Alan Brooks: Anti-apartheid campaigner
Tuesday 20 May 2008
Alan Brooks was one of the great behind-the-scenes figures of the Southern African liberation movements. He fought for the end of apartheid both inside South Africa, for which he was imprisoned and tortured, and in Britain. Here he masterminded and led the "'Stop the 70 Tour"' campaign against apartheid in sport, was the man behind the 1986 Artists Against Apartheid concert which drew an audience of 250,000 people, and led the 1988 Nelson Mandela March from Glasgow to London.
He was the child of a Bristol GP who emigrated with his family to Southern Rhodesia when Alan was seven. He went to university in South Africa, where he did two law degrees and came under the wing of the South African Communist Party intellectual Jack Simons. He joined the SACP in 1962.
Alan Brooks also briefly joined the small, clandestine and doomed African Resistance Movement, and in 1964 was arrested and detained under the notorious "90 day" Act. He was tried and convicted for membership of the ARM and sabotage, and was held in solitary confinement and tortured during his two years in prison. On his release he was deported to Britain in 1966.
By the end of the 1960s he had a masters degree in international politics from Sussex University, and was Organising Secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. But his focus was not only on South Africa. He campaigned against the Vietnam War, and in the early 1970s organised a speaking tour for Angela Davis, then at the height of her fame, and deep in her political troubles.
Brooks's discretion was legendary, and it was not surprising that he should be the first, and probably the only, British person to have undergone 10 months' training in undercover work, at the Lenin International School in Moscow, in 1971. In the mid 1970s, Brooks was Director of Research at the International Defence and Aid Fund, promoting solidarity with Southern Africa. He was the co-author, with Jeremy Brickhill, of the definitive book on the Soweto uprising, Whirlwind Before the Storm (1980).
In the late 1970s he moved his family to Mozambique where he taught at the Frelimo Secondary School, and at the same time worked undercover with ANC and SACP colleagues. He then moved to Lusaka at the request of the ANC to work with Thabo Mbeki to set up an ANC Research Department.
In 1980 he left the SACP and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. He became managing director of its books and periodical business at Central Books, and then moved to run the Mozambique Angola and Guinea Information Centre. Magic, as it was called, was a cubbyhole of an office, bulging with piles of papers, and in it Brooks was for a time the only source of credible information on the undeclared war apartheid South Africa was waging in the Frontline States on its borders and beyond.
In the late 1980s, Brooks became Deputy Executive Secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain and saw the years of patient work in small meetings up and down the country pay off in the massive groundswell of international support for the ANC as the apartheid regime gave up political power.
But as pragmatism became the rule across Southern Africa, Brooks moved on to other fights for justice. He worked briefly for the UN in Somaliland at the tail-end of the civil war, playing his part in the peace and disarmament process as part of the Demobilisation Advisory Team. Then back in Britain he became a case-worker for asylum seekers. His empathy with the desperate cases he saw of people fleeing from oppression, made him a beacon of hope in that unseen world. He went on to campaign for change in Zimbabwe, right up until his final illness.
Brooks's defining quality was his integrity, and he could never be an apparatchik. His analysis and his views were his own, and he had no fear of falling out with authority. Plenty of his colleagues found him intimidating, but many more saw his kindness to less gifted people, and the wicked sense of humour he kept for his friends and family.
Few knew he was a good chess player and violinist, a fan of films and musicals, an armchair football fan, and that he loved to cook. He lived extremely modestly. He adored his three daughters, Lucy, Jenni and Ruby, and two granddaughters, and his former wife, Sarah, and his ex-partner, Joni, remained always close to him.
Alan Brooks, political campaigner: born Bristol 18 May 1940; married 1970 Sarah Darling (two daughters; marriage dissolved) (one daughter with Joni McDougall); died London 10 May 2008.
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