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50 Years Ago: Zeke in Nigeria

Es’kia Mphahlele and the Anti-Apartheid Association of Nigeria

Moritz Isaac (Manu) Herbstein was born in 1936 in Muizenberg in the Western Cape. He graduated from the University of Cape Town with a B.Sc in Engineering in 1958. From 1959 to 1970 Herbstein lived and travelled extensively in England, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Zambia, and Scotland. He now resides in Accra.

Herbstein arrived in Nigeria not long before Independence in 1960. Almost immediately he became involved in efforts to launch an Anti-Apartheid Association (AAA) with Ezekiel (Zeke, later Es’kia) Mphahlele, the South African writer, who had been living and working in Nigeria for several years. Over the course of eight months Zeke and Manu, with several other South Africans based in Nigeria, attempted to take forward the work that Zeke had spearheaded in respect of the AAA – to lobby people in Nigerian civil society and government to more actively voice and implement their opposition to the apartheid regime and its increasingly draconian and violent tactics. Although their attempts to formalise the AAA were unsuccessful, the correspondence between Zeke and Manu in particular and with several stalwarts of Nigeria’s political left provide fascinating and sober insight into the challenges facing progressives in post-independence Nigeria and those confronting South Africans attempting to mobilise anti-apartheid support on foreign soil.

The following are edited extracts of correspondence and copies of publicity materials from Herbstein’s personal archives. We begin with a personal introduction from Herbstein himself.

Ezekiel Mphahlele left South Africa on 6 September 1957 to take up a teaching post at a school in Lagos, Nigeria. He was 37. A white bureaucrat who interviewed him and recommended that he be given a passport warned him that if ever he should find it necessary to speak publicly about South Africa, it would not do to speak ill about the country that had given him the education he had.

“I was to bear in mind the fact that South Africa was doing more for its non-white population than any colonial power in Africa,” Zeke recalled.

Zeke’s wife Rebecca and three children, aged 10, 7 and 4, joined him three months later. In December 1958 he was one of the South African delegates at the All-African Peoples Conference in Accra. In Lagos, Zeke wrote the second half of his autobiography, Down Second Avenue. It was published in 1959. In the second volume of the autobiography, published as Afrika My Music, Zeke writes: “Nigeria and Ghana gave Africa back to me . . . We flourished in Nigerian freedom, even while it was still a colony. And we were drawn into its life by the people, who were at ease with themselves.” He goes on to tell of the “scintillating sense of freedom and daytime, after the South African nightmare”. Zeke and Rebecca “expected opposition and tough words whenever we met whites. None. The crutch that had given you an identity back home – anger and all – had been taken away.”

In the Epilogue of Down Second Avenue Zeke writes, “This Nigerian sun will burn up at least such prejudice and bitterness and hate . . . But there will always be that smouldering anger against poverty, injustice and the legalized bullying of the small man by the strong one . . . I have brought with me prejudices and anger to a country where they are almost altogether alien now. I’m breathing the new air of freedom, and now the barrel of gall has no bottom any more.”

After 15 months in Lagos, Zeke joined the Extra Mural Department of the University of Ibadan. From a base at Offa, on the border of the Western and Northern Regions, he taught night school in Ilorin and Jebba and elsewhere.

I arrived in Nigeria shortly before Independence. I was stationed at Abeokuta working on the construction of a barrage across the Ogun River and the associated water treatment works.

My memory of these times is at best patchy, so I’m going to rely on letters and other documents, scanned, transcribed and arranged in more or less chronological order, to tell their own story.

Typed letter from Mokwugo Okoye*, the Nigerian socialist intellectual, writer and radical activist

P. 0. Box 112

22 November 1960

Dear Mr Herbstein,

Many thanks for your letter of the 31st October which was handed to me this afternoon – you may remember that I was away to Europe to attend the congress of the International Union of Socialist Youth in Vienna from where I visited Germany and Belgium.

It is gratifying to receive encouragement from you at a time when one’s sanity is even doubted by his most intimate friends. Of course, I am not moved by the furore over my booklet and I have no doubt that history is on my side. As a matter of fact, the booklet contains very little of Marxist exposition and I suspect that my colleagues banned it – I gather that they cleared the stock from the printers and burned – yes burned – the lot. I still have my copy which I took away on my departure for Europe and I am sorry I cannot spare that; but if you will be in Lagos during the second week of December – we shall hold a Youth conference on December 10 and 11 at the Lagos City College which you can attend as observer – I shall be delighted to show it to you and to discuss the whole question of our political development with you…

I could give you many names of progressives who would be delighted to meet you, but as I have no idea what opportunities you have for travel and what is the nature of activity you would like to engage in, I would prefer to talk things over with you when we meet in Lagos. If you are free to work with the newly formed Youth Congress which is non-party and non-tribalist, perhaps you could meet Mr Emrnanuel Ifeajuna of the Ebenezer Grammar School, Abeokuta to form a local branch which must have a minimum membership of 25. I shall be glad to give you further particulars about this, but you may wish to contact Mr Okwudi Ebo of the West African Pilot who is now acting as secretary in Lagos.

All the good wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Mokwugo Okoye

In the November 1960 edition of Drum, Nelson Ottah wrote: “Mokwugo Okoye is the most extraordinary of all extraordinary young Nigerians. He is extraordinarily well read. But above all, he is extraordinarily angry with Nigeria, which, he says, does not know where it is going.” Okoye was at the time the publicity secretary of the Eastern wing of the National Congress of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).


Handwritten letter from Ezekiel Mphahlele

P. O Box 90,

26 Nov ’60

Dear Manu,

A short while ago, Jarrett-Kerr* wrote to say you are at Abeokuta, & gave me your address. Only busyness kept me from writing. Sorry for that.

It was exciting to hear you have joined the colonial band – good of you. With your sharp eye you have already seen the shortcomings of our brothers here. Their problem is a huge one which humbles the visitor or newcomer so that he does not even dare suggest the root of the malady. And so many things falsify the wonderful qualities so many Nigerians have.

Yes you find us on something already. I’d appreciate your keeness & sense of urgency, but we have had to wait for a process of evolution on this terrain. I have had to use the press a lot during the last two years, & over that period I have done twelve articles for the Daily Service (now Express) & Pilot on S.A. Last year I undertook a series of lectures for the purpose of collecting cash for the T.T*. & these, combined with the sale of Nigerian arts & crafts, brought in £212.

It was last year’s effort that taught us whom we can rely on & whom we cannot expect to do much or anything – I mean among the S.As. Two months ago I sent out 35 appeals to S.As for a contribution of £5 each for the Defence & Aid Fund & we have only £29 now (from 5 persons). This will help us sift, because I’ve learned that it’s absolutely no use (with the vast distances between us & the different backgrounds we each come from in S.A.) to call a meeting where sentiments (well known) are expressed etc. & boozing goes on etc. I have now a core of 5 or 6 (Please light a fire under Juta Vanda* to send his £5 pounds –Tami* you can rule out – he’s got tons of fright under his bravado) & now I’m waiting for a letter of credentials from the Tennyson* group in Accra – United Front – which will introduce us to the fellows I know in the 4 govts here. After we are officially known we can start the campaign –I’ll let you know soon as the Accra letter is here. Then the 7 or so of us will meet & plan strategy.

Best wishes as always,

(Gallant isn’t any use either)

Jarrett-Kerr – Rev. Martin Jarrett-Kerr succeeded Trevor Huddleston at the Community of Resurrection in Johannesburg. By this time he was back in the U.K.
Pilot – The West African Pilot, founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, first president of Nigeria.
Juta Vanda – South African teaching in Abeokuta
Tami – Rev. David Tami Matebesi, South African, headmaster of the Abeokuta Grammar School
Tennyson group in Accra – United Front – Tennyson Xola Makiwane, South African 1933-1980. Treason Trialist; Chief Representative of the ANC in London in 1960; primary initiator of the movement to Boycott South African goods; co-founder and first director of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London. As ANC representative in Ghana in 1960, he participated in the short-lived United Front with the PAC. He later worked with the ANC in Lusaka. Expelled from the ANC as one of the Gang of Eight in 1975, Makiwane was assassinated by ANC operatives in the Transkei in June 1980.
Gallant – Gallant Momoti, South African teaching in Abeokuta


Handwritten letter from Ezekiel Mphahlele

P. O Box 90,


Dear Manu,

Good show – thanks for chq which is a generous help. I’ve put £7 in our savings & £3 has gone to stationery for general business in consolidating what we have started.

And this brings me to your most enthusiastic proposals. Let me say first that what I’m going to say in no way suggests my doubts as to your sincerity or ability to live up your ideal or to move towards it. But when you get used to the terrain on which we are operating, you may see things my way. It is easy to overrate the sustained interest & stamina of the Nigerian when one has spoken to individuals or read what the best of them write in the press. Please don’t let the idea enter your head that I’m content with the one man job I have had to do so far. I did it because I did not have the manpower (S.A.) to enlist – and in case press publicity & public lectures don’t require committees. But once I realized I had hit on the handful of S. Africans whose academic interest could be translated into hard practical work, I roped them in. But this is in parenthesis.

In 1957 after I got here I was involved in a Nigerian Committee which on its own initiative went out to canvas public support for the T.T. Fund. This was in Lagos. The big men were too busy with other things. The committee were shocked by the littleness of the support, which did not live up to the verbal effusions that came from the people’s mouths against S.A. That committee has for practical purposes fizzled out. Lately there has come up a Nigerian Council of Affairs & and I have approached the boys at the head of it. These are the Nigerian elite & if things don’t start without (sic) their initiative, there’s no budging: and I mean it. So I talked to the other chaps around here (S.A.) in Ilesha, Ife & Oshogbo & they agreed with my view that a S. African committee in this setting can’t work in isolation – we’ve got to get Nigerians in, but as there’s already this Council (which organized the Lagos & Ibadan demonstrations against Sharpeville), we might affiliate to it. This would mean we would have to broaden our perspective (S.A. to Africa) & merely plug the S.A. angle for emphasis.

No harm in that. But then the best thing to do might be to set ourselves up as the authentic group, officially known (you get nowhere here without prostrating figuratively to individual men in power), to whom inquiries about SA can be directed, & who can channelize assistance & do a hell of a lot of information bureau stuff, make official press statements about events in S.A. At the same time we can, from a strong position, negotiate a kind of cooperation & affiliation or what you will, with the Nigeria Council. (I’m still waiting for definite word from them)

In this way, while we do much of the groundwork concerning S.A. we are not being isolationist & we are part of a Nigerian set-up. Remember, these fellows are too busy consolidating their independence, too busy with their own individual security, to give the kind of gigantic support you envisage.

Culturally, educationally & economically, Britain has arrived, & the British can afford the academic luxury of handing out a few pound notes for all sorts of causes. As with economic aid to African & other countries, so with the dispersal of intellectual interests. Nigerians CAN’T do that yet. They are going to have to concentrate all their practical faculties on themselves for a long time to come & only say things about this & that outside their borders; hard luck to the man who takes them literally. They had to send an army to the Congo for a kind of international esteem. And as the average secondary school & university student has not begun to think in terms of African affairs (always with very few exceptions) we’ve got to do the work ourselves & bring our problems to their doorstep. You need a helluva lot of money to administer a fund of the proportions you imagine, & before these boys can run it, they must have graduated from the level of spontaneous & impulsive or native response to political causes. We need at least a year to rattle our tin-cans in their ears & this is simply because I’m aware the one-man propaganda that has gone on is not sufficient.

When we have seen the big men, we can spread out & stage a series of public lectures, using what men we have to lecture simultaneously. Let’s ship the idea of calling all S.Africans to one place to yap a lot to no purpose. We must concentrate our energies on the big job itself. They’ll come in as their conscience matures. I wrote to Ralph & Paul, Rusty Gool*, with no avail, & I’m just sick of talking.




Ralph – Ralph Hendrickse, South African, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Ibadan
Paul – Paul Hendrickse, South African, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Ibadan
Rusty Gool – South African, Senior Lecturer in Anaesthesia, University of Ibadan.


Handwritten letter from Ezekiel Mphahlele to Manu Herbstein

P. O Box 90,


Dear Manu,

Please send me Goddamn White Man* soon as you can. Am keen to read it. Confound it – I’ve mislaid the letter in which you talk about it & other literary things, & my head is in a whirlwind at the moment.

Cheerio for now.


The Goddam White Man, a novel by expatriate South African David Lytton, was published in London in 1960. It was banned in South Africa.

Typed letter from Mokwugo Okoye

P. O. Box 112

8 January ‘61

Dear Manu,

… Your comment on our recent Youth conference in Lagos is as it should be. I am not one of those who think that Africans are a peculiar people who must do things in a different way from others, and in these days of an increasingly democratic and shrinking world, culture is being universalised, what with the phenomenal developments in trade, transport, wireless and literature. So, ordinarily we could only reflect to some extent the conflicts and intrigues which are familiar in the history of left wing organizations of other countries. After many years of serving in the movement I am inured to them by now, although sometimes I wonder whether in Nigeria we are getting anywhere at all. For we seem to be losing more people on the wayside than we are winning, the latter consisting mostly of rogues and philistines while the better elements are being elbowed out in the hard struggle for a better order. Most of the comrades who fought with me in the 40s are now watching from the sidelines and many who now justle for a place in the first echelon of the movement are rather lacklustre careerists and opportunists who know not their right from their left and who follow any that will butter their own bread for them.

The problem of a new party to which you refer has exercised some of us for some time now. Quite frankly it is my belief that the ideal party for Nigeria of the future is yet to emerge and what our lefts are doing now in the old parties is merely to ‘keep in practice’. For we realise that mere idealism is not enough in present-day Nigeria to run a new party: it is the men with jobs, contracts, scholarships and other patronage that attract supporters and moreover the masses are yet to know the bourgeoisie well enough to shrink from them. It is not always a question of courage although I must admit that some of the leftists are cowardly to the extreme; witness the suspension of activity by the Socialist Group and the resignation of many office-holders from left wing organisations just to retain their positions which, by the way, is not an instrument in the inner-party struggle but a means of selfish aggrandisement.

I draw no fundamental distinction between a white and a black capitalist and in time others will learn to class all exploiters together. I agree with you that it will be a sound idea if we can organise many cooperative enterprises which will not only give competence and employment to the left, but also supply much-needed service to the masses who know only the profiteering methods of the right. But our problem has always been where and how to begin. With the rights strongly entrenched as they are today, it is not likely that a socialist contract firm will succeed – I am not sure you can play the dirty tricks of the trade – but some marketing and producing cooperative could stand in defiance of rightist intrigues…

I think our youth will be prepared to express their solidarity with our brethren in South Africa by observing your Freedom Day. I told you in my last letter of the wild enthusiasm with which the UCI boys received us when we came to discuss the Congo situation with them last month, and even our government is today evincing interest in African problems; witness the Algerian talks and the breaking off of  diplomatic relations with France. So, you can write officially to Dr. Tunji Otegbeye, president of the Nigerian Youth Congress, 60 Patey Street, Ebuta Metta. I shall mention you informally to Tunji, and in due course shall help organize activities here and a few other places.

… I read your letter to a group of friends who were with me when it was handed in and they enjoyed it immensely. Even your mockery of our meagre efforts along the lines of socialisation was well taken and it was delightful to listen to something different from the tedious moans and platitudinous humbug one hears so much nowadays from our public men. I have just heard from a Canadian friend who likes to visit Nigeria and gallivant a bit with me; I am not in the mood to chase my shadow at this time, but perhaps he will be a godsend to draw me out of a potential rut.

Sincere regards.

Yours truly

Mokwugo Okoye


Typed circular letter from Ezekiel Mphahlele

Box 90


Dear Manu,

I have sent a copy of this draft to: Juta Vanda (Abeokuta); Wintshi Njobe* (Ilesha); Mike Yawa* (Ife); Ralph Hendrickse (Ibadan) Manu Herbstein (Abeokuta). So there are six of us to start with. I suggest the number stays until we have released the statement – indeed, until you agree to be one of us. This is an upshot of months of discussion between me and each of us. I can’t see any use of an exclusive organization if our purpose is to bring Nigeria into line. But we still have to do the spade work ourselves – of talking to groups and individuals, remembering that Nigerians have their own national problems and individual interests to preoccupy them. But if they know whom to go to in order to demonstrate their interest, we shall be there.

As the Commonwealth thing* is in March, we have got to hurry with a press statement – you’ll have seen the disturbing report in Daily Express about Nigeria’s possible stand. Do the following

(a) if you agree on the principle;
(b) if you think we should publish the six names somewhere in the statement;
(c) what suggestions you have re content of the statement; what government officials (big nobs) it should be sent to federal and regional When the statement has been released, we can meet at a convenient place – I suggest Ibadan – to discuss strategy. I think we must arrange to see Abubakar and Dr. Esin (External Affairs in Lagos) first – preferably together. SOON-SOON. Forgive grammatical slips etc. In haste.

Yours sincerely,


Handwritten P.S.
Saw Tennyson in Ghana. He points out PAC fellows are being difficult – suspect we have an ANC–only affair this side when they have PAC chaps here also. I explained the two recruits this side joined PAC long after my first appeal for funds. And then this is not an ANC thing. I appealed to uncommitted & extra-ANC chaps, & I’ve never at any time thought in terms of affiliations. Tennyson is worried that PAC are recruiting guys outside SA & want to put across their line in spite of the United Front. I’ve told him since my return that we’re going ahead. I have been in correspondence with Roslynde Ainslie*, secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Assoc. in Britain & she’s enthusiastic about parallel – not affiliated body here.


Roslynde Ainslie (1932 -1993) – South African activist.
Yawa – Mike Yawa, South African teaching at Ilesha Conference of Commonwealth Ministers held March 17 of that year in London.
Njobe – Wintshi Njobe, South African teaching at Ile Ife Njobe was to become the first principal of The Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco) set up by the ANC in Tanzania. His wife, Makhosazana Abigail Alicia Njobe, was to become an ANC Member of Parliament.
Abubakar – Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, first Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Independent Nigeria.
Dr. Esin – Senator Dr. Esin Awana Esin, Minister in Charge of Foreign Affairs under Balewa.
PAC – Pan Africanist Congress, formed as a break-away from the ANC in 1959.
Tunku Abdul Rahman – First Prime Minister of independent Malaya.





We as South Africans working in Nigeria, represent the liberatory movement in our country. With some of our organisations banned and the rest rendered almost completely immobile owing to the banning, jailing and deportation of our leaders, it has become quite clear that if we are to win the struggle, we must rely more and more on material and moral support from African states like Nigeria.

For this purpose we have set ourselves up as an Anti-Apartheid organisation which has a counterpart in Britain, also formed by South Africans.

Since the massacre of Sharpeville, we have been aware of a tremendous spurt of goodwill from Nigerians in their indignation about white brutality in South Africa. The Nigerian Council organised successful demonstrations in Lagos and Ibadan, and a fund was set up to help the victims and their dependants. As a measure of our gratitude for the strong stand taken by Nigerian leaders privately and at governmental level in the three regions, we have decided to harness this good will. We want by press reports and public lectures to educate our fellow-Africans still more about the agony of apartheid. We want to put ourselves as a body at the disposal of any individual or organisation to be used by them to channel such material aid as is available to our freedom fighters in South Africa. We are focusing on Nigeria the campaign that is being operated on a worldwide basis by the South African United Front, which has offices in Accra, Cairo, New York and London – and Dar es Salaam.

Ours is not an exclusive group, and we welcome and in fact canvas membership from all in Nigeria who want a practical way of expressing their resentment of apartheid anywhere in Africa.

The immediate aims of the Anti-Apartheid Society are:

(a) to jolt the Nigerian conscience about the sufferings that apartheid brings into the day-to-day lives of the non-whites of South Africa;

(b) to appeal to all traders and customers to stop buying South African goods like eggs, apples, oranges, sherry, Rothmans and other brands of cigarettes, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Koo jams, Vaseline petroleum jelly (labelled packed in South Africa), etc. Any time you see your friend use an imported product or you want to buy it, first ask if it is South African. In this way, we shall be continuing the great boycott that such a large section of the British public responded sympathetically to last year.

(c) to set up a “Freedom Fund” that will be administered from Nigerian soil;

(d) to campaign, in the way that all South Africans at UNO and in Britain and all other apartheid – conscious people in the world are doing, for the outright refusal to allow South Africa to stay in the Commonwealth. We want her cut off from the stream of world culture, from world citizenship, to isolate her, so that the oppressed may have only one enemy to face – the one inside their country.

It is becoming evident, now when we are nearing the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in March, that the Nigerian and Ghanaian governments do not regard South Africa’s membership in the Commonwealth as a burning issue anymore. There is talk of fear to embarrass other members, like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even Britain, who certainly want to keep South Africa in for their own economic interests. In spite of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s* strong stand last year, he now reports a softening mood on the part of his Malayan government, who feel that South Africa should not be excluded from the club. Ceylon is with the Malays in this. So far, India has not yet indicated that she will reverse her 1957 position – to tolerate South Africa’s membership while continuing with her diplomatic boycott against the latter.

Now, to you, free Nigerians. Does it not matter to you that South Africa has been defying the United Nations all these years? Does it not matter to you that for 15 years now she has been refusing to carry out her mandate over South-West Africa according to the principles of justice; that the police massacred men, women and children at Sharpeville last March, and that the government made it quite clear that they will procure better weapons for better shooting sport the next time non-whites demonstrate? Does it not matter to you that our people live in police terror all their lives, that thousands are being arrested right now in connection with the upheaval in Pondoland; that millions of non-whites are being herded into ghettos, driven off their lands, jailed for pass offences, worked to the bone on white people’s farms; that they have not the freedom of association, organisation, or of movement? Does it not matter to you that a bunch of mad men are prepared to make life hell for the majority of people in South Africa, all in the name of apartheid?

If it does matter, and all these things revolt you, will you not use your freedom to help us fight to set up a non-racial society in South Africa where every man, no matter what colour or race he is will enjoy a universal adult vote and the right to represent those who elect him to any legislative or other council of state? We also realise that Jim Crow bestrides this continent from Algiers to Cape Town and so are prepared to condemn wherever and whenever we can, racial discrimination and the colour bar, and to support those who are engaged in the struggle to kill Jim Crow and to restore human dignity and respect.


Manu to Zeke handwritten letter

4th February 1961

Dear Zeke

(a) agree on the principle

(b) I think the publication of names is a good thing especially since the inclusion of Ralph Hendrickse (and) myself indicates the breadth of the movement. However I feel it would be most unfair to my family to have my name attached to the statement – some of the others may feel the same way. Would it be sufficient to mention that both white and coloured S.As are amongst the signatories?

(c) Suggestions re content of the statement.

(i) I have a cutting (unfortunately undated, but I think of early June last year) from the Daily Telegraph, London, which reads, “Nigeria’s resentment of the apartheid policy of SA was voiced from all sides of the Federal House of Representatives today when the Government accepted a private member’s motion calling for a ban on imports from South Africa. The Federal Minister of Commerce and Industry, Zanna Bukar Dipcharima, said that the Government agreed to economic sanctions against South Africa.

‘No white SA,’ he said, ‘would be employed in the public service or by statutory corporations.’

The implication is that we have only to persuade the Fed Gov to agree to put into practice what they have already accepted in principle.

(ii) In spite of repeated – though admittedly insufficiently strong – protests by me, the UAC shop here continues to stock SA tinned goods. The idea that the foreign distributing firms are flouting the country’s wishes in this respect might well provide a focus for part of the campaign.

(iii) This and the following suggestion arise from my experience in the Boycott movement in the UK. Many conservatives will, because of temperament, be afraid to join us. An excuse often used in UK was that we were negative in our approach, anti-South African. I think that it is necessary to forestall this criticism by making it clear that our struggle is against the Government, racialism, etc. and not against the country. Because all this goes without saying as far as we are concerned, it is no less true that non S.As need a clear formulation of the principle if they are not to be confused.

(iv) This is closely related to the last point. Won’t the people we want to help suffer most is the question. In reply we must emphasize that the appeal for the Boycott etc. has come from the U.F* in S.A and that rather than being a homesick and discontented lot of exiles, we are in fact responsible people putting across the policy of the majority.

(v) Under ‘aims’ you’ve made no mention of denial of facilities to SA Airways planes and harbour facilities for South African ships and possibly ships using S.A ports. (This is tough. I want some things sent me from home!)

People to be approached. It’s important that no one should feel left out. Politicians here seem very touchy. I feel it essential to contact the leader of the opposition in each House and possibly also other party leaders, as well as the government. The man who moved that motion on the Boycott – whoever he is – should certainly be approached. Dr. Elias*, with his wide contacts amongst those in the freedom movements all over the continent and the non-party, national respect for him, might be a forceful and influential ally. The columnists of the newspapers, Aiyekoto, Ebenezer William, John West and regular writers like Tunji Otegbeye*, as well as the editors, should be especially cultivated.

Our work will be infinitely simple if we manage to put our point across in such a way that people are able to identify with the oppressed. We can sprout all we like about the Criminal Law Amendment Act, Pass Laws etc. but it is the shock of the Sharpeville photos, for instance, that brings most people over to us. We should do our utmost to arrange a good photographic spread to accompany the press release. Drum should be able to help us here. And talking of Drum, Jim Bailey surely owes us a big spread.

One final suggestions for possible future action, again tying in with the need for personal identification. I feel sure that we could make some arrangement with Lionel Rogosin to let us show ‘Come Back Africa’ in Nigeria. I am convinced that we could not only draw the whole cinema going public but also, by careful publicity and judicious lowering of ticket prices, reach many folks who never go to the cinema. Other points: doesn’t UF have office in Dar es Salaam now – report of Tennyson opening up there in press last week.

Also on page 2(d) first line – all South African – surely an error of fact?



U.F – United Front
Dr. Elias – Professor Taslim Olawale Elias (1914-1991) Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
Aiyekoto – Bisi Victor Onabanjo wrote a popular column, ‘Aiyekoto’ in the Daily Express.
Ebenezer Williams – Pen name of Nigerian journalist Abiodun Aloba (1921-2001).
John West – Pen name of Nigerian journalist Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, (b 1929).


From carbon copy of handwritten letter from Manu Herbstein to Tunji Otegbeye

P O Box 238

4th February 1961

Dear Dr. Otegbeye

Mokwugo Okoye may have mentioned to you that I would be writing to solicit your help.

You will have noticed recent reports in the press suggesting that the Prime Minister may be persuaded not to oppose the readmission of South Africa to the Commonwealth at the forthcoming PMs’ conference. This would be a betrayal of the wishes of the vast majority of our people who would have SA remain outside Commonwealth and suffer the consequences until we manage to establish a democratic system of government there. Those wishes have been clearly expressed by the United Front in which all progressive forces in the country are cooperating. It is now a little late to organize a campaign to bring the pressure of public opinion to bear on the P.M. before the Conference. We are however planning to approach people in high places and possibly seek an interview with Sir Abubakar before March. We also have plans for the use of the press and so on. All this please in confidence for the present.

Our struggle will of course not be ended by this conference, whatever the decision. Tonight’s news from Angola is encouraging and with the breakup of the Rhodesian Federation, the time is rapidly approaching when there will be independent African states within reach of South Africa if not on its borders. I believe it would be overoptimistic to expect the Change before two or three years have passed, but when it does come events may move very rapidly and the immediate and determined intervention of all the independent African (states) will be essential if the move to democracy is to succeed.

It is therefore our concern to mobilize public opinion, not only at the policy making level but on as wide a base as possible, by education and propaganda as to the facts of the present tyranny so that when the time comes, the response well be immediate and the pressure on government such that it will have to act.

Since our numbers in Nigeria are small, it is essential that all the spade work be done by Nigerians. We would of course be only too pleased to write articles, deliver lectures and so on when called upon.

Can we count upon the NYC to help us? I have suggested that we ask you – and other youth and political groups – to observe with us, South Africa Freedom Day on June 26th, holding meetings throughout the country. Zeke Mphahlele, our unofficial leader here, suggests that April 15th, Africa Day (All African Peoples Congress – Nigeria represented) would perhaps be better.

We are meeting in the near future to plan the setting up of an Anti Apartheid Association in Nigeria. Can we have a tentative assurance of your assistance provided that there is no objection to our aims and programme?

Discussion as to the date of our proposed line of action could then follow.

Yours sincerely,

Moritz Herbstein (Manu Herbstein)


Handwritten letter from Ezekiel Mphahlele

Box 90


Dear Manu,

Your letter arrived today, & it’s a week since you saw Ralph, but no letter from him yet. So I don’t know what to say. Juta Vanda, Yawa & Njobe have written & the last two I have met, & they are all agreed that we should go ahead with the Association & with the Press Statement. And I’m afraid we are losing time. Ralph, between us, is a very very lazy correspondent & although he has bright ideas, he’s not a man to launch out in time.

Your letter contains so much scattered information that frankly I don’t know just how to link it together (were you in a fever?) I don’t know what “sectional disputes” you are agreed with we shouldn’t involve ourselves – our or Nigerians’? Aren’t we in any case thinking of meeting & talking to a cross section of divergent opinion – Federal & regional top dogs?

1. What’s Ibiam supposed to be able to do – what are you asking him to do which Zik & those within easier reach can’t do. Who are the conservatives we must not “intimidate” – how could we intimidate anybody short of subverting the security of their state? I just don’t see the whole point. Obviously, again, the Federal and Regional boys we shall be meeting are a mixed bag. Why can’t we use the material that there is already like Otegbeye & Okoye. After all, in the long run, the Nigerian youth is going to be more useful than the old burnt-up horses. In the long run they are going to force the pace & and I don’t see how the conservatives, if we don’t undermine or insult them (or bypass them spitefully) can do worse than stalling as they’ll always do. Governors take their own time normally & how much longer by remote control (re: Ibiam) & if we can see Zik first etc. we might be nearer the mark. Isn’t he technically non-party?

2. The damnable thing is that you don’t say whether you are agreed on an association of some form or other & so I don’t know how to connect Ibiam with? – immediate C’wealth issue, the boycott or the idea of a standing Anti-Apartheid Ass’n?

3. You say we shall give Otegbeye all our support “but for reasons of 2nd paragraph (sectional disputes & conservatives etc.) we prefer not to be too open. Aren’t we making it clear that we want to make ourselves available to all who want to be informed about S.A. What are you afraid of? We make use of the NYC platform, right. How do we not come into the open? If we made it clear by a press statement that we are

going to talk any & everywhere possible about SA and we must undertake to meet the leaders of all the parties. How the hell can we avoid coming out into the open?

4. Please tell me the answers to these questions. Oliver* wrote me from Kano Airport on the 7th (Tues) & said they were hoping to see Abubakar, and /or others. The letter reached me Sat morning 11th. I sent a wire double rate to the P.M’s secretary asking him to tell Oliver to wire me when we can meet at Ibadan. He said in the letter he was keen to meet me & talk about things but that they could only stay 3 days in Nigeria, that the arrangement to come to Lagos was haphazard & they weren’t sure of meeting some important people. So it was uncertain when he could contact me for us to meet. Haven’t heard from Lagos.

I’m quite prepared to speak at Otegbeye’s do if he’ll ask me & give me the full dope of what doing. As for cultural evenings – that’s impossible – I’m on duty every evening except Sat & Sun. We don’t have any “S.A culture” to exhibit here except for records I have.

Literature for Abubakar? Nil. He won’t read more than a page anyhow. You don’t need books but one single pamphlet if you hope he’ll read it at all. Why should we be apologetic about the Freedom Charter? It’s our policy paper isn’t it? If it scares him, so what. We need not lay too much emphasis on it. Not docs. Public opinion is what we must gun for.



Handwritten letter from Tunji Otegbeye

Dr. Tunji Otegbeye
Ireti Hospital
60, Patey Street,
P. O. Box 61,
Phone 44225

7th Feb, 1961

Dear Mr. Herbstein,

Thank you for your letter and the interesting points raised.

I am happy you wrote to time as the Congress was just planning to issue a release which will be followed by a series of articles by members as a campaign against the continued membership of South Africa in the Commonwealth.

May I assure you that this campaign for South Africa’s disqualification has the full support of the Congress. You therefore need not solicit our help. What we want now is a bold programme to launch a protest campaign.

We have a plan to arrange a Mass meeting in Lagos for Mr. Tambo who was reported by the ‘Observer’ London Sunday paper to be coming to launch a campaign in West Africa. We have written to Accra and London for information about his itinerary. We have got no reply. Maybe you know about his movements and when he will be here. It is essential we hold this mass meeting so that our Prime Minister, who the reliable Observer has marked as likely to give in on the South African issue may know the feeling of our people on the subject. This will strengthen his morale at the Conference.

Time is short and I suggest that if you can make it please drop into Lagos and let us have a joint talk on the subject and the immediate program. If I don’t hear from you before my executive meets and if we cannot trace Mr. Tambo, then we will have to invite one or two of your members to speak at the rally.

The Congress has a plan for celebrating Africa day. We hope to have a talk on the Congo, a cultural evening in which I hope your members will be able to participate and represent S. Africa and public rally on 15th April at which your members and other nationals from other parts of Africa will be asked to address the audience on their respective territories and their problems. South Africa will certainly be a very important area of interest and we will welcome one of your best speakers.

The Congress will also welcome a South Africa day as proposed. If you can get films depicting life in S Africa pictures of events and scenery in S Africa etc. we may be able to organize an exhibition, a cultural evening and a Mass meeting for the occasion.

I wish to assure you that the fate of the Africans in SA is the concern of all right thinking Africans. The Congress will be ready to make the necessary sacrifice in order to make the campaign that will eventually lead to “respect for human dignity” in Africa a reality.

Let me hear from you soon.

Kind regards


Ibiam – Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam (1906-1995), first Governor of the Eastern Region.
Zik – Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, first President of Nigeria.
Oliver – Oliver Tambo, Deputy President of the ANC.


Typed Letter from Mokwugo Okoye

P. O. Box 112

28 February 1961

Dear Manu,

Many thanks for your letter of the 30th January. I have been down with stomach trouble – the result of food poisoning in prison 11 years ago – and could not write before now.

You raised an interesting point in your letter as to why Ghana and Guinea seem to have skipped the private capitalistic stage while Nigeria is under the grip of a vicious bourgeois leadership out to make money. You referred to the existence of the Moslem North in Nigeria as a probable cause of our backwardness but recalled that both Guinea and Mali are mostly Moslem too.

One excuse I can find for the tragic situation in Nigeria is that we achieved our independence at a time when the nationalist movement itself has become weak and imperialists had beaten down the forward elements of the movement, while in Guinea, for instance, independence came at a time when nationalism was in its high tide. It is only too common to refer to Nigeria’s size and the complexity of its social composition to explain the fact that though she was far ahead of most African countries in political consciousness at the end of the Second World War she is today trailing behind many of them and is held forth as the best example of colonial evolution. In the 40’s it required courage and insight to join the anti-imperialist struggle in Nigeria and those of us who carried the banner of revolution at that time were motivated by non-selfish ends. Idealism was highly valued then, but today, due to the failure of the nationalist movement to capitalize on the psychological moments afforded by the General Strike (1945), Zikist Revolt (1948- 50) and the Enugu Colliery Shooting Incident (1949), the initiative has passed to the imperialist and his lackeys. We slackened the tempo of the struggle and betrayed our cause by denials and ostrich-introversion and today it is not surprising that it is the imperialist collaborators who in the main control the machinery of the State.

… For one thing, our trade union movement is today weaker than ever before and is manipulated by the bourgeoisie for their own ends; the youth movement is in disintegration and the peasantry is not organized and where it acts collectively often do so under the influence of the bourgeoisie. But I am aware of certain pressures from within and without which, as if against our will, are propelling us along the socialist path, albeit slowly and spasmodically. In our present state, State participation in industry and progressive labour legislation represent a forward movement; producer cooperatives are spreading and our public education needs only a vigorous direction at the top to reflect the democratic demand for scientific, secular and international orientation.




From undated handwritten draft of letter from Manu Herbstein to Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Dear Prime Minister,

I take the liberty of writing to you, Sir, as one of the small number of South Africans resident in Nigeria. On the eve of your departure for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, our thoughts dwell much on the decision, concerning the admission of the South African Republic, which you and your colleagues will have to make. May I presume to outline the reasons for which the vast majority of my compatriots, black, coloured and of Indian origin, and including to a small number of whites, amongst whom I count myself, fervently hope that South Africa will not be allowed to rejoin the Commonwealth?

The tyranny in SA is of a twofold nature: it rests upon the twin pillars of economic exploitation and racial arrogance. Knowing the deep herrenvolk indoctrination to which all whites are subjected, at school and after; and looking in vain through history for a case in which an economically privileged class has willingly given up privileges, we are led to believe that the Europeans in South Africa can only be made to see reason by force.

… You will know that black South Africans are denied all rights to normal participation in the political life of the country; in particular they are denied the right to vote. Though they pay taxes they remain unrepresented in the various legislative, executive and judicial organs. As a result they have been forced to present their demands for recognition as full South Africans by means of nonviolent protest such as the Campaign for Defiance of Unjust Laws and the Johannesburg Bus Boycott. The government has now made the penalties for organizing or taking part in activity of this sort brutally severe.

What course of action must we then pursue? Other than armed insurrection or other forms of physical violence, there remains only one and that, which we have adopted and are following through the S.A. United Front (in which all the leading anti-racial bodies are cooperating), is an attempt to persuade the outside world and particularly our fellow Africans to take such action as seriously to cripple the South African economy.

Thus we started the campaign for a worldwide boycott of South African goods – in which it gave us pleasure to see Nigerian agreement to participate as expressed by a motion carried unanimously in your parliament last year. (In passing, I might mention my disappointment at finding that this has not been put into practice:

S.A. goods are still on sale in Nigerian shops.) Our present plans include the withdrawal of their labour by the non South African blacks (from Rhodesia, Nyasaland and the Portuguese Colonies) upon whom the functioning of the Witwatersrand gold mines depends.

The non-readmission of South Africa to the Commonwealth will severely harm the country’s economy. We do not of course look forward to this with unalloyed pleasure but the fact is that conditions in South Africa are so bad that our people there are fully prepared for the additional hardship they may have to suffer, in the hope that this peaceful pressure may knock some sense into the Europeans’ heads. It will be a grand moral gesture on the part of the Prime Ministers. On the other hand, if you disappoint us, we will be forced to consider the alternative.

The choice, if there is a choice, lies between blackballing South Africa and violence and it lies, Sir, in your hands. We look forward to your decision with hope and confidence.

Since my family still resides in SA I should appreciate it if you would treat my name as confidential.


Reply to the above letter


Handwritten letter from Ezekiel Mphahlele to Manu Herbstein


Dear Manu,

Got your two letters. Received acknowledgement too from Abubakar’s private secretary. Copies of statement to Pilot, Express, Service & Sunday Express but nothing doing from them yet. Still DTimes who I least expected would bite, is widely read. Didn’t want to send them anything because I’ve a longstanding feud with them, and since March last year I have not been reading the rag. Mucked up two articles of mine & the editor didn’t have the decency to reply to my complaints.

I have received a bunch of letters since: some to convey sympathy & express moral support (including two whites.) One talk for Ibadan Youth Forum at British Council (time fluid) 25th March. One at Fiditi Grammar School (20 miles from Ibadan on road to Ilorin) Fri, 24 Mar. Will tackle Ibadan and postpone latter.

Don’t think can expect anything from Ralph. I’ve given him up: probably has his reasons for failing me twice, but I see no use pushing him. Anyhow, the Ibiams are Moral Rearmament* – slimy lot. I didn’t outright talk of an AAA in the final statement because I’ve now been told by our Registrar that my leave is due mid-July, & it wouldn’t be wise to start such a big thing & then leave you to fry so soon, especially that you’ll be sticking out your neck too far. So we can at best talk & talk to those who want us, & create some sort of climate.

Don’t worry about Mlungu Goddam – my copy has arrived from my London bookseller. Have arranged with Ibadan to send you Black Orpheus. If you haven’t had it, let me know & I’ll send you one of my complimentary copies.

Juta must either be on his way to the Deep South or there already – on leave.

See the news (Observer) about the burning of offices of the AAM in 200 Gower Street ? Foul play.




The Moral Rearmament Movement (MRA) – established and led by Dr. Frank Buchman, was widely perceived as an apologist for apartheid.


Handwritten letter from Zeke

The University College, Ibadan, Nigeria
Box 90

20 .4. 61

Dear Manu,

I think you are mistaken when you say Collins can always get the money for the Treason T. The existing Defence & Aid Fund which covers Treason T. costs and the maintenance of dependants of Sharpeville victims – dead and alive – and court costs in respect the Sharpeville accused, is a very large one. It is constantly advertising appeals in the New Statesman, and will continue to do so. I‘m rather inclined to think that the United Front has a better chance – see how its leaders dash across Africa and Europe continually to attend one conference after another! I’m not being cynical, but it must be much more difficult for a country like Nigeria to think of court cases & dependants of victims far south of them than of persons knocking on their door like the U. F.





Prime Minister’s PPS to Manu Herbstein


Handwritten letter from Ros Ainslie (Jennifer Rosalynde de Lanerolle, 1932-1993)

21 Lancaster Grove
London W3

14 April (1960)

Dear Manu,

Thanks so much for your letter, & news. Good to know that you & Zeke have acquired such influence with the Govt.! No doubt you personally arranged the trade boycott, too?

I do hope you got the display material in time – if you want some for June 26th, let us know soon & we’ll try to get you a proper exhibition. I’m also arranging for our general publicity material is sent you regularly, so you & Zeke know what we’re doing here.

Now I want something very urgently from you. You mention the Nigerian Youth Congress which Nana said was very active at the Cairo conference. It sounds as tho’ it’s an influential organization, but I’ve never heard of it. Ronald & I are publishing an African Who’s Who, & I’ve compiled the section on political parties – but for Nigeria I’ve only got NPC, NCNC, Action Gp*, NEPU & Mabolaje. We must definitely have something on the Youth Congress – can you get me information on it? I can’t think of anyone else reliable (the High Commission here is hopeless), & hope you don’t mind doing it?

Do keep in touch, & let us know what else we can do to back you up. I’ll mention your point re Lagos office to someone suitable – trouble is I’ve been a bit out of circulation because of the birth of our son (name Indra,temperament difficult but he’s lovely!) so haven’t had a chance yet.

Regards from Accha,



AG – Action Group.
NCNC – National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons.


Handwritten letter from Tunji Otegbeye

Dr. Tunji Otegbeye M.B.B.S (Lond.)
Phone 44225
Ebute Metta.


Dear Manu,

Thank you for your comments on the Africa Day. I agree with your line of thought.

Indeed it will be a sad day when we suddenly wake up to find that we have entrenched black imperialists in the place of the white ones. I can assure you that we are not unmindful of this development. We are working out a way of checking it but we must be careful that we do not bite more than we can chew.

… June 26 is here. We have plan for a three day programme. June 24th – Press Conference to launch Individual Boycott of South African Goods. [Could you send me a prepared list of S. African goods.) We intend to print postals and hand bills with a list of products to be boycotted.

25th June – A Mass Meeting at Casino Cinema. We hope Mphahlele will be able to address the rally.

26th is Africa Day. We hope to put up a small exhibition on S. Africa. We depend on you for materials which you informed me will be flown down from London. Please let us have them as soon as possible.

Have you any further suggestions to make?

Once again, thank you for your kind present to the N.Y.C.

Kind regards


Handwritten letter from Wintshi Njobe

Box 44

19/6/ 61

Dear Manu,

I was very pleased to hear from you after some time since we parted. I have been thinking of dropping you a line or two but never actually doing it. I am pleased you have kept up your courage and been able to talk to Mr. Tai. If they asked me why A/A and not anti-colonial movement, I imagine I would say that since A/A is already there with reputation we may as well start through it even if it means pressing later that A/A gives a hand to other victims of colonialism. Treason Fund has now acquired other main objectives. This just reminds me of one idea I had that we negotiate with Xtian Action to loan us some films on Apartheid and we ask some cinema magnates to arrange shows for us to raise funds for our struggle. Would it not be some good contribution? I do know they have films depicting S. Africa’s troubles, produced by the Anti-Apartheid Film Committee. Any replies to the boycott appeal yet? Please let me know of your further successes or – failures with the BIG gentlemen.

Kind regards



Handwritten letter from Zeke

26 Amina Way / University College

4. 7. 61

Dear Manu,

Things have been tumbling all over & I have not been able to write or do anything but pack and move. We are now at the above address at the College & if you are able to make the 15th, it will be here. We shall be here for the next 16 days. We fly on July 22, hoping Rebecca’s British passport will be here by then.

Yes I was sorry to miss the NYC rally that weekend, but just before then my car was bought & alas I was marooned. From what you say, borne out by Press reports, it was certainly a platform for PAC.

How distressing. Otegbeye and NYC should never have invited those chaps as PAC, which the newspapers undoubtedly indicate they were, because I’m the only guy listed as United Front. What fraud! I mean the three chaps should not be going around as Africanists when there is a United Front & their fore-runners were not forced into a united body. It was done by negotiation. The whole thing is regrettable & certainly catastrophic for the struggle. Tambo has written to point out the same disaster – in Britain.

Nor are they without support from monied groups – the Americans, who with the help of MRA & even white liberalism in Africa, are busy fanning the fire of chauvinism just in order to discourage or kill leftist progressivism. The Fani-kayodes* & their ilk who don’t understand a thing about African politics find it all too easy to float on the crest of this wave, not knowing what the whole movement is about.

I am writing to Otegbeye now to tell him that if the chaps were invited as PAC, then NYC is to blame even if unwittingly. Because they will not thereby be promoting our struggle – for all the good the letter will do.

Have a number of replies to the circular and about 3 firms or so who can display a poster.

Will be working in Paris – details can only be told verbally – a long story.

Yours in haste


Remi Fani-Kayode – Herbstein’s recollection is that at the NYC rally, Fani-Kayode said something along these lines, “We Nigerians need a war to purify our souls. But whom shall we fight? South Africa is the obvious target”.

Handwritten letter from Mike Yawa

Origbo Grammar School
via Ile Ife.

6th July, 1961.

Dear Manu,

Thank you for your books, note and the letter which I have just received dated 2 July.

I posted your letter from Zeke only yesterday. He told me about his being expected to speak at Freedom Day Rally. He just felt he would not go. I don’t blame him. I am sure you understand why. I don’t see any reason why he should share the same platform when they are not prepared to broaden their political outlook. You should have expected them to speak of nothing else. In fact judging by Press reports they seem to concentrate more on Sobukwe than even P.A.C not that I know much about the matter. I was at College at the same time as Sobukhwe. He is not the tin god he is made out to be. It is to be hoped that they will soon outgrow their political lunacy and realise how much work has still to be done before they march on to Pretoria.

Nigerian politicians have always given me the impression of going about with their heads in the clouds. Zeke, who had read Fani-Kayode’s remarks was just as disgusted. You have no idea how great their problems are. At present in Ife no less than three of NCNC supporters have been killed by their AG opponents during the Local Council Elections. The Press has been significantly silent on that.

Thank you once more for the books and your cooperation in regard to the relief fund.

Yours sincerely,




Zeke and Rebecca left Nigeria on 22 July, 1961. In August Herbstein was transferred from Abeokuta to Cape Coast in Ghana. As far as he knows, the infant Anti Apartheid Association of Nigeria did not survive Zeke’s departure.

 Their paths crossed again in Lusaka in 1968 and that started another brief exchange of letters with both Zeke and Rebecca. Rebecca died in 2004. Herbstein spent an hour with Zeke early in February last year.

This story, and others, features in Chronic Books, the review of books supplement to Chimurenga 16 – The Chimurenga Chronicle (October 2011), a speculative, future-forward newspaper that travels back in time to re-imagine the present. In this issue, through fiction, essays, interviews, poetry, photography and art, contributors examine and redefine rigid notions of essential knowledge.

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