Obituary: Marius Schoon

MARIUS SCHOON'S life was a powerful argument against the notion of racial stereotyping. Nelson Mandela has described him as "an enduring example of the fight for non-racialism and democracy. He destroyed the myth that all Afrikaners were racists and oppressors. He therefore will be greatly missed, not only by his colleagues in the fight against apartheid, but by the entire South African nation."

White South Africans who challenged the apartheid government in the 1960s, at the risk of everything most precious to them, were very few. The number of white resisters whose first language was Afrikaans - the language of the regime that had institutionalised racism in every nook and cranny of social and personal life, the language of the police raid and the torture chamber - was minuscule. Schoon was one of that tiny handful. He both loathed the ideology of racism and loved the richness of the Afrikaans language, especially its poetry.

After the massacre of unarmed demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, radical opponents of the government, along with Nelson Mandela in the leadership of the African National Congress, turned towards violent methods of resistance.

Schoon served 12 years in prison for a futile effort to blow up a radio transmitter at a police station in Hillbrow, Johannesburg in 1964, a fiasco compromised from the beginning by the police provocateur who had set it up. His two colleagues in this attempt were Mike Ngubeni, a black South African, and Raymond Thoms, a white English- speaking South African. Ngubeni was sent to join Mandela and other black male political prisoners on Robben Island, while Thoms and Schoon were sent to Pretoria Local Prison, where the white male political prisoners were kept. (Prison, like everything else in South Africa, was strictly segregated.) The strain of his long sentence broke Thoms's spirit, and on his release he killed himself. While Schoon was in prison, and following their divorce, his first wife, Diana, had also committed suicide.

On his release in 1976, he joined the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party in exile. For a period, while living with his second wife Jeannette in Botswana after his release from jail, he was a contact for the underground ANC military wing, Umkhontu weSizwe.

He had met Jeannette, a former student and trade union activist, after his release from prison. Both were "banned" and prohibited from meeting each other, and they had in the customary way "skipped the border" and left South Africa illegally. It was while Schoon was working as a university teacher with the ANC in Lubango in southern Angola in 1984 that South African state assassins, under Major Craig Williamson, decided to kill him. Their chosen weapon was the parcel bomb. (The same technique, and the same assassin, killed the writer and political leader Ruth First in Mozambique in 1982. Williamson has also admitted responsibility for the bombing of ANC headquarters in London the same year.)

Schoon was away from their flat in Lubango when the parcel bomb arrived. It killed Jeannette and their six-year-old daughter, Katryn. Their son Fritz, then aged three, was found wandering nearby. Schoon's life was left in ruins.

Schoon had made a radical break from the ideology of apartheid when young. His father was an intellectual advocate of the apartheid system, a headteacher and both a zealous member of the National Party and a member of its secret guiding "brain", the Afrikaner Broederbond. Schoon himself studied at the academy of the Afrikaner elite, the University of Stellenbosch, before transferring to the more liberal and radical culture of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. There he joined the non-racial Congress of Democrats, an organisation of white leftists allied to the ANC.

Not long before his release from prison in 1976, Schoon had the satisfaction of knowing that his father had publicly protested - at a National Party meeting - at Schoon's treatment in prison, and had resigned from the party to join the opposition Progressive Federal Party. Such strange things did happen in apartheid South Africa.

Schoon came through his losses, a scarred and battered survivor, caring for his son, and moved eventually to the Republic of Ireland. There he met and married Sherry McLean. After the downfall of apartheid, they returned to South Africa in 1990, where Schoon worked in the Development Bank, overseeing projects to help rural black communities. His friend and fellow political prisoner Hugh Lewin has said that he would "hate to describe him as a banker. He was far too much of a poet." Schoon wrote both in Afrikaans and in English.

Prior to the opening of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year, Schoon had begun a civil action against Craig Williamson for damages. By a very narrow margin, the court decided to withhold judgement, pending Williamson's application for amnesty to the TRC, on the grounds that the killing of Jeannette and Katryn was political. Schoon angrily rejected a suggestion from Williamson's lawyers that they meet "and reconcile". Judgement is expected later this month.

Marius Schoon, political activist, teacher and poet: born Johannesburg, South Africa 22 June 1937; married first Diana Openshaw (one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Jeannette Curtis (died 1984; one son, and one daughter deceased), third Sherry McLean; died Johannesburg 7 February 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence