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How Peter Hain successfully made good trouble

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A Review of A Pretoria Boy: The Story of South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’ by Peter Hain.

If anyone began life from rock bottom Peter Hain did. But he was bright, loved and played all the sports, took advantage of all lemons given him, and he used his initiative. His parents, Adelaine and Walter Hain, were staunch and active members of the Liberal Party and their activities within the party was to be their destiny and the destiny of their eldest child, Peter.

Peter Hain attended Pretoria Boys High School in Pretoria where he played all sports including rugby and ended up to be senior prefect.

At the age of 16, his parents were expelled from their country, South Africa and they went to Britain where they began to put down new roots. Peter’s father found work as an architect while his mother looked after the children. At the age of 17, Peter sought to join the Young Liberals except there was no branch where they lived. So, Peter formed a branch and he was joined by two or three of his school mates. He began to organize campaigns to stop sports to or from South Africa. In no time at all the roles of son and parents changed. While in South Africa, Peter had assisted his parents in their work in the Liberal Party distributing pamphlets and campaign leaflets; in England, it was the parents who became his helper in his boycott campaigns.

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The nature of political alliances in Britain in the sixties and seventies made it possible for Peter Hain to stand for parliament for Neath in Wales. He was minister in various ministries under Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. From here his next stop was the House of Lords.

While he was doing this, he was organizing the anti-apartheid campaigns, making good trouble, as the African-American would say. He was pursuing his education. He was initially prepared to do Engineering for which he had studied Physics and Mathematics at the advanced level only to change to Politics and Economics in which he made a first class. He had to drop his doctorate in pursuit of his campaign engagements.

Peter Hain and his parents had met Nelson Mandela before he went to life imprisonments where Mandela and his colleagues followed, with joy, the successes of Peter Hain. The first major success of his campaigns was the collapse of apartheid with the gradual release of the African National Congress and the unbanning of the various anti-apartheid movements. The second major success came later.

A tradition of the British parliamentary system is something called ‘privilege’ which allows a member of parliament to mention a person by name for a particular misdeed, and that person cannot silence the speaker by suing him or her for defamation. Peter Hain used ‘privilege’ three times in pursuit of justice. The second major success had to do with the use of ‘privilege’. It was in pursuit of the criminal activities of Jacob Zuma and his friends the Guptas. The ANC was already divided between those who were with President Zuma and those against him who wanted him recalled from the presidency, like his predecessor. Lord Hain wanted to know how he could help. “In his dry, clinical way, Pravin spelt it out. His favorite phrase was ‘join the dots’: in other words connect all the diverse components of state capture in the Zuma regime. Every government department had been penetrated by Zuma-appointed ministers and civil servant.’

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked, more out of solidarity than expectation.

‘Well, actually, there might be,’ Pravin mused, thinking aloud.” “. . .a lot of the looted money had been laundered abroad, Pravin explained, estimating as much as R7 billion (or 350 million pounds).
Maybe I could assist with that, Pravin and the others suggested,” (page xiv). In the process President Zuma sacked and his deputy was elected as his successor. A commission of inquiry was appointed to which Zuma refused to testify for which he was jailed for fifteen months.

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Making trouble, good or bad, is never ever of much good for the trouble-maker. Trouble-making involves the secret service. The secret service involves lying and liars. And where truth is scarce and lying abundant it is war. And as they say, all is fair in war. It was surprising but really shouldn’t that BOSS of South Africa should be hand in glove with both MI5 and MI6 of Great Britain. John Harris, his family and friends, including Peter’s parents did not know that the secret service knew more than they knew. John Harris was the only white person ever hanged for anti-apartheid activity. He planted a bomb in which an elderly white woman died and her daughter was maimed for life. The secret service knew more and yet John endured so much torture before finally confessing to planting the bomb.

In these anti-apartheid matters there were witnesses, sometimes fellow offenders, who turned to be government witnesses. It happened in this case that fellow planners with John Harris became government witnesses against him.

There was also the mischief-making that the secret service is capable of doing. One afternoon, some police officers turned up at Peter’s flat and invited him to come to the police station with them. Reluctantly, he went with them. There, he was accused of having just a local branch of Barclays Bank. True, someone looking like him and about his height and build had been allowed to steal a bundle of cash which he threw back when pursued. Luckily for Peter one of three school boys who pursued the ‘thief’ was too sure that Peter was not the person they had pursued. When Peter was shown his MI5 file “which had been handed over to Prime Minister Tony Blair on his intended ministerial appointees…I asked Lander about the bank theft, and his calibrated reply was striking: South Africa would know. They almost certainly did it”. Reading this book along with Don’t Play with Apartheid: The Background to Stop The Seventy Tour Campaign (1971) will be helpful in understanding what Peter Hain’s troubles were about.

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In this article:
Kole OmotosoPeter Hain
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