Friday, January 30, 1998

Still Crazy After All These Years

BEYOND BEDLAM Ed. Ken Smith & Matthew Sweeney Anvil £7.95

The anthology is subtitled, "Poems written out of mental distress." Of course, it is disturbing.

Its publication was timed to coincide with the 750th anniversary of the original Bedlam (Bethlem Royal Hospital) where inmates used to be exhibited for the amusement of visiting gentry. As you pass along its passages you get more than a whiff of the suffering inflicted by mental illness and its institutions.

The cannon includes all the usual suspects: Lowell, Clare, Plath, Bunyan, Graves, Pound. Then you spot the name of a lesser-known writer you sat with in a pub after the poetry gig after the breakdown or the botched suicide.

Martin Brownlee's "On the Run from Tooting Bec Hospital" gives a taste of that moonlight flit up the Balham High Road made by many in their NHS pyjamas. Tooting's grim Victorian fortress was demolished in the 1980s and now so many "sleep in the park, just another dosser." as a result of government policy.

Richard McKane's translation of verses written more than 20 years ago in a Russian mental hospital, gives a reminder of the systematic repression that disintegrated into just as cruel a vacuum after the collapse of the Soviet infrastructure.

The editors' introduction tells us: "Poets are 30 times more likely to undergo a depressive illness than the rest of the population, and 20 times more likely to be committed to an asylum." And yet the project emerged from patients in the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospitals writing verse for therapeutic reasons.

Four mental health charities will benefit from its royalties

Thursday, January 22, 1998

Pie in the sky
Weekly Worker 224 Thursday Jan. 22 1998

Although Jim Blackstock's article 'Winnie fills SACP vacuum' (December 4 1997) can be said to be 'better' than most being bandied around in the media, it contains hints and misinformation that I feel should not pass.

I presume it is felt by many that the 37 ANC members (including the president, Thabo Mbeki), having been amnestied by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee without having to state their crimes, are to be excused. After all, as Jim Blackstock says, they were fighting the struggle and I agree one cannot equate revolutionary violence with reactionary violence. But were they really?

In the 1970 and 80s, great respect was paid in Britain and in Europe generally to the chief representative of the ANC in London, Solly Smith (Samuel Khunene) and his sidekick, Dr Francis Meli. In 1990 Smith confessed - and implicated Meli - to having been spies for the South African apartheid regime. After his confession, Smith was made head of the ANC in the Orange Free State and a few months later both were found dead in hotel rooms in different towns.

In the 1980s the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group was being trashed by the ANC and AAM, as was David Kitson and myself. The membership of the London ANC was peculiarly obedient to these spies.

The British media also fulsomely followed the dictates of the spies. But there were many others: the British Anti-Apartheid Movement went to great lengths to assist the Boer agents. Ken Gill, leader of the union Tass, joined avidly in trying to rubbish the Kitsons and stopped David's funding at Ruskin College, having previously promised him a 'job for life' after his 20 years in jail as a member of the high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Nothing further has been published about the spies, although PAC member Patricia de Lille tried to make some facts known in parliament recently. Her allegations have not, of course, been answered.

But back to Winnie Madikizela Mandela:

It has not been found in any court, nor at the TRC, that Winnie killed, beat or caused the killing or beating of anyone. She asked for an open hearing to clear her name.

Jim Blackstock says "numerous witnesses have implicated" her in the murder of Stompie and Dr Asvat. These witnesses were all self-confessed liars: even the 'unassailable' Albertina Sisulu, when called upon to confirm her act of signing a medical card - evidence which she had given previously a number of times - denied having done it. One 'witness' admitted being a police spy. One, Falati, gave as her reason for lying that it was 'traditional', and so on. Posing Cebekulu, Richardson, Falati and people like them - self-confessed criminals and liars - as witnesses to Winnie MM's 'crimes' is misleading your readership.

There have been campaigns against Winnie MM for many years, all of which have proved in and out of the courts to have been baseless. One after another, cases have been set up against her and then disproved. The one area where she was found guilty was in kidnapping.

In the UK and Europe there have been many cases where children have been removed from the care of child abusers. Only in South Africa, in the case of Winnie MM, has this been termed 'kidnapping'. Falati reported to her that these children were being abused and she removed them from Verryn's care, and she admitted that.

Judge Stegman found that when Stompie was murdered, Winnie MM was proved to be in Brandfort. This was corroborated by Mrs Sisulu at the TRC hearing when she denied signing the medical card with its altered date so crudely offered as evidence of Winnie MM's presence in Johannesburg on that day.

Did you know it was said at the time of his death that Dr Asvat was in a position to confirm that Stompie had been raped? That was the reason given then why he was murdered. Winnie MM could not have done that (or arranged it) because it would have been contrary to her interests. Through all the years Winnie MM has run crèches, provided venues and food for children. Her writings of the children of Soweto are profoundly loving. Also, Dr Asvat was a great friend of hers.

Jim Blackstock says Winnie MM's "revolutionism has drifted in the direction of reactionary populism" because she is alleged to have said she is in favour of restoration of the death penalty. Winnie denies she ever said that. Winnie MM has a huge constituency among the South African people. Dire moves were made to prevent her being elected deputy president of the ANC; but, despite all the media hype and hatred, she achieved 15th position out of 150 candidates in the voting stakes at the ANC conference in Mafikeng.

JB's final paragraph is actually laughable. Here we have a revolutionary leader, proved and tested in the struggle, leading from the front, and he is asking the "masses" to jack her and "unite their forces in order to reforge the SACP around an independent working class programme". Talk about pie in the sky! What SACP is he referring to? The Yusuf Dadoo one, who spent his time drinking himself under the table and whose followers (or leaders) were hand in hand with the confessed spies? Or the one led by Moses Mabidha who was not allowed to make decisions unless passed by Brian Bunting? The Slovo-led one which negotiated away the revolution? The one led by Jeremy Cronin that believes you can talk yourself into socialism and, hidden under the cloak of the ANC, is leading its capitalist policies? Or is something new suddenly going to jump out of the woodwork?

The umbrella of the ANC covers many good comrades. Let us hope they emerge, as Winnie has done, unsullied by the spies, the opportunists and the renegades.

Norma Kitson,


David Kitson and me
David Kitson's obituary
Steven Kitson: photo
Steven Kitson
Norma’s Obituary [FRFI]
Norma’s Obituary [Guardian]
Norma Kitson [Photo]
Where Sixpence Lives