A SOUTH African exile who organised the anti-apartheid movement in Wales is returning to his homeland to pick up a prestigious Mahatma Gandhi award for reconciliation and peace.
Hanef Bhamjee, now a solicitor in Cardiff, came to Britain in 1965 at the age of 18 to escape persecution by the racist government. He had been involved in the youth movement and underground structures of the African National Congress and the Communist Party.
The awards were established in the late 1990s to honour major international figures and South Africans who played a significant part in ending apartheid.
Mr Bhamjee, who is secretary of the charity ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa), said: “I am more than delighted to receive this award which has gone in the past to far more distinguished men and women.
“Since 1994 ACTSA Wales has contributed thousands of pounds to health and education projects in South Africa – for example, a Manchester United autographed football was auctioned for £25,000 to assist victims of HIV/Aids.”
He travels to South Africa on Sunday, and will receive the award at a ceremony in Durban on July 20.
Welsh anti-apartheid activist David Dixon said: “Hanef arrived in Wales in 1972 and became involved in the Welsh anti-apartheid scene.
“The anti-apartheid movement in Wales had started in Cardiff in 1959, and by 1972 it was active in Newport and Swansea too. Others living in Wrexham and Lampeter kept in contact.
“Hanef took this foundation and built it into a network of 22 branches across the length and breadth of Wales.
“This required considerable hard work, networking with other groups such as the Welsh Council of Churches and trade unions to affiliate to the movement and co-ordinating activities.
“An all-Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement was launched in 1981 with Hanef as its secretary.
“At this time Hanef was teaching sociology part-time in several places, so that he was effectively working full-time.
“But he was also working full-time for WAAM during the hours of the day and night that he wasn’t otherwise working.
“If that sounds like an exaggeration, talk to anyone who visited his home during the 1980s.
“His house was the movement’s office until 1989. To visit it was to visit a warehouse filled with anti-apartheid T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, badges, flags, posters, leaflets and coffee mugs.
“It would have been impossible to rest and get away from the anti-apartheid movement in that environment,” he added. Another anti-apartheid activist, Ian Campbell, said: “The South African government’s opposition to anti-apartheid activities became personal from about 1983 onwards. Hanef’s car was damaged outside his house, he was badly beaten up in broad daylight in the street where he lived and he received suspicious packages and letters within envelopes whose sealings contained powdered glass so he’d cut himself when opening them.
“Hanef is very grateful for the police protection he was given. Whenever they were called to his house they gave his call priority and arrived quickly, usually with a senior officer present – on one occasion the chief constable appeared.
“Although WAAM caught a lot of flak for taking on the WRU whenever there was a South African presence at a rugby match, Hanef points out that anti-apartheid demonstrations in the ground took place during the 1970s.
“By the 1980s all demonstrations took place mainly outside the ground, so that the point was made without disrupting the match and disturbing those who wanted to watch it.
“This pragmatism was characteristic of Hanef’s approach: he preferred to persuade people to the cause than make counter-productive gestures.”
At the Gandhi awards, Mr Bhamjee will share the limelight with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also being honoured. Ms Kyi will not be able to attend the awards ceremony because she is detained by the military dictatorship that runs Burma.