top of page

History in Harare

It was a strange sight —a busload of South Africans in Harare, singing about the Freedom Charter.

The song came from their hearts — but there was sadness in their voices. They were going back to Jo’burg after saying goodbye to many fellow South Africans who could not come home with them.

But inside the bus, mixed with the sadness and the singing, was a special feeling among the people. They knew that they had just been part of a little bit of history.

They were returning from the Harare Conference, where hundreds of people fighting against apartheid inside South Africa met leaders of the African National Congress.

It was history because it was the first time, since the ANC was banned 27 years ago, that its members outside the country were able to meet with so many comrades from ‘home’.

The people returning to South Africa carried in their heads their own picture of the ANC — which was quite different from the one we see on television every evening.


They remembered standing face to face with the national committee of the ANC singing Nkosi Sikele iAfrika. They remembered Oliver Tambo looking over his glasses and saying that the ‘necklace’ was not useful to the struggle. They remembered Joe Slovo joining the crowd as they toi toi-ed across the shiny conference centre.

The reason for getting together was to talk about the problems of children under apartheid — how they are detained, tortured, shot at in the streets, arrested in their schools, and hunted by vigilantes.

The ANC was there in force, headed by President Tambo, treasurer- general Thomas Nkobi, information officer Thabo Mbeki, women’s head Gertrude Shope and the former leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Joe Slovo.

And the South Africans from down south just kept arriving, until there were nearly 300 of them. They came from youth groups, women’s and civic organizations and detainee support committees. There were churchmen, lawyers, doctors, social workers and journalists.

They were surrounded by supporters from 45 other countries. Many of them came from anti-apartheid organizations in Britain, Europe and North America.


Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Robert Mugabe opened the conference. He told the people that in South Africa the law only protected a few of the people — while the rights of the masses were trampled on.

It was not enough to be shocked by the jailing and shooting of children in South Africa — the world must be prepared to fight to wipe out apartheid, said Prime Minister Mugabe.

Later in the conference, young victims of apartheid took the stage. In clear voices they told how they had been detained, assaulted and tortured.

Visitors from other countries were shocked by the words of young William Modibedi, an 11 year-old from Kagiso, who told them he was detained for two months and two days and that he was tortured. His mother, Mrs Rebecca Modibedi, said that four of her children were detained at one time.

Nthabiseng Mabusa came to the platform in a wheelchair. She is just 13 years and is crippled for life after being shot in an SADF raid on Botswana. Her aunt and niece were killed in that raid.

Lawyers at the conference said South Africa was in many ways like Nazi Germany. They said that those who force apartheid on people are committing crimes just like the Nazis did. And like the Nazis, they can be taken to court after apartheid is destroyed to pay for what they did.

Muslim leader Moulana Faried Essack spoke for the United Democratic Front at the conference. He reminded the visitors that when the Nazis were destroying Europe, “our fathers went to fight for you, and some even died.” He said South Africans wanted the same support in their struggle against apartheid.


Moulana Faried was just one of the strong churchmen who spoke out in Harare. The man who called the conference was a priest — Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who as a simple ‘father’ came to live in Sophiatown between 1943 and 1956. There he came to love the people and hate apartheid. When he went back to England he helped to start the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. He is now president of that organization.

In Harare Archbishop Huddleston said angrily that politicians seem to think that “it doesn’t matter if it takes five or 10 or 20 years” of polite talking to end apartheid. But if it took so long that meant thousands of children could be destroyed, he said.

The Reverend Frank Chikane, the new general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said: “I believe that there is very little that can be done to save and protect the brutalized children of South Africa without removing apartheid. The racist regime is evil and can only survive by murdering the defenceless masses. Apartheid must be stopped.”

Dr Beyers Naude, who was general secretary at the SACC before Rev. Chikane, answered the government which was saying that the people at Harare would be feeding lies about South Africa to the world. “We are the true patriots,” he said. “Because we stand for truth and freedom and the true liberation of our country. We are here for the sake of all our people, black and white — including Afrikaners.”

Oliver Tambo said there was not much hope for the future if the world refused to protect children. He made a powerful call for the world to put sanctions on South Africa — to stop trading, lending money and playing sport with this country.

He also told the people of South Africa about the importance of unity. He said they must not make enemies of other people who were also in the struggle, even if their beliefs are a bit different. And they must try by all means to win the vigilantes to their side and away from the government.


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page