Adrian Leftwich: Leading anti-apartheid activist who turned state witness

 

By most standards, Adrian Leftwich's life was brimming with achievement. He established a public reputation as a leading British academic and author – and a private reputation as a single father of two children who adored him. In earlier years in Cape Town, he was a national student leader and a founder member of the underground anti-apartheid movement. But it was six dire months in 1964 that defined his image.

From that point on, Leftwich was known as the liberal who became a high-profile state witness for the apartheid regime. For this sin he was never forgiven by most of his former comrades, or indeed, himself.

It would not have been that way but for the brutality of apartheid. In 1960, when Leftwich was about to be elected president of the National Union of South African Students, the police gunned down protesters in Sharpeville, killing 69. The apartheid government followed this by banning and detaining members of their serious opposition, including much of the leadership of the Liberal Party, to which Leftwich belonged. Despairing of peaceful protest, Leftwich co-founded the National Liberation Committee, which launched a sabotage campaign against state installations and services. The group, consisting mainly of white liberals, later changed its name to the Africa Resistance Movement.

Between 1961 and 1964 they were credited with at least 25 sabotage attacks, and Leftwich was involved in several, including blowing up a suburban railway line in Cape Town. He also helped to train recruits in how to hold out against interrogation – but some were doubtful in their admiration for this charismatic student leader. The British-based poet Jonty Driver, who succeeded him as NUSAS president, wrote 40 years on that while sharing a house with Leftwich he learnt "a great deal about his psychological frailties – having previously admired many of his qualities, including his brilliance in political debate and his skills as an organiser."

Leftwich was one of 29 ARM activists detained by the security police in 1964. The raid netted documents that included a list of all ARM members. Several detainees were battered and tortured and 14 were charged. Leftwich gave evidence against them at trials in Cape Town and Johannesburg, helping to send them to jail for periods of five or more years (Eddie Daniels, the sole mixed-race ARM detainee, received the longest sentence – 15 years). Even the judge seemed disgusted with the star witness: "To refer to him as a rat is hard on rats," he remarked.

A weeping Leftwich reiterated his abhorrence with apartheid while trying to explain his decision to testify against his friends, and added. "I certainly hope that there will be a time when… these people who I am giving evidence against can forgive me."

But this broken man, who left the country soon after, found that forgiveness was an elusive gift. In anti-apartheid circles there was some sympathy for those who named names under torture, but the attitude to state witnesses – particularly those who testified against their own recruits – was less magnanimous. He was ostracised by former comrades, who tried to block academic posts he sought; and he remained a pariah mainly because of what happened in 1964, but also because of his subsequent critiques of leftist academic views. Eventually he carved out a niche at the University of York, completing his PhD there and going on to become a well-respected professor in their Department of Politics and later research director of the university's Development Leadership Programme. He wrote six books on politics, economic growth, democracy and development.

He also forged a new identity in his private life, raising his two children, Ben and Maddy, virtually single-handed.

Eventually, in 2002, he wrote a mea culpa in Granta entitled "I gave the names", admitting that very soon after being detained he lost the will to do anything other than "get out of there – to crawl, to beg, to trade". It would be easy to blame this on the "roughing up", interrogations, fear and on solitary confinement, but in truth, he said, it was the prospect of 20 years in jail or the death sentence, which terrified him. "In the gulf that opened up between my reach and my limits, between my knowledge and my self-ignorance, between my fantasies and my capacities, I crashed."

In the late 1990s, Stephanie Kemp, one of those whom Leftwich recruited and testified against, made contact, prompting "a painful journey of reconciliation with him over 12 or more years." Encouraged by her, he later made two visits to South Africa.

Kemp, who'd been viciously beaten by the security police, commented on Leftwich after his death: "During the struggle, those who faltered as he did were rightly reviled and rejected." But she was distressed that while her comrades had "talked with the architects of apartheid", many were still unable to forgive Leftwich, who was "the same person although he could never forget his fall almost 50 years ago. Neither was he allowed to." She went on to commend his "courage in taking on the apartheid state at such a young age and his fortitude in bearing the notoriety of stumbling in the face of enormous state repression."

Leftwich was diagnosed with lung cancer late last year and died four months later.

 

 

Adrian Leftwich, academic and former underground activist: born Cape Town, South Africa 1940; died York 2 April 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam