Tony Holiday: One of many who fought for what is now being stolen
- Nel Marais
- 27 Sep 2016 01:15 (South Africa)
The ANC’s struggle against apartheid was never a military confrontation only. It consisted of four pillars – armed struggle and mass political struggle had to be used to defeat the enemy, but these actions depended on building ANC underground structures within the country, as well as a campaign for international support and assistance to the ANC and the isolation of the white minority regime.
In many ways the armed struggle component had the least impact on the mindset of political and security decision-makers in Pretoria. With the possible exception of the ANC’s Special Operations unit under the command of Joe Slovo, Motso Mokgabudi (aka Obadi), and Aboobaker Ismail (aka Rashid), the overall political impact of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the ANC’s military wing, was less than stellar.
However, this does not detract from the reality that many people within the ANC’s underground structures (military, political and intelligence work was mostly done by underground units) made enormous sacrifices to bring apartheid to a fall. Senior ANC friends, many of whom served in such underground structures and who lost numerous friends and family members during the struggle – some killed during armed operations, others murdered during their incarceration by the security forces – now openly question whether those personal sacrifices were worth it. They mention months in poorly-equipped training camps and other facilities in Angola, the time away from their spouses and children, weeks and months in solitary confinement, brutal interrogations, sometimes years in jail and the continuous uncertainty about their future.
One contact – who is now a senior official in government and whose family suffered greatly during the liberation struggle - remarked:
“Even during the most difficult days of the struggle, we had leaders like Oliver Tambo who provided us with a moral compass. We had the belief with us that our struggle was just and that the liberation of the oppressed masses was our sacred duty. And this was the nature of the ANC under Nelson Mandela and, to a certain degree, under Thabo Mbeki. But since [Jacob] Zuma took over, he has done nothing but denigrate the organisation and its values.’’
When asked about previous leaders of the ANC who had “reputational questions” hanging over their heads, he acknowledged that the former head of MK, Joe Modise, and some other individuals were corrupt, even before they entered the new government in 1994, but added that criminal networks had to be “engaged” to get MK units and weapons into South Africa and to exfiltrate new recruits. However, he insisted that the UDF leadership in South Africa in particular in many ways the ANC’s public manifestation while it was banned – and the ANC’s political leaders in exile never opposed apartheid for the sake of personal benefit. This, he said, only became the norm after ANC cadres realised that their president “was setting the example” and that cadre deployment was often little more than a handy excuse to divert money meant to service the poor into the accounts and pockets of a thieving elite who could act with impunity because of the protection – almost Mafioso-style – offered by the powers vested in Zuma and others with a similar inclination.
There are so many examples of people who sacrificed most of their lives for the “day of liberation” that it is difficult to pick just one example. Many died before the first democratic elections in April 1994, others passed away before the corrupt influence of Zuma and others became the norm. However, during a recent conversation, a senior ANC cadre mentioned Tony Holiday who had died on July 10, 2006.
A superficial media scan brought little to light. SA History Online simply states:
“A member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) and the African National Congress (ANC). Detained for seven years.”
Somewhat more enlightening is the former Minister of Intelligence (and ANC underground leader) Ronnie Kasrils’ evidence before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In a submission covering the period 1965-1976, Kasrils said the following:
“I was part of a command consisting of Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo, Jack Hodgson and myself. Our task was to assist in building the underground in South Africa and this involved recruiting and training Cadres, smuggling material into the country and directing operations. These were mainly propaganda operations but also involved setting up infrastructure for MK. Some Cadres involved were Alex Moumbaris, Tony Holiday, Ahmed Timol, Raymond Suttner, David and Sue Rabkin, Tim Jenkin and Steve Lee.’’
In an interview with Kasrils, conducted by Howard Barrell in October 1990, Kasrils added the following:
“Our first recruit was in 1967, 1966, we began training the first people. And Tony Holiday was one of them. He wasn’t involved in the leaflet bombs. He was coming out already with written material. And of course we would send him written material to reproduce … we already had some comrades who had received training in Britain and were carrying out propaganda work here. We already by, I think late 1966, had some units in place. We didn’t involve them in the leaflet bomb campaigns...’’
When asked whether Holiday and others were part of “SA communist Party units”, Kasrils remarked, “These are people doing work for the party, and ANC, but (had) been recruited for the party.”
Barrell also asked what kind of work they were doing if they weren't doing pamphlet work, to which Kasrils replied:
“Oh, no, they were producing propaganda material and posting it. It was basically receiving draft material from us, producing it and posting it, or leaving it at sensitive places, places where there would be activists, a university, and so on. They would also of course – the kind of work they would be doing was sending reports on the situation. You could say some intelligence work of that kind’.”
From this one could surmise that Holiday (and the others mentioned) were trained, SA Communist Party-led (Kasrils was also a senior SACP member) underground operators who did both propaganda and intelligence work. This becomes even more interesting considering that Holiday later ended up working for the Cape Times and the Rand Daily Mail.
One of the few substantial articles on Charles Anthony David Holiday is his obituary, published on 18 August 2006 by the Guardian newspaper in the UK and under the heading “Journalist who fought against South Africa’s apartheid regime”.
It refers to Holiday as a South African philosopher, journalist and anti-apartheid activist, who had died in Cape Town from cancer aged 65, after retiring only a year before, and after teaching philosophy at the University of the Western Cape. It also mentions, almost in passing, that in 1976, as a member of the “anti-apartheid underground”, Holiday was charged under the Terrorism Act “with receiving money from the ANC and the SACP, establishing an underground cell with three others, publishing propagandist material, attempting to undergo training in subversive activities while in Britain in 1969, and attempting to train recruits to evade surveillance”.
The article reveals that Holiday had suffered an injury at birth and was unable to write exam papers, never matriculated, and was not eligible to go to university. While he was serving his prison sentence, two professors at the University of Cape Town (UCT), who had earlier realised that he was “unusually gifted”, persuaded the University of South Africa (Unisa) to accept him as a student so he that could study in prison for a degree by correspondence.
On his release, Holiday went to London, where he was befriended by the exiled Pahad brothers, Essop and Aziz, both of whom later served as ministers in Mbeki’s government. He was helped to enrol at Oxford and graduated with a PhD. (Unisa was earlier persuaded to accept him as a student so that he could study in prison for a degree by correspondence.) Returning to South Africa after the 1994 elections, Holiday left the SA Communist Party and activist politics and devoted himself to academic life and journalism.
“Let’s get one thing clear. If this country is to achieve its goal of permanent First World status and retain its rank as repository of Africa’s hopes for economic and political renewal, then Jacob Zuma must not become our next president.”
His conclusion was even more prophetic:
“Mbeki’s chief difficulty is to find a way of stopping Zuma without doing irreparable damage to the ANC. The organisation is in a state of internal tension at central executive and regional levels, not seen since the 1959 split, which issued in the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress. The main source of this polarisation is precisely the vast gulf between rich and poor that Zuma promises to address. As the drama unfolds, Mbeki may well find that he has to choose between party unity and national survival.”
Tony Holiday was no high-profile liberation hero, and history will not afford him more than a line or two, but he fought the apartheid system and probably sacrificed a great deal. His contribution was minuscule when compared to people of the stature of Mandela, Hani or Slovo, but he offered what he could. He was clearly one of the first to realise that Zuma and his cohorts were unsuitable to continue to pursue the goals of the struggle. It is people like Holiday’s contribution to democracy and freedom that Zuma is now trampling upon, tarnishing the legacy of so many who fought for what is now being stolen. DM
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