Monday, 7 August 2017

'Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett' papers on their way to University of Sussex


It's a big day when your child leaves home. Of course it's not really the same with a book but the audiotape interviews (inside a shoebox) and some of the papers in assorted files, boxes, and bags stacked here on my sitting room table, have lived with me for 22 years. I should have pulled them out of their drawers, nooks and crannies five years ago when my biography of Neil Aggett, Death of an Idealist, was launched in South Africa. But I felt the book's journey wasn't finished and I wasn't ready to let go. 

However, at last, they are on their way to their new home at the Archive of Resistance Testimony at the University of Sussex.  For the vision that lies behind this relatively new archive, linked to a Centre of Resistance Studies, I am grateful to the vision of Professor Emeritus Rod Kedward and its director Dr Chris Warne. I photographed them today before they set off with my papers and tapes in the boot of Chris's car.



I'm excited that the archive is part of a department of history where, in the future, students as well as researchers may be encouraged to engage with the story of Neil Aggett and his activist comrades in their struggle for social justice. Resistance to injustice is an ongoing story, not just in South Africa. But, like Papa in my novel The Other Side of Truth, I believe in the ultimate power of words that aim to speak truth to power. 

Neil Aggett lost his life in John Vorster Square, police headquarters in Johannesburg early in 1982. Ten years earlier, the young teacher Ahmed Timol 'fell' to his death from the 10th floor of the same notorious building. After a campaign by his family, and a book by his nephew Imtiaz Cajee, the inquest into Timol's death was recently re-opened in Johannesburg, after 46 years. George Bizos, the wonderful human rights lawyer was there, having represented the Timol and Aggett families (as well as many political defendants, including his friend Nelson Mandela). I was extremely touched when I saw this photo of him in the courtroom on the first day of the re-opened Timol inquest. On the desk in front of him are two books: his own No One to Blame and my biography of Neil, for which he wrote the Foreword, beginning with Milan Kundera's words:

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."


Books continue to make journeys long after they are written. Even though I have finally let go of my papers for Death of an Idealist, this is a new beginning for them too, not an end. 

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