Obituary: Peter Hjul

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THOUGH HE put many years of hard work into the political causes that reflected his liberal idealism, it was in his professional life that Peter Hjul's career was crowned with success. From a mining compound boyhood in the pre-independence Rhodesias he found his way into journalism and was recruited into what became an important group of trade papers in the shipping and fishing industries in Cape Town in the early 1950s.

With abounding energy, he built simultaneously a political career in opposition to apartheid. With Stalin still ruling the Soviets and their satellites, Communism was anathema to him and he found a home in the radical wing of the newly formed Liberal Party of South Africa. Blooded in the bitterly fought elections for the so-called Native Representative parliamentary seats (later abolished by Verwoerd) he rose to chair the Cape Provincial Division of the Party, transforming it from the most conservative to the most progressive section of the party.

He chaired the editorial board of Patrick Duncan's radical fortnightly Contact, which won an influential following in southern and central Africa and achieved its greatest impact in the post-Sharpeville crisis in 1960, when it alone defied the press-gagging Emergency Regulations. Retribution followed with a "banning order", paradoxically under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1963, which effectively made him a non-person.

His reputation as distinguished editor of South African Shipping News and Fishing Industry Review withstood heavy pressure on his employers - latterly Thomsons - to get rid of him. He was hounded by the Security Police and undercover agents, which climaxed with a shot fired through his living-room windows, just missing his infant son. In October 1965, the Hjul family left for Britain on the one-way "exit permit" designed to rid the apartheid regime of its opponents.

Though able to offer help to Canon John Collins's International Defence and Aid Fund, having been active in its parent bodies in South Africa, he made it clear that his days in the anti-apartheid arena were over and he devoted himself to a new career as the pre-eminent editor in the international fishing industry.

His journal Fishing News International became the mouthpiece of the industry and he broke new ground in 1973 with Fish Farming International, which he built up with the growth of what has become a major industry, defending his brainchild in its difficult early days, even threatening resignation to save it from closure.

He travelled to all continents both to report on and participate in fisheries affairs, even chairing conferences at the UN's Fisheries and Agriculture Organisation in Rome. A mark of his status was the invitation from the Norwegian royal family to be guest of honour at a dinner to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the AquaNor international exhibition at Trondheim, which he had to decline as illness took over the last weeks of his life.

Friends will remember his burning enthusiasm and social conscience, his capacity for hard work, great journalistic skill, devoted home life - his wife, Joan, predeceased him by a few weeks - and his many interests, not least in LibDem constituency politics in Windsor and Maidenhead and in Lomans Trust, which fosters black education in South Africa. A much wider circle will miss a great authority on a major industry.

e

Whatever Peter Hjul did, he did with passion, writes Benjamin Pogrund, and no more so than his arguing for a non-racial franchise policy for South Africa's new Liberal Party in the 1950s. It was an unpopular view among the party's white leaders, who clung to the idea of a "civilised" franchise based on education and/or property. Peter was a member of the party's Cape Provincial Committee and teamed up with a like spirit, the late Jimmy Gibson, who had been a prisoner of war during the Second World War and was then an impecunious barrister.

I shared their thinking and they adopted me as their junior partner when I joined the provincial committee straight from student politics. They introduced me to "adult" politics, taking me with them into the black ghetto areas where few whites went, to address meetings and to meet local leaders. Peter's enthusiastic belief in what we did was a driving force for us; his sincerity was so obvious that it made him, and us, acceptable to black leaders who were otherwise suspicious of white liberals.

Eventually, of course, the party - and even more eventually South Africa as a whole - had to recognise that anything less than a non-racial franchise was absurd. Peter made an early and brave contribution to that.

I shared another enthusiasm with him, a love of Table Mountain. For several years, whatever the weather, we were part of a weekly small climbing party. Even then, on the high plateau behind the mountain, we could not escape the racial ugliness of the world below: there were two huts for shelter; some distance apart, one was for white climbers and one for coloureds.

Peter Donald Hjul, journalist and political activist: born Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia 6 April 1929; married 1955 Joan Grant (died 1999; one son, two daughters); died Slough, Buckinghamshire 8 September 1999.

Comments