Memorial event at Senedd for Hanef Bhamjee, Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement leader
“An insurrectionary citizen of the world, “stubborn obstinate and passionate” and a loving and very hands-on stepfather to two children.
These and many other facets of Hanef Bhamjee’s character were celebrated at an event in his memory today at the Senedd.
Hanef, who died in January aged 74, devoted most of his life to bringing down the apartheid system, first as a young ANC activist in South Africa, and then from Wales, his adopted home.
The audience at the Senedd event heard how the leader of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement was able, through determination, skill and passion to galvanise people across Wales into a very effective campaigning machine.
First Minister Mark Drakeford MS described him as “a man for whom nothing was good enough, there was always something else that needed to be done: all movements need people like that”.
Dafydd Iwan said that Hanef was “chiefly responsible for drawing most of us who campaigned for Welsh language rights into the wider battle for justice.
“Through him we had the opportunity to be part of the worldwide struggle for justice and equal rights and the fight against racism. Wales owes a great debt to Hanef.”
A clear picture emerged from many speakers of Hanef’s skill in creating strong alliances across religious and Welsh language groups, grass roots community organisations, political parties and trade unions – and that was reflected in the more than 150 people who came to the event.
WAAM, under his leadership, got the WRU to sever its links with South African rugby, and also named and shamed those who went on cultural tours there. Hanef’s tireless campaigning was key.
“He was an insurrectionary citizen… a born agitator”, said Neil Kinnock in a video for the event. “He didn’t just stir himself, he stirred others into involvement, activity, donation. He did it with cajolery, with charm, with persistence and reminders of duty.”
A lot of those there laughed in recognition when Mr Kinnock described how Hanef would ring people late at night saying “You promised you would let me have that (leaflet, letter, phone number) by last Thursday. Where is it??”
A complex man
He was always a true internationalist.
The 1970s when Hanef first came to Wales was a tumultuous political decade: Mick Anthoniw MS described their intense discussions in that era about Vietnam, Chile, and Palestine.
Gaynor Legall said meeting him in London had a profound effect on her: “I walked into this flat full of young South Africans who could not go home. It dawned on me what exile was about….And contact with Hanef really opened my mind to the whole political situation outside of the UK, not just in South Africa but across the world.”
Friends and family members painted a personal portrait of a complex man, and the price he paid for a lifetime of political activism.
His brother Yusuf took the audience back to their early life in South Africa. Hanef began to withdraw from carefree games of street cricket with their friends.
“As a young boy I started wondering why my brother didn’t want to play with me anymore…Even before he went formally into exile, I felt like he had begun to exile himself from me, my brothers, my parents…”
It was only later that Yusuf realised that his older brother was worried that his underground work for the ANC could put the whole family in danger.
It was safer for them to know nothing.
After being arrested and interrogated, Hanef was advised by the ANC leadership to leave the country and support the struggle from abroad. He was 19. He would not be able to return until he was in his mid 40s.
Those years of exile took a toll not only on him but particularly on his mother who, Yusuf said, “pined for him, ever worried that he was alone and isolated.”
But the friendship and sense of belonging that Wales gave him over a lifetime helped him cope with the pain of separation.
“Hanef was a son of both South Africa and Wales.”
Hanef’s step daughter Robyn described what a great father figure he was for her and her brother as they were growing up.
“He came into our lives and took us on as his own children” – and that commitment remained to the very end of his life. He was a very hands-on stepdad, doing all the normal things with them like cricket and swimming, but he also took them deep into the political world he was part of.
She met Mandela twice and learned about activism at street level collecting donations outside supermarkets and going on demos.
First Minister Mark Drakeford MS ended by saying that Hanef never got into the trap of thinking that issues somehow belonged over there or with someone else.
“There are uncomfortable truths in the ground we are standing on today. The greatest tribute we can pay to the man we are celebrating here is to remember that the struggle never ends.
“It is our responsibility to do something about the great injustices of these times, and the time to do it is now.”
Images by Clare Hudson
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