A shot across the bow from the Admiral

Paul Trewhela on the odd appearance of Kasrils Jr. on SABC 3

Just Larkin' around: Fun and games in the blurred zone between theatre and life

When the Russian tanks roll westward, what defence for you and me?

Colonel Sloman's Essex Rifles? The Light Horse of the L.S.E.?

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the computer yesterday.

I thought of these lines by Philip Larkin, written in 1969. At that time, Albert Sloman was presiding as Chancellor over revolting British students at the University of Essex, where the revolutionary leader of the day was the current Baron Triesman of Tottenham in the London Borough of Hackney, then plain David Triesman, who ascended unto the House of Lords (after Larkin's death) via his office in the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, in the Association of University Teachers and as general secretary of the British Labour Party (2001-2003).

At the London School of Economics, the fighting at the barricades was particularly intense.

These memories of the grand costume drama of those days came about because of the SABC.

Through an unexpected act of Glasnost, I was invited to be interviewed on the book programme 3Talk by Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, prerecorded the day before and then aired on SABC3 yesterday afternoon. The subject of the interview was my book, Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO (Jacana, 2009), which deals principally with a grim period in the recent history of southern Africa: the prison camps, torture and death inflicted on the most democratically spirited members of these nationalist movements in exile in Angola and Zambia, where the ANC and SWAPO each operated as a one-party state.

For this kind of political practice, Philip Larkin found a metaphor in his phrase "the Russian tanks". When he wrote this couplet, these tanks had just rolled over Czechoslovakia the previous year, to the published approval of the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress.

What brought this to mind yesterday was that my interview was accompanied, to my surprise, by a separately recorded critique of my book by a certain revolutionary Admiral, who appeared not to have read very much of it.

The Admiral was "Admiral" Andy Kasrils, London-reared son of the more-famous Ronnie, lately in the former reign of ex-President Thabo Mbeki the Minister for Intelligence Services, and in exile the head of military intelligence in Umkhonto we Sizwe.

"Admiral" Kasrils is an actor, who starred in the South African film drama "Bunny Chow - Know Thyself" (2006). He appeared not to like my book very much. Perhaps that was because his father was a leading light in the ANC while it operated its Gulags in Angola, Zambia, Uganda and other countries, and wrote a ringing defence in 1985 - during the time of Quatro prison camp - of Comrade Stalin's Pact with Adolf Hitler in 1939. My book is critical of all that.

It fell to son to carry the battle honours of the father. What was most interesting was the "Admiral's" similarity to Baron Triesman in his assertion of the principle of hereditary nobility as the privilege of a revolutionary aristocracy.

Given his line of descent in the republican and Communist family of the Kasrils, I felt honoured to be graced by the attention of this principle of nobiliity, by which, in the days of the Tsars, such care was lavished on the Kasril forebears in their Pale of Settlement in the former Russian empire.

It signifies a new spirit in South African public life, founded as this was on republican principles according to the Constitution of 1994.

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