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By Chris Crowstaff - Founder, Safe World for Women

"He did not know it at the time, but his subsequent editorship of Drum was inspired. He transformed it from "your tribal music" to "Our music".

This meant forgetting, as far as was possible, the whiteness of his skin and submerging himself in the black world of townships, repressed aspirations, pass laws, and frequent imprisonment. It saw Sampson drinking in the shebeens, recruiting extraordinary talent, and letting his African staff express themselves.

He had never edited anything before and knew nothing of Africa. But the deep end into which he threw himself kept him immersed. No wonder he was asked to write Nelson Mandela's biography."

Obituary to Anthony Sampson - the Guardian.

There has understandably been a lot of bad press about us Brits with regard to South Africa. But I wanted to at least show that we're not all the same.. 'Anthony Sampson immersed himself in South Africa's grassroots, shedding light on abuse, disempowerment and inequality.'

I suppose I'm stretching the point to write about him, as Safe World for Women is a women's rights organisation and this is not particularly about women's rights - and Anthony Sampson was of course a man.

However, as he was a distant cousin of my mum perhaps I can get away with that... And he inspired me.

We share a common ancestry of pacifists and adventurers who acted on their beliefs. Anthony Sampson's grandfather campaigned for the rights of Romanies. Loved by the Romanies, he was known in England and Wales as the 'Romany Rai - or 'Gypsy Scholar'. Anthony Sampson wrote a book about his grandfather and my mum helped with the background for it:

Who was Anthony Sampson

He who inspires me. He also provides valuable and historical insights into Mandela's life.

Anthony Sampson was a journalist and author, writing for the Observer and authoring critical books of British history and imperialism - in particular he was an investigative journalist of corporate business.

At a young age, he got to know many of the most courageous and talented of the nascent African leaders. He first met Nelson Mandela in a shebeen (drinking den) in 1951.

It is said that, many years later, he observed that he had not remembered much of that meeting, since he had probably been drunk. And while impressed, he had not at first thought of Mandela as a potential political heavyweight. Yet the meeting was to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Sampson had accepted an invitation to South Africa from a former fellow student at Oxford, Jim Bailey, founder and owner of a new black magazine, African Drum (later Drum), in need of a business manager. Its circulation was then only 20,000.

At 25 years of age and adventurous, Anthony Sampson left England for South Africa to spend 3½ years as editor of “the crusading black magazine of the fifties” Drum.

The Nationalist Party under D F Malan had won the elections three years previously and apartheid was rapidly becoming entrenched in South Africa.

Though he returned to England in 1955, his active links with Drum continued into the 1960s.

On his return to England he joined editorial staff of the Observer and published his first book, Drum: A Venture into the New Africa (1956)..

Sampson went on to write several other books about South Africa including The Treason Cage: The Opposition on Trial In South Africa (1958), concerning the mass arrests and trial of anti-apartheid activists in 1956-7.

He maintained a lifelong commitment to the anti-apartheid movement.

in 1964, he was asked by Mandela to advise on his draft defence speech.

By the 1980s, Sampson was editing The Sampson Letter, and establishing links with the ANC in exile, as the apartheid era began to draw to a close.

During the renewed wave of resistance inside South Africa to apartheid in the 1980s, and following exchanges between Sampson and Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC in Lusaka, Sampson, David Astor, former editor of the Observer, and others formed a committee to facilitate talks between British businessmen, politicians and the ANC.

The intention was to bring pressure on Pretoria for reform and to show that the business community accepted that the ANC would be key to political reform in the South Africa of the future. Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain [a best-seller] contacts proved valuable here and he made full use of them.

These activities led to further initiatives, in particular a conference on the future rule of law in South Africa between ANC lawyers and senior legal experts from South Africa which was held at Nuneham Park in Oxfordshire in June 1989.

Sampson wrote afterwards to Sir Robin Renwick, British Ambassador in Pretoria, enclosing a letter about the event to be conveyed to Nelson Mandela. He assures Mandela that ‘The conference made remarkable progress in finding common ground about the rule of law over the transition period…’ and expresses the hope that Mandela himself might take part in a future conference to build on what had been achieved.

In 1999 Anthony Sampson's official biography of Nelson Mandela was published.

The following are extracts from articles written by Anthony Sampson, published by the Observer:

'The men who may hang'

Sunday 1 March 1964 - The Observer

There can be no question that this is the most important trial in the stormy history of the African opposition...

Every day the 10 men have been led in from Pretoria jail, handcuffed and surrounded by police, into the ornate Palace of Justice in the middle of the city. The palace is thick with police, and spectators are watched for a sign of a smile or a wink: the audience has dwindled to a handful.

The accused have listened, over the last three months, to the evidence of 174 witnesses, and the recital of 500 documents. They look remarkably calm and undeterred. Nelson Mandela, in apparent good health, exchanges occasional comment with his neighbour Walter Sisulu. Black, white and Indian sit together in a row.
With tireless enthusiasm and dramatic gestures Dr Percy Yutar, the eager prosecutor, has unfolded the evidence for his opening indictment, which claims that the accused were plotting a war of liberation against the government, to be assisted by an invasion of foreign troups.
The state has spread its net widely...

But the prosecution has not managed to sustain one important part of the indictment - that the accused were part of an international Communist conspiracy, rooted abroad...

The defence lawyers, led by Mr Bram Fischer and Mr Vernon Berrange, two of the most brilliant and courageous of the breed of left-wing Johannesburg barristers, are now going through the piles of documents and considering their tactics...

The charges, if proven, can carry with them the death sentence; therefore a real possibility exists that some of the accused, including Mandela, could be hanged. 

'Mandela's big secret - the habit of truth'

Sunday 17 October 1993 - The Observer 

What is the secret of Nelson Mandela's lonely strength, which made him so uniquely qualified for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him on Friday?

At a reception in London last week, moving from one guest to another with such sureness and sensitivity, he seemed less like a politician than a monarch or archbishop, providing the quiet reassurance that leaves people glowing.

Yet he has no religious faith or inheritance to keep him going, and few close colleagues at hand. Only this year his oldest friend, Oliver Tambo, died, while his first mentor, Walter Sisulu, was nearly assassinated. So what sustains him?

He has long been aware that he has unusual mental and physical powers. When I first knew him in 1952 in Johannesburg, where I was editing the black magazine Drum, he was a practising lawyer and an amateur boxer. He was also organising volunteers for the ANC's passive resistance campaign. He was more austere and dedicated than most of his colleagues, and he avoided liquor: last week he reminded me that I had introduced him to a shebeen one of the speakeasies where I spent much time with black writers and layabouts...

Mandela was essentially the man of action, culminating in his role as leader of the ANC army, his adventures as the 'black pimpernel' escaping from the police, and in the plans for sabotage that led to the Rivonia trial and his sentence to life imprisonment...

So what gives him that strength? His quarter-century in jail clearly gave him a much wider perspective and philosophical depth. He could study history and the law, and could realise his own power: he could exert authority over the warders, and eventually over the South African government itself until, as Winnie put it, they were virtually his prisoners and he was the warder.

His sense of his authority and rightness gave him the gifts of the true statesman the ability to look above day-to-day manoeuvres to ultimate ends, above all to reconciliation and peacemaking.

And he learnt the power of forgiveness. In his speeches and encounters, he never reminds anyone politicians, businessmen, or journalists of their past support for apartheid or its horrors. In his determination to build a new country, he welcomes anyone who can help him, as if those 40 years had never happened...

The crucial strength which I believe he developed in jail was an absolute loyalty to truth...

It has struck me most forcibly on his last two visits to London, when I was asked to introduce him to businessmen at fund-raising receptions for in each case he made points that seemed to contradict the objective [raising funds]...

But this habit of truth is probably Mandela's greatest asset, whether in gaining serious supporters or in broader statesmanship for it inspires the kind of trust few politicians can arouse. And it gives him the sense of certainty that has so decisively led him towards peace.

'The evil must be forgiven not forgotten'

 Sunday 1 May 1994 - The Observer

In South Africa last week it was not always easy to be confident of a non-violent future as bombs exploded, polling was bungled and rumours spread about sabotage.

Yet the peacefulness of the black polling queues astonished everyone: it was as if democracy had drained violence away. Most whites appeared reconciled - many joyously - to the end of minority rule.

Behind the peaceful voting lay an acceptance of forgiveness, which will be implicit in the new government where ex-revolutionaries will sit alongside ex-enemies.

Nelson Mandela remains insistent about forgiveness. Last Thursday, I asked him whether he had not been forgiving too readily. He replied with an emphatic 'no'. 'Men of peace must not think about retribution or recriminations. Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.'

His magnanimity is overwhelming. Yet the actual mechanics of forgiveness will be difficult...

The reconciliation is already being legalised. Just before the election, Mandela and President F. W. de Klerk agreed to grant an amnesty to those who committed crimes in defence of apartheid.

The black leaders who suffered most are agreed on reconciliation, though some less completely than Mandela. 'I couldn't have forgiven my warder two weeks after I was released, but I can now,' said Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed with Mandela. 'Nelson starts from the position that everyone is good unless proved otherwise.'

If Mandela forgives, it is much harder for others to call for vengeance: perhaps that is his greatest contribution to the new South Africa...

The terrible personal tragedies which lay behind apartheid should not be forgotten: they need to be discussed and analysed.

Some of Mandela's old friends are distressed by his readiness to welcome almost anyone, including businessmen who connived with apartheid..

But in practical politics, reconciliation is the price of future peace, and a precious asset. The lack of vengeance is almost miraculous in contrast with the fearful vendettas in former Yugoslavia.

Many young men in the townships have a suppressed anger which could easily be whipped up into violent bloodshed, if it were not for the authority of Mandela and his colleagues. If he can work with his enemies who sent him to jail for a third of his life, he sometimes tells angry young followers, why cannot they work with their former oppressors?

And there is a much more pragmatic reason for the ANC to preach forgiveness: for it now depends on the police and army for its own survival in government...

There are ruthless white and Indian businessmen who made fortunes out of apartheid who now present themselves as old friends of the ANC. There are black mayors who exploited the oppression to build private empires who now welcome Mandela as their lifelong hero. And there are big business groups which press houses, cars and entertainment on black leaders to give them, as they explain, a stake in the capitalist system.

The whites' desire to forget is natural enough: nowadays it is hard to find anyone in Johannesburg who ever supported apartheid. Believers in apartheid are as hard to find as pro-Nazis in post-war Europe: every businessman turns out to have been in the resistance...

Mandela is surely right about the need to avoid retribution. But it is important that the truth should not be forgotten, and that the new rulers should retain the human values that lay behind the resistance...

South Africa is now passing through the most abrupt change since its creation in 1910. Its thread of continuity is all the more crucial.

The new government has a unique leadership and magnanimity which the rest of the world will rightly envy. But it will be subject to the same pressures towards corruption, autocracy and elitism as developing countries everywhere....

The ANC must make sure that, in compromising with the machinery of power, it does not compromise on human rights and decencies. It must not lose sight of its popular roots and the hopes of ordinary people, which were so movingly expressed in last week's election turnout. It must remember how easily South Africa succumbed to the corporate madness of apartheid. It must forgive, but not forget.


University of Johannesburg - Drum : The Making of a Magazine

Oxford University - Anthony Sampson: Drum and South Africa

Oxford University - The ANC and Apartheid

South Africa History Online - Anthony Sampson

Guardian - The men who may hang

Observer - Mandela's big secret - the habit of truth

Observer - The evil must be forgiven, not forgotten

Guardian - Obituary to Anthony Sampson