Hugh Lewin:


4 April 2003

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.

Banned in South Africa, where writing about prison conditions was illegal, the book made the rounds clandestinely, and many of its images have become part of the national consciousness: the Death Row prisoners singing hymns through the night before a hanging, for example, keeping the A-grade prisoners awake; or the politicals sitting on stools in a circle in a freezing yard day after day sewing rotten mailbags with tarred string, then trying to rub the tar off their hands with cold water.

“Bandiet Out of Jail”, published in late 2002 by Random House, includes the earlier text, and more.

“He writes like a journalist who is a poet”, says Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a forward. “Or should that be the other way around? And his gentle wry humour is a bonus.”

Bonuses in the new book include a number of poems, and drawings by fellow bandiet Jock Stratchen. There are also accounts, including a contemporary smuggled diary, of the last days of lawyer Bram Fischer, who led the defence in the Rivonia Treason Trial.

Jailed soon after under the Suppression of Communism Act, Fischer was treated even worse than the other political prisoners, presumably because, as an Afrikaner lawyer, he was considered by prison officials the worst of turncoats. (See more on Fischer below.)

Lewin left the country for London after he’d served his seven years, then moved to Zimbabwe, where, among other things, he founded a publishing firm.

After 1990 he returned to South Africa where he has continued to make a mark, as former director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, as a member of the Truth Commission’s Human Rights Violations Committee and now as a media trainer, travelling to countries that have only recently emerged from violence, merging the need for reconciliation with the necessity of a free and effective press.

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