Jailed, banned and exiled for standing up to apartheid

You are members of a privileged, white minority in a country where the black majority are denied most things - including a basic education and the vote.

What would you do? Stay quiet and enjoy the superb lifestyle, the black maid, the swimming pool at home. Or rise up against the injustice of it all?

Adelaine and Walter Hain chose the latter course. They were unlikely revolutionaries, a middle-class architect and his wife with no ideological history. But they risked everything to fight apartheid in their native South Africa.

More than 50 years later, they still struggle to explain why they rebelled while other whites did not. "Stubborness," suggested Mrs Hain. "I really sometimes look back on it and wonder if that was the thing we should have done. But we did. Because how do you stop?"

They never stopped, despite being jailed briefly by a regime that made them "banned" persons, required to seek special permission to communicate with each other. Mrs Hain was a rare supportive white face in the public gallery at the trial of Nelson Mandela, "saluted" by the future president from the dock each morning. She remembered him as a "big strapping chap" and, decades later, cried when she saw his "shrunken" frame on leaving jail.

Mandela never forgot the part played by the Hains in the anti-apartheid movement, as Mrs Hain discovered much later while in Morriston Hospital when she was asked to take a call on the ward phone. She recalls: "He says there's an important person to speak to you and he comes on the phone and says it's Nelson Mandela, do you remember me?"

The Hains have lived in the UK since 1966 when, unable to work in South Africa, they left for exile in London. Their life of protest went on in their adopted country, often outside the country's Embassy (now High Commission) in Trafalgar Square.

Today, the tables were turned as veterans of the anti-apartheid movement gathered at South Africa House to launch Ad and Wal, their life story, written by their son, Neath Labour MP Peter Hain.

He said: "I felt my mother and father's story needed to be told; an ordinary couple who did extraordinary things, began in very simple, modest ways, ended up becoming notorious, being jailed, being banned and ultimately being forced into exile because of their values and their principles.

"They were not very ideological but it was just their sense of fairness and duty that drove them to support Nelson Mandela's freedom struggle.

He says writing the book helped him understand why his parents had done what they did. "In a way it was easier to understand why black South Africans, who were oppressed so badly, fought against the system. But for white South Africans, that handful, including I'm proud to say my parents, who did so, they were making a sacrifice for their values and their beliefs and their sense of fairness and justice."

Ad and Wal sacrificed a lot to take a stand. At the time few in their own wider family could understand what they did. Now in their late 80s, they say they made the right decisions. "You don't stop doing things just because people try to stop you," said Mrs Hain. (Even if those trying to stop you include South Africa's special branch).

Would they do the same again?

"I hope so," she told me. "I just hope we would do the same again because it was important.

Her husband nodded and added with a chuckle: "We're a little elderly for it, though."

David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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