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Via @gwallter

Of all the Great Causes we pursued back in our days of hope in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was only one that came to an unambiguously good end: the abolition of apartheid in South Africa.  Wales was blessed with one of the most active Anti-Apartheid Movement organisations anywhere, and the cause united large numbers of people, across the multi-sect Labour Party, the Liberals, Plaid Cymru and almost everyone except Margaret Thatcher’s Tories.  (There were plenty of reasons to detest what Thatcher stood for, and still are, but it was her determined support for the apartheid regime that made her a special object of contempt for us.)

One of the fundraising (and consciousness raising) events begun in those days was the sponsored ten mile Soweto Walk, arranged by the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement to keep in memory the massacre in the township of Soweto, Johannesburg on 16 June 1976, when police shot dead 176 black children and students protesting against the compulsory introduction of Afrikaans into their schools.  The Walk became an annual June event, and today, after a break of a few years, we’ve joined it again.

The route is always the same.  We start from King George’s Field at St Donat’s, walk down to the Wales Coast Path, follow it past Atlantic College and the lighthouses at Nash Point, and then leave it to take a path up the little wooded valley to the village of Monknash.  Our destination is the Plough and Harrow, the seventeenth century whitewashed inn where beer is served straight from the barrel.  We take over the front garden of the pub for an hour or so.  Old T-shirts and badges see the light of day, old friendships are renewed, and photos are taken.  Then we retrace our steps – or in some cases (but never ours) take the short-cut back along the road.

There’s only ever been one controlling mind behind WAAM (now ACTSA Wales/Cymru: Action for Southern Africa), that of Hanif Bhamjee.  His title has always been ‘Secretary’ – but definitely not in the sense of ‘minute taker’.  Hanif’s recently been very seriously ill in hospital, and although he’s home and making a good recovery he’s not fit enough to walk with us today.  But he greets us at the start, joins us at the café half way along, and again at the Plough and Harrow.

When we first came on the Soweto Walk large numbers would take part, and a coach would bring supporters from Cardiff, where we lived.  Today there are no coaches: numbers have dwindled.  Some have died, and others moved away.  But there are enough – around twenty, old and young – to make a good band of coast walkers, changing interlocutors as we go.  One or two people we’ve not seen for years, and it’s great to catch up on news.  We stop for tea in the café and arrive at Monknash for a pint and lunch, having escaped rain on the way.  More photos, and then the hard core walkers, led by Iain Campbell, the Soweto Walk’s organizer, return along the cliff path, stopping to rest on the sloping platform above the sea outside Atlantic College.

One of the recipients of the funds raised by the Soweto Walk is the J.L. Dube High School in KwaMashu township, on the outskirts of Durban.  In 2007 we went to South Africa, stayed in Durban and visited the school.  The Principal, Sipho Makwaza, gave us a tour and introduced us to the teachers and students.  It was a day to remember.  We met Hanif’s brother, Yusuf, then an MP in the South African Parliament, and his family in Pietermaritzburg (and saw him again beside Hanif’s hospital bed earlier this year).

Anyone who visits South Africa will see almost at once that though majority rule arrived 24 years ago there are still enormous divisions in society, and a huge economic gap between the wealthy few and the majority of the people.  Though people have benefitted from the actions of ANC governments since 1994, they still lack many of the basic necessities of life taken for granted by the privileged, like decent housing and sanitation, good education and social services.  There are many reasons for Action for Southern Africa to continue to exist.

The story of WAAM is a remarkable one, and Hanif has been writing it for years, drawing on the huge archive he’s amassed, divided between that part he donated to the National Library of Wales and the remainder, still in his possession.  There’s no one else remotely qualified to tell the story of Wales’s part in the struggle to end apartheid, and we all hope his book will soon be published.