Ike Horvitch

Architect who fled South Africa
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The Independent Online

Isaac Horvitch, campaigner and architect: born Cape Town 9 October 1920; married 1945 Mitzi Trop (one son, two daughters); died London 28 December 2005.

Ike Horvitch was a man who lived three remarkable lives. He dedicated his early years to fighting apartheid in his native South Africa, where he was twice put on trial, once for high treason, alongside the young ANC leader Nelson Mandela.

He later made his mark as an architect, providing London in particular with distinctive houses, hotels, flats and offices as a partner in the talented practice of a fellow South African, Ted Levy, based in Hampstead. Their notable developments, mainly in north London, included the West Hill Park scheme in Highgate and Summit Lodge, Hampstead, as well as a holiday village in Portugal.

Horvitch's third life was as the keeper of the heritage of Isaac Rosenberg, the First World War poet and artist killed in France on 1 April 1918, his body never found. Rosenberg was Horvitch's uncle, after whom he was proudly named, and whose literary executor and promoter he became, providing material for new biographies and memorabilia for the Imperial War Museum.

Ike Horvitch's politics were fashioned out of his family's oppressed past. His grandfather, a Talmudic scholar, had fled the pogroms in Lithuania to England; Ike's father, Woolfie, born in Manchester, emigrated to South Africa. His mother, Minnie, was also a refugee from Lithuania, having arrived in England with her family at the age of three. Woolfie and Minnie Horvitch settled in Cape Town, where Ike was born in 1920. He joined the South African Communist Party in 1935 while still a teenager and sold the left-wing independent newspaper The Guardian on the streets. In 1944 Ike Horvitch qualified as an architect from the University of Cape Town.

His role within the Communist Party, then the only multi-racial organisation in South Africa, made Horvitch a target for the nationalist government. He mixed with the black ANC leaders Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, not always agreeing with their tactics, and with white activists such as Helen Suzman, Betty Sachs and Hilda Bernstein, who tried to change South Africa from the inside.

After surviving a charge of sedition in 1946 for supporting a strike of African gold miners, he was undone when the Suppression of Communism Act was passed in 1949. Although the Party dissolved itself, the list of members was not destroyed and Horvitch was number one on the list when the government published it under powers that gave it the right to detain people without trial.

While he was on bail, one of 91 people still charged with high treason out of an original 156, the massacre of 69 black people shot down by the police at Sharpeville in 1960 brought world condemnation of apartheid and consolidated the opposition to it. The ANC called a one-day national strike and the government declared a state of emergency. Months later, the first 30 people to go on full trial in Pretoria were acquitted and the government ordered the immediate rearrest of all the others indicted who were still free.

At the time, Horvitch was living temporarily in the outskirts of Johannesburg when, at four o'clock one morning, two special branch officers knocked on his door. Horvitch's wife, Mitzi, a professional singer whose own parents had fled the Nazis in Berlin, insisted he wasn't at home and invited the officers in to search. They fortunately declined and left, not knowing that their man was hiding in the maid's room in his pyjamas.

Horvitch decided to flee, setting out for nearby Botswana driving his small, three-wheeled car, which broke down en route, the repair costing half the £10 he had in his pocket. But he managed the 60-mile trip in a terrifying 12 hours and with the help of Canon John Collins's Christian Action organisation flew to London in small planes via Kinshasa, Lagos and Accra, arriving at Heathrow with just a small suitcase and clutching a pineapple.

Ike Horvitch subsequently disowned both Communism and his Jewish religion, declaring himself to be a socialist who sought equality, peace and prosperity without conflict. His dramatic past became a hidden chapter in his life, which he rarely talked about, because he felt he and his family had sacrificed enough and he had done all that he could to bring about radical change.

Gerald Isaaman