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BOOK REVIEW: Abet To The Front — Leon Levy’s first-hand story of resistance politics in SA

Politics tamfitronics

Within the Jewish custom, the concept of tikkun olam refers to efforts to restore and make stronger the area. This would possibly be completed through prison guidelines as expounded in classical rabbinic literature or it would be mystically alive to on “restore” as in Kabbalistic circles.

In contemporary cases, on the different hand, the emphasis has shifted to the pursuit of social justice or “the institution of Godly qualities in the end of the area”.

As a baby rising up in Johannesburg, Leon Levy don’t dangle known — on the least formally — about tikkun olam. His home modified into as soon as secular, albeit rooted in Jap European Yiddish custom and aligned to left-hover activism.

Read more in On a usual foundation Maverick: Norman Levy: A passionate champion for liberation, public carrier, and for the humanity in everybody

Leon’s Lithuanian-born father, Ticket, whom he misplaced on the age of six, appears to be like to dangle dabbled in left-hover activism associated with the innovative Jewish Workers’ Membership. He supported the Birobidzhan Challenge, a planned Jewish impart of delivery within the some distance east of Soviet Russia; but formal faith modified into as soon as absent from the Levy home.

With hindsight, on the different hand, Leon’s total existence — his great and praiseworthy efforts on behalf of the marginal and oppressed — exemplifies the thought of tikkun olam.

Leon and his three siblings (eminent anti-apartheid twin brother Norman, and an older brother and sister, David and Goldie), were raised by their Lithuanian-born widowed mother, Mary.

Take care of her husband Ticket, she too engaged in innovative causes and modified into as soon as inclined in direction of the politically left. Mother and teenagers moved from rental to accommodate in Johannesburg. Invariably boarders were taken in to compose ends meet; but, however hard cases, a sense of home modified into as soon as maintained with a bookcase and piano taking pleasure of impart.

Most importantly, Mary Levy inculcated an ethos of care and area for the less fortunate. Leon has maintained her sensitivities unless this day, consistently scuffling with for the underdog and demanding injustice.

As a baby Leon had a fondness for books, reflecting, on the least in half, his mother’s admire of literature. Apart from reading the British, French and Russian classics, Leon also waded through the quiet works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, as correctly as VI Lenin’s Imperialism — The Absolute top Stage of Capitalism.

His intelligence and fervour for learning were clearly evident as a young child. Add to that his mother taking him on the age of 11 to the Commodore Hotel in Berea to listen to activist Hilda Watts (who subsequently married Rusty Bernstein), and discussing I accuse…! — Émile Zola’s correctly-known exposure of Jew-hatred within the encourage of the incarceration of Alfred Dreyfus — and we’ve a innovative within the making.

Leon joined Hashomer Hatza’ira left-leaning Zionist early life jog in his teenagers where, besides learning to reject “bourgeois class values and conventions, namely attitudes to cloth possessions and property”, he engaged in Zionist intellectual challenges that sharpened his pretty mind.

Level of curiosity on South Africa

Take care of so many other graduates of Hashomer Hatza’ir (together with Joe Slovo and Baruch Hirson), Leon’s mediate quickly alive to on South Africa. Seriously, he awakened to creeping fascism that he monitored sparsely.

Burgeoning antisemitism within the 1930s and 1940s — exemplified within the paramilitary Ossewa fire guard — Ox wagon Sentinel — and the destruction of European Jewry throughout the 2d World Battle also focused his mind. He vividly recalls the postwar Nuremberg Trials that resulted within the execution or imprisonment of leading Nazis.

Nevertheless, within the top diagnosis, it modified into as soon as the South African truth that galvanised his political sense of right and incorrect and efforts. “My radicalisation”, he writes, “modified into as soon as an instantaneous reaction to the every single day racism and the industrial inequalities so noteworthy in South Africa”.

At the age of 18, Leon joined the Communist Birthday celebration of South Africa (three years earlier than it modified into as soon as dissolved in anticipation of the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950) and at 24 engaged in fleshy-time trade union work. Soon he earned the nickname “Tsaba Tsaba” that plan “here, there, and in each single impart”.

Leon modified into as soon as at Kliptown in 1955 where the Freedom Charter — a seminal tournament within the liberation Fight — modified into as soon as adopted by the Congress of the Of us. In his estimation, the gathering modified into as soon as “one among the largest, correctly-regarded as and primarily consultant occasions in your total turbulent history of the Fifties”.

In 1956, Leon modified into as soon as Accused No 4 on the Treason Trial which ran for five years. Right here, he and his co-accused brother Norman further cemented family with the preferrred and the brightest in South Africa’s liberation Fight. The brothers were among the many 23 whites (15 of whom were Jewish) constituting the 156 defendants charged with treason.

In an provocative story of these years, together with his detention, sincere twists and turns within the trial, and every single day travails faced by the accused, Leon illustrates the importance of the Treason Trial within the forging of friendships and deepening commitment to the Fight.

Camaraderie and the typical of the fearless co-accused women and men are highlighted — no query enriched by the every single day whisk from Johannesburg to the Dilapidated Synagogue in Pretoria where the trial modified into as soon as held. Helen Joseph estimated that they covered 22,000 miles.

Activism, exile and profession

From his early activism, Leon went on to an smartly-known profession. He served on the District Committee of the Communist Birthday celebration; the Nationwide Government Committee of the South African Congress of Substitute Unions (SACTU) and modified into as soon as subsequently nationwide president.

From 1951 to 1961 he served as secretary of the South African Peace Council and, as well, managed the Johannesburg Discussion Membership, a famous left-hover talk about-shop. Leon modified into as soon as among the many first South Africans to be detained beneath the 90-Day Detention Act.

In 1961, Leon met Lorna Borkum, a trade union activist in her occupy correct, whom he married a year later. Both Leon and Lorna went into exile in 1963 because the grip of the impart safety laws tightened. While in England, Leon divided his time between industrial family activism and college look for. As a results of a scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford, he modified into as soon as ready to pursue his interests in personnel and industrial family.

Despite the incontrovertible truth that Leon does no longer deal in ingredient along with his decades in exile, what does emerge is his passion for labour family and a deeper working out of the economics of exploitation. This served him correctly on his return to a free and democratic South Africa where he modified into as soon as actual now welcomed by the Congress of South African Substitute Unions (Cosatu) and modified into as soon as a half of their crew that “equipped proof to the TRC on the impact of apartheid on trade unions affiliated to Sactu”.

Subsequently, Leon labored for a labour consultant and thereafter grew to turn out to be a fleshy-time commissioner within the fresh Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), one among the gem stones of the fresh South Africa.

In 2015, Leon received the Rabbi Cyril and Ann Harris Human Rights Award: “You stand wide amongst these fearless women and men of all races and creeds who took a stand in opposition to injustice, and whose imaginative and prescient and sacrifices made likely the delivery of a free South Africa that primarily belongs to all who dwell in it”, renowned the quotation in a becoming tribute.

As Leon moves into the twilight of his existence, difference within the fresh South Africa is apparent to all. Important work stays to be done. Nevertheless Leon Levy can relaxation assured that he has, in the end of his existence, done his simplest to undo injustice and racism. He is among the many giants of the liberation Fight and has left a tag on South African history.

Abet to the Front needs to be be taught by all these drawn to a first-hand story of resistance politics in South Africa, as correctly as labour struggles within the land of apartheid. DM

Milton Shain is Emeritus Professor of Historical Analysis at UCT.

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