Honoured at 80: the race activist who stood by Mandela

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There were two separate public galleries in the old Synagogue courtroom in Pretoria when Nelson Mandela was on trial for his life 43 years ago - one for whites, one for blacks. On some days, the "whites only" gallery was empty, except for one brave woman. Mandela would turn to her to her as he entered the dock, and they would exchange clenched fist salutes.

She was Adelaine Hain, whose 80th birthday yesterday was celebrated at South Africa House in Trafalgar Square. She is now less well known than her son, Peter, who is vying to be the next deputy leader of the Labour Party, but she is not forgotten by veterans of the battle against apartheid.

When the trial ended, she assumed she would never see Mandela again. In fact, she told yesterday's Western Mail, they met again decades later at the House of Commons, when she was an MP's mother and he was a visiting international statesman. "I don't suppose you remember me?" she said. He replied: "How could I forget?"

Adelaine and Walter Hain were white South Africans who took little interest in politics when they married in 1948 - but became concerned about the ill-treatment of the black majority. In 1953, they joined the Liberal Party, the only party open to people from all races. They held a meeting in their home in Ladysmith, where the speakers included Alan Paton, author of Cry The Beloved Country. It was probably the city's first mixed-race political meeting.

While Walter, who is now 82, worked as an architect, Ad - as she likes to be known - became an unpaid political activist, organising legal representation for black people who had been arrested under the Pass Laws, delivering food parcels, and passing on messages. Both the Hains were arrested and held without trial for two weeks in 1961, as the police became aware of how their home phone was being used by anxious wives and relatives to receive news of their menfolk. Another of their crimes was that they had collected food from local churches to take to Sharpeville, after the massacre.

In September 1963, Mrs Hain was served with a banning order, a harsh form of house arrest. A year later, they placed a similar order on her husband and banned all local firms from employing him. In April 1966, with four children under 17, they were forced to take one-way exit permits to London, where they immediately joined the anti-apartheid movement.The building where Mrs Hain's birthday was held was forbidden territory for the first 20 years of their exile. She knew the exterior through spending many rain-sodden hours demonstrating, but still had to "pinch herself"seeing it from the inside.

Comments