He became president of the Student Representative Council (SRC) in 1971 and led the last legal march in Johannesburg and the first illegal march in Johannesburg.
Adler graduated from Wits and went to Sussex where he failed to earn a master’s degree, abandoning academic studies and an academic career for trade union organising. He returned to South Africa to lecture and then become a trade union organiser in the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), which was the predecessor to COSATU, and the National Union of Automobile Workers. He left the union movement in the late 1980s to set up the Land Investment Trust (LIT), and in 1994 set up the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC) – a social housing company providing affordable accommodation in reclaimed buildings in the Johannesburg Inner City, and then the Housing Development Agency, a state owned company acquiring land for development by various government agencies. He remains involved in various development projects.

In this interview Taffy Adler talks about growing up in a politicised Jewish family and the important influence his brother, David, who was banned for educational activism in 1977 as well as his aunt, Ray Harmel, who worked in the garment industry and was involved in trade union activity, had on him. He discusses his progression into opposition politics, his role in the student movement in the 1970’s and getting involved in the trade union movement from 1976. He describes the work he did as a union organiser and how the union movement developed in an environment that was politically hostile. He also provides insight into the relationship between the union and employers who started to recognise and work with the unions, and sometimes even sided with the union against the security police. He discusses how some of the unions began to make contact with the ANC and how COSATU started to move much more into the political arena. He describes his relationship with Judaism and his position on Israel and reflects on his experiences in opposition politics and how these experiences shaped him [Written by: Jonathan Ancer].

Jonathan Ancer