History and heritage
South African prison biographies14 April 2003 Jean Middleton In 1964, three weeks after Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, security police swooped on activists across the country - among them Jean Middleton, a Johannesburg schoolteacher and a member of the banned Congress of Democrats, a home for white members of the Congress movement. As her flat was being searched for incriminating evidence, "it was Friday, my day for dyeing my eyebrow and eyelashes, so I got out the little bottles and brushes, and a hand mirror, and, for part of the time, occupied myself that way". She had flushed a dangerous document down the toilet when she'd heard police pounding on her door, and they'd thrown her across the room in anger; but, she said, "I had been prepared to eat it, if need be. I knew that would be difficult because I'd eaten a piece of paper once before, to prevent its falling into the hands of the police. It had been quite a small piece of paper, but I'd found it hard to get down." This wry, dry, engaging tone permeates "Convictions: A woman political prisoner remembers" (Ravan Press), Middleton's memoirs of her activism, arrest, year in detention and three years in a string of prisons, including the notorious jail in Barberton. The experiences she outlines in this eminently readable book were the experiences of all, she writes - or, at any rate, all white, middle-class woman prisoners jailed for their political convictions. Banned on her release, she fled to England, where she became active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and eventually went to work for Sechaba, the African National Congress's journal. And in the end, she felt she'd done more for the struggle in exile than at home, where she returned in 1991. Get "Convictions" from: Fischer's Choice "Fischer's Choice: A life of Bram Fischer" by Martin Meredith (Jonathan Ball) is the latest biography of the highly principled Afrikaner advocate who built underground structures for the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party while defending resistance leaders in court. Fischer was jailed for life and died of cancer after prison officials delayed his medical treatment. An earlier biography of Fischer, by academic Steven Clingman ("Bram Fischer", David Philip Publishers and University of Massachusetts Press) won a number of awards. Get "Fischer’s Choice" from: Bandiet out of jail Hugh Lewin’s "Bandiet" (bandit) was a classic during apartheid - the story of a white activist, a member of the largely forgotten African Resistence Movement, who spent seven years in Pretoria Central Prison.
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