Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, book review

 

What makes some apparently ordinary people defy tyranny, when outwardly there is nothing to distinguish them from the majority who opt to keep quiet and get along?

The cover of Peter Hain’s biography of his parents, Adelaine and Walter, shows a couple who appear utterly typical English-speaking white South Africans of the 1950s – Ad in a gingham cotton dress, Wal in ultra-short shorts and a bushy moustache. Yet somehow they lacked the wilful blindness of all but a handful of their peers to the injustice on which their privilege rested.

When Ad and Wal were asked to help the victims of apartheid, says their son, they gave no thought to where it might lead. Rather than any ideology, they were driven by “their values of caring, decency, fairness and, perhaps equally important, their sense of duty”. It isolated them from their fellow whites, and even from their own families, but won them the friendship and respect of non-white South Africans, including Nelson Mandela.

As they discovered the lengths to which the regime was prepared to go, particularly when 69 protesters were shot dead at Sharpeville in 1960, it did not occur to the couple to back down. “Once we had got involved, one thing led to another,” they told the author. “There was always some injustice to be tackled, so we got stuck in. People asked you to do things, and so you did.”

Ad and Wal even sheltered escaping members of underground sabotage groups, while refusing to engage in violence themselves. But they unquestioningly supported their friend, John Harris, the only white to be executed in the fight against apartheid: he planted a bomb at Johannesburg station which killed an elderly woman, despite telephoned warnings. Perhaps to suggest the source of his parents’ determination, Hain opens his book with a sickeningly detailed account of Harris’s hanging.

Inevitably, persecution of the Hains grew as the white government sought to stamp out all opposition. Their phone was tapped, security police camped outside their home, and in 1963 Ad was “banned” – prevented from writing for publication, visiting courts or black townships, or meeting more than one person at a time. Wal suffered the same fate a year later, and when he found that employers were afraid to give him work as an architect, the family was forced to leave for Britain on a one-way ticket.

As the eldest of the four children, Hain witnessed much himself, but insists on seeing events through his parents’ eyes. He writes with understanding of the loss of status and purpose they suffered in exile, but his decision to refer to himself throughout in the third person becomes a strain as he takes the lead in campaigning against Springbok sports tours of Britain, with Ad and Wal in supporting roles. There is a final jump forward a quarter of a century to the moment when the couple can return to the homeland they thought they might never see again, one which has embraced the principles they struggled for.

Peter has to admit that his parents, while proud that he became a government minister after 1997, never embraced “New Labour”, and disagreed eloquently with his defence of the Iraq war. What they thought of his seamless switch from Blair to Brown can only be surmised, but this affectionate memoir makes clear that the family has come through the worst of times unbowed.

 

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms