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We Fought Apartheid in South Africa – And We’re Appalled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Suspension

Veterans of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement write about their dismay at Jeremy Corbyn's suspension – and ask, how many Labour MPs can match his record in the fight against racism?

So appalled were Pallo Jordan, Ebrahim Ebrahim and I at the Labour Party’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, their former leader, on October 29th, that we drafted a petition directed to his successor, Keir Starmer, as follows:

We, South Africans, are deeply disturbed at the Labour Party’s treatment and suspension of Jeremy Corbyn. We can attest to his outstanding support for the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, and his resolute stand against all forms of racism, discrimination, antisemitism, xenophobia, injustice and oppression of people, wherever such evils are manifested. We stand in solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn and join those in Britain calling for his reinstatement without delay.

We were soon joined by other South Africans, who – like us – had worked and organised for the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, studied or lived in Britain during the struggle years, had many friends in the British labour movement and had insight into, among other political and trade union formations, the Labour Party.

Here I refer to Essop and Aziz Pahad, Barney Pityane, Jeremy Cronin, Mandla Langa, Fazel Randera, Terry Bell, Mongane Wally Serote, Gartch Strachan, Lawson Naidoo, Raymond Suttner, Eddie Webster, Horst Kleinschmidt and Paula Ensor, among others – activists within South Africa and the international political arena to this day. Within a few days, our statement has been endorsed by 2,000 concerned South Africans and others wishing to be associated with this initiative.

This includes Frank Chikane, Barney Pityane, Alec Erwin, Sydney Mufamadi, and the ANC’s Deputy Secretary General, Jessie Duarte; retired military generals Siphiwe Nyanda and Jacqueline Sedibe; former ambassadors Mohammed Dangor and Ismail Coovadia; public servants Zane Dangor, Tim Wilson and Ivan Pillay; trade unionists Ivan Jim, Bongani Masuku, Neil Coleman, Joe Foster, Percy Thomas and Alistair Smith; journalists such as Amina Frense and Iqbal Jasset, human rights activists such as Xolela Mangcu, Noor Nieftagodien, Luli Callinicos, Brian Ashley, Nonkoni Ratshitanga, Jacklyn Cock, Neeshan Bolton, Jane Duncan, Na’eem Jeenah, Salim Valli, Langa Zita, Mercia Andrew, Renee Horne, Mark Weinberg, Zubeida Jaffer, John Pampallis, Noncebo Madonsela, and Ben Cousins; struggle veterans such as Snuki Zikalale and Sunny Singh, and a generation of younger activists such as William Shoki, Natalia Dinath and Roshan Dadoo.

It is not difficult to understand why Jeremy Corbyn’s plight has affected us. Solidarity is a two-way street. Many of us experienced, in the most direct sense, his commitment to our struggle to topple the apartheid regime and are able to testify to that. We find it a matter of principle to stand by him, as his adversaries lash out for a range of shameful and downright reactionary reasons, intent on destroying or emasculating him.

For his 37 years as an MP, Jeremy Corbyn has been an inspirational force not only for Britain, where he had attracted hundreds of thousands of youth into the Labour Party, but internationally too. He has been one of the few leaders anywhere to not only dare talk about socialism, but to link it creatively to the issues that ordinary people are facing, and to inspire millions with hope. He has stood for decades in the cause of anti-racism, at times when it was far from popular or convenient. How many Labour MPs can match that type of record?

Additionally, he has been a champion of the anti-war movement, opposing the disastrous invasion of Iraq and exposing Bush and Blair’s war-mongering duplicity. He is an implacable opponent of fascism at home and abroad, and a brave voice in upholding people’s rights to independence and sovereignty against imperialism. That is an outstanding legacy which we are proud to support without reservation.

These are clear reasons why we South Africans are so forthright in our support for Jeremy Corbyn and are prepared to raise our voices in his defence. But I raise another – in fact, one that motivated Jeremy Corbyn in all his years of dedicated activism on our behalf – and that is the knowledge that the fight for justice and the truth only prevails when sufficient numbers of people make their demands heard in words and action. The current crop of Labour leaders should pay heed to that lesson of history.

It is simply not true that Corbyn was incorrect when he argued that antisemitism in the party was overstated for political reasons. In a country where a Survation poll found that the public believed that 34% of Labour members have faced complaints of antisemitism – over three hundred times the actual number – how can it be denied that the public perception of what is happening in Labour has been skewed?

That is clear to many members, including Jewish members in Corbyn’s own constituency of Islington North who have defended his record. One such member, Lynne Segal, has written that

Our own views as Jewish members [were] completely ignored. Right now, along with the many other Jewish activists I know in Islington North, I am simply devastated that this process has climaxed in the suspension of our cherished MP, and former leader.

Solidarity in support of a just cause is a powerful weapon. We join forces with those demanding that Keir Starmer lift this shameful suspension on an honest and decent man, a champion of the oppressed who has always been dedicated to labour’s cause. We need to step up the pressure to achieve this end – and not only in Britain.