Archive for the 'Heroes' Category

Vale John Fieldsend, CJ

This post is to remember the life of a courageous Zimbabwean, Sir John Charles Rowell Fieldsend (1921-2017), who was first Chief Justice of Zimbabwe. The following text is from an obituary in The Times (3 March 2017):

When Ian Smith’s white minority government issued its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in Rhodesia in 1965, it was the country’s judiciary who had to interpret that in practice. Among their number was John Fieldsend, a High Court judge.

Smith had detained several of his opponents, including Robert Mugabe, the future prime minister, Canaan Banana, later president, and Daniel Madzimbamuto, who would become deputy postmaster general. Madzimbamuto’s wife, Stella, brought a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that her husband was being held unlawfully. The case found its way to the appellate division of the High Court in 1968, where Fieldsend was on the panel of five judges. Sir Sydney Kentridge, who appeared for Madzimbamuto, recalled: “The real issue was whether the judges should apply the law of the constitution as they were appointed, or whether the revolution had been successful.”

By a majority the court backed the continuing detention of the men, with Fieldsend dissenting. “He was a man of conscience,” recalled Kentridge, “the epitome of real judicial probity.” The Privy Council in London upheld the case on appeal, but Smith took no notice, leaving the British government unable to recognise his regime, even though Smith professed loyalty to the Crown. The move led to much debate over which constitution the country was following — the one approved by Britain in 1961, or the “illegal” one of 1965 promulgated by Smith.

In his dissenting judgment Fieldsend declared that “while the present authorities are factually in control of all executive and legislative powers in Rhodesia, they have not usurped the judicial function”.

Lawyers for James Dlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadrack, who had been sentenced to death, appealed to the Privy Council, which ruled that their sentences should be commuted. The Smith regime hanged them anyway. Fieldsend now realised that he was an isolated figure in a country that was changing fast. He resigned, saying that he could not accept the government’s “intention not to recognise any right to appeal to the Privy Council”, and left the country.

Eventually UDI ended, Rhodesia formally gained independence and was renamed Zimbabwe, and Mugabe became prime minister in 1980, inviting Fieldsend to return as chief justice. Fieldsend felt that in those early days of black rule Mugabe was making all the right noises. His role was to help with the Africanisation of the country, making sure that Zimbabwe emerged from colonial rule on a stable footing.

He was at pains to ensure proper and fair hearings, firmly opposing informal justice and village courts. He was particularly critical of a trial held in 1982 in a sports stadium in front of 2,000 spectators in which a 64-year-old white farmer was convicted of adultery with the wife of a black employee, describing it as “a spectacle out of keeping with the administration of justice”.

John Charles Rowell Fieldsend was born into a Lincolnshire farming family in 1921, the son of Charles Fieldsend, who had been awarded an MC in Mesopotamia during the First World War, and his wife, Phyllis, (née Brucesmith). His father was an engineer who was involved in building dams in India and railways in Africa, where he moved with his family in the 1920s.

John was educated at Michaelhouse, a boys’ school in South Africa. He then went on to study law at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. In 1943 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, serving in Egypt and at the Battle of Monte Cassino before ending his war in Greece.

Returning to Rhodes, Fieldsend met Muriel Gedling at a dance. They were married in 1945 and she worked as a teacher. Meanwhile, Fieldsend was called to the Southern Rhodesian Bar in 1947 and took silk in 1959. Muriel died in 2010, and Fieldsend is survived by their two children, Peter and Catherine Ann Buss, both journalists.

After resigning under Smith’s regime, Fieldsend met Edward Heath in London, where he was disturbed by the prime minister’s habit of dunking biscuits in his tea. He was given a post at the Law Commission, examining legislation concerning public liability.

He was succeeded as chief justice of Zimbabwe in 1993 by Telford Georges, the first black person to hold that post. He then served as chief justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands (1985-87) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (1987-98), and was president of the court of appeal in Gibraltar (1991-97).

In retirement, Fieldsend, who was knighted in 1998, restored an old house between Pisa and Florence. When he was in Britain he lived with his wife in West Sussex, where the vast contents of his bookshelves ranged from a copy of the Koran to a recipe for elderflower cordial. “He was like a real-life Wikipedia,” his daughter said. He adored gatherings of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, regretting that his deteriorating hearing meant he could not keep up with their lively chatter.

Sir John Fieldsend, judge, was born on September 13, 1921. He died from lung cancer on February 22, 2017, aged 95.”

 




The Stinson Crash

Today, 19 February 2017, is the 80th anniversary of the crash of the Stinson in Lamington Ranges National Park in Southern Queensland, half a kilometre from the border with New South Wales, in 1937. I attended the 50th anniversary commemoration in February 1987, where I met some of the original rescue party, as I reported here. The plane was the Stinson Model A Brisbane. Another model A is shown here:

The plane was on a scheduled Airlines of Australia flight from Brisbane to Sydney, with 2 pilots and 5 passengers on board. Both pilots and 2 passengers died in the crash. One passenger, James Westray, went for help, but died after falling down a waterfall.  Judith Wright, who later lived in nearby Mount Tamborine for two decades, wrote a poem about Westray, The Lost Man. The two survivors, John Proud and Joseph Binstead, owed their rescue to the intuition and perseverance of legendary bushman Bernard O’Reilly.

The passengers and crew were:

Joseph Robert Binstead, wool broker, of Manly NSW
John Seymour Proud, mining engineer, of Wahroonga NSW
William Walden Fountain, architect, 41 of Hamilton, Brisbane QLD (Originally from New Jersey)
James Ronald Nairne Graham, Managing Director, 55 of Hunters Hill NSW
William James Guthrie Westray, Insurance Underwriter, 25 of Kensington, London, England
Commercial Pilot, Beverly George Merivale Shepherd, 25 of Sydney NSW
Commercial Pilot, Reginald Haslem Boyden, 41 of Randwick NSW.

Proud (1907-1997) went on to a prominent career as a mining engineer and executive, and was a generous philanthropist.  Some more information can be found here.

A report in the Beaudesert Times on the 80th anniversary trek is here.

 

Photo credit: Wikicommons: Bill Larkins.




The Matthew

Replica of The Matthew, ship sailed by John Cabot from Bristol to North America in 1497. (Photo from BBC.)




Caning John Pilger

Wilfred Burchett (1911-1983) was a brave and intrepid Australian journalist who mainly reported from the other side in the Cold War. He was the first western reporter to visit Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city, something he did without permission from the US Occupation authorities, and was thus able to counter attempted US military lies and disinformation about what we now know was radiation poisoning; he did this most dramatically at a US military press conference in Japan immediately after his visit to the city.  For many years in the 1950s and 1960s, conservative Australian Governments unjustly refused to renew Burchett’s Australian passport, something only remedied by the incoming Labor administration of Gough Whitlam on 6 December 1972, four days after Labor’s election win. That Burchett may possibly have self-censored his writing for his Socialist Bloc hosts (or worse, been their dupe) does not diminish the wrong he suffered at the hands of petty conservative Australian governments.

Another Australian journo, John Pilger, wrote a preface to a collection on articles about Burchett, edited by Ben Kiernen in 1986. On the second page of his preface, Pilger quotes from Burchett’s autiobiography, and then commits a schoolboy howler. “Soon afterwards [Pilger writes, page x], Wilfred went ‘on the road with a swag’ and in Queensland was adopted by a group of cane-cutters . . . ”

No, Mr Pilger, no! Although Burchett is careful not to name the location of the sugarcane farm he worked on, he says (page 62) it is on an arm of the Clarence River, upstream from a sugar-mill whose chimney effusions he could smell and possibly also see, on a large island bisected by a canal with horse-drawn barges transporting bundles of cut cane. The mill would be the one at Harwood (still in operation today, thanks to former state MP, Don Day), and the island most likely Palmers Island. Other large islands upstream of the Harwood Mill would be Harwood Island itself or Chatsworth Island, but these are not bisected by canals.  But all of these, including the entire mouth of the Clarence River are in New South Wales, Mr Pilger, not Queensland.

Burchett is briefly mentioned as a social acquaintance of Guy Burgess in Moscow in the 1950s in the recent biography of Burgess by Andrew Lownie, reviewed here.

 

References:

Wilfred Burchett [1969]: Passport: An Autobiography. Melbourne, Australia: Nelson.

Ben Kiernan (Editor) [1986]: Burchett Reporting the Other Side of the World 1939-1983. London, UK: Quartet.




ARM Members

The African Resistance Movement (ARM) was an underground movement engaged in sabotage and violent resistance to the South African apartheid regime. Formed in late 1960, it just predates MK and Poqo, the armed wings of the ANC and PAC, respectively (although its public announcement occurred 5 days after that of MK). The founders of the ARM were members of the non-racial Liberal Party, whose leaders had been arrested, detained, and banned in the state of emergency declared in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960.  Both the ANC and PAC were declared banned organizations in that same period.  These government actions led many reasonable people to believe that peaceful, democratic protest was no longer possible in South Africa.  The ANC, after all, had been engaged in peaceful public protest since its formation in 1912 and still found itself declared illegal.

The ARM operated between 1960 and mid 1964.  According to South African History Online, ARM members came from three distinct groups:  members of the Liberal Party, who were mostly white;  former members of the Transvaal ANC Youth League who had defected to form the African Freedom Movement, who were mostly black;  and, former members of the South African Communist Party, some of whom were Trotskyites who had been expelled from the party.  Jonty Driver estimates that the ARM had 58 members: 17 in Cape Town, 27 in Johannesburg, and 14 elsewhere (Durban, PE, Grahamstown, Europe and Canada).  I can find no list of members online, so decided to compile my own.  My sources are given below.

The clear policy of the organization was to not undertake any actions in which people could be hurt. All but one of the 25 actions undertaken adhered to this rule. Most involved attempts to bring down power pylons or similar state-owned infrastructure.  The final action, a bomb left in a suitcase on Johannesburg Railway Station on the afternoon of 24 July 1964, sadly killed one elderly lady, Mrs Ethel Rhys, and maimed several others, including her teenage grand-daughter.  Warning calls had been placed to the police and to two newspapers, but no efforts were made by the authorities to clear the platform.  It is still not known whether this inaction was deliberate or not.

The planting of a bomb in a station was contrary to ARM policy and practice, and was undertaken when almost all ARM members had been arrested or had fled into exile. It was the solo work of John Harris, who was subsequently tried and executed for murder. Harris was the only white person tried and executed by the apartheid regime for a political crime (although others, such as Rick Turner and Ruth First, were assassinated without judicial process).  Several ARM members received gaol terms, and I note these below.  Members of ARM also bravely assisted in spiriting people out of the country, both fellow ARM members and others wanted by the security police,  as did the  underground railroad that operated later in Rhodesia. One ARM member, Michael Schneider, went on to help spirit Jewish people out of various countries, including Bosnia, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria and Yemen.

The decision by any individual to embark on a campaign of violent resistance cannot have been an easy one, even given the already-evident violence of the state and its organs in South Africa.  Moreover, with organisations such as the ANC declared illegal,  ARM membership would likely have led to arrest, and arrest to torture or worse, as indeed it did.  Thus, ARM membership would have required considerable courage.

  • Monty Berman (co-founder) (d. 1999)
  • Myrtle Berman (1924-2016)
  • Alan Brooks (1940-2008) (4 years, 2 suspended)
  • Eddie Daniels (15 years)
  • Johannes Dladla
  • Raymond Eisenstein (2 years)
  • David Evans (5 years)
  • John Harris (1937-1965) (executed)
  • Dennis Higgs
  • David de Keller (10 years)
  • Baruch Hirson (1921-1999) (9 years)
  • Bernice Kaplin
  • Stephanie Kemp (5 years, 3 suspended)
  • John Lang (co-founder)
  • John Laredo (5 years)
  • Adrian Leftwich (1940-2013)
  • Hugh Lewin (7 years)
  • John Lloyd
  • Ruben Mowszowski
  • Hillary Mutch (nee Claire) (1941-2007)
  • Ronnie Mutch
  • Samuel Olifant
  • Rhoda Prager
  • Lynette van der Riet
  • Neville Rubin
  • Diana Russell
  • Michael Schneider
  • Stephen Segale
  • Milton Setlhapelo
  • Willie Tibane
  • Antony Trew (4 years, 2 suspended)
  • Rick Turner (1942-1978)
  • Randolph Vigne (1928-2016)
  • Robert Watson
  • Ernest Wentzel
  • Rosemary Wentzel.

I welcome any updates or corrections.

Sources:

CJ ‘Jonty’ Driver [2002]: Used to be great friends. Granta, 80:7-26.

CJ ‘Jonty’ Driver [2015]: The Man with the Suitcase: The Life, Execution and Rehabilitation of John Harris, Liberal Terrorist. Crane River.

Simon Finch [2016]: The Good Terrorist. TV Documentary, Channel 4, UK.

Adrian Leftwich [2002]: I gave the names. Granta, 78:9-31.

Hugh Lewin [2011]: Stones against the Mirror: Friendship in the time of the South African Struggle. Cape Town, RSA: Umuzi.

Gideon Shimoni [2003]: Community and Conscience:  The Jews in Apartheid South Africa.  Waltham, MA, USA:  Brandeis University Press.

South African History Online: African Resistance Movement

 

Postscript (Added 2016-01-17): In his apologia, the late Adrian Leftwich describes his behaviour as “shameful, harmful and wrong” (2002, page 25).  It is not clear to me if he is referring to his membership of ARM as a whole (which is the focus of the preceding part of that section of the memoir) or just his fast collapse under police interrogation, a collapse in which he gave up the names of his fellow members.  In either case, he was mistaken. Everyone in such circumstances will eventually succumb to torture and so there is no shame and no wrong in giving up names.  There was harm, but this arose from the speed of his collapse (he held out just a day, it seems) and the extent of his prior knowledge.  Membership of ARM was certainly neither wrong nor shameful – quite the reverse, in fact – and only for one action harmful. Where Leftwich appeared to have erred, at this distance of time and morality, is in tradecraft: he should not have known so much about the organization, nor its membership (ie, he should have had fewer names to give up); he should not have saved a field guide for selecting targets in a book in his flat; his girlfriend should not have stored explosives in her flat; he and the other members should have made plans to alert one another, via coded or secret means, of any arrests; they should each have had well-practised plans and places for hiding, or plans for escape abroad; etc.  In a sense, the poor tradecraft was an indication of integrity of intentions: anyone engaged in armed struggle for its own sake, or for the thrills it provided, would have been more professional in undertaking it. Leftwich, like his colleagues, remains a hero.




Transitions 2015

People who have passed on during 2015, whose life or works have influenced me:

  • Yogi Berra (1925-2015), American baseball player
  • Ornette Coleman (1930-2015), American jazz musician
  • Robert Conquest (1917-2015), British kremlinologist
  • Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015), Australian politician
  • Jaako Hintikka (1929-2015), Finnish philosopher and logician
  • Lisa Jardine (1944-2015), British historian
  • Joan Kirner (1938-2015), Australian politician, aka “Mother Russia”
  • Kurt Masur (1927-2015), East German conductor
  • John Forbes Nash (1928-2015), American mathematician
  • Boris Nemtsov (1959-2015), Russian politician
  • Oliver Sacks (1933-2015), British-American neurologist and writer
  • Gunter Schabowski (1929-2015), East German politician
  • Alex Schalck-Golodkowski (1932-2015), East German politician
  • Gunther Schuller (1925-2015), American composer and musician (and French horn player on Miles Davis’ 1959 album, Porgy and Bess).
  • Brian Stewart (1922-2015), British intelligence agent.
  • Ward Swingle (1927-2015), American singer and jazz musician.

Last year’s post is here.




A salute to Bella Subbotovskaya

Bella Subbotovskaya (1938-1982) was a Russian mathematician who founded an underground university in Moscow to teach mathematics to students, particularly but not only Jewish students, excluded from education by the anti-Semitic policies of Moscow State University and other institutions of higher learning. The unpaid lecturers in this underground university were both Jewish and non-Jewish. The activity came to be called the Jewish People’s University and operated, against strong KGB harassment, from 1978 to 1983. Her death was due to a suspicious car accident that may well have been a KGB assassination.

I never cease to be amazed at the stupidity of racism. Even in a allegedly rationalist state such as the late USSR, the authorities deemed it desirable to exclude the best students from university on the basis of their ethnicity or religion.

Reference:

G. Szpiro [2007]: Bella Abramovna Subbotovskaya and the Jewish People’s University. Notices of the American Mathematics Society (NAMS), 54 (10): 1326-1330.




London Life

In solidarity with the people of France, and in support of human civilization, Trafalgar Square an hour ago:

TrafalgarSquareLondonJeSuisCharlie-20150111

(Photo Credit: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London)




RIP: Natalia Gorbanevskaya

Natalie Gorbanevska 19677

The death occurred last month of Natalia Gorbanevskaya (1936-2013, pictured in 1967), Russian poet and Soviet dissident, and one of the Moscow Seven,  brave opponents of the occupation by forces of the Warsaw Pact of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.  From 1975 she lived in exile, initially in Israel and then in France.  For most of this time she was stateless, and did not have a passport until 2006, when granted Polish citizenship.   As in the 19th century, Russia disowns its best and brightest children.  The Economist has an obituary here.  

There was more than this one protest against the invasion, with over 200 people involved in protests elsewhere in the USSR and across the Eastern Bloc.  A list of 160 Soviet protesters against the invasion, prepared by Memorial, is here.  The courage of the Moscow Seven and these others has been recognized by the Czech Republic, but not yet by the Russian Federation.   Indeed, Russia has still to apologize to Czechslovakia for the invasion. 

From Gorbanevskaya’s poetry (translation by Daniel Weissbort):

The crime has not yet been expunged,
the hour of truth has not yet struck.
logs in the stove still ticking over,
although the fire’s already out.




What we’re thinking

Christopher Weyant’s cartoon in The New Yorker (HT: SP).