Apartheid partisan

Author and anti apartheid activist Peter Wing from Maltby who has written a book about his experiences
Author and anti apartheid activist Peter Wing from Maltby who has written a book about his experiences
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IT happened almost 50 years ago but Peter Wing is still living with the consequences today.

His knees still cause him agony. He’s only 65 but he needs a walking stick.

Peter Wing in 1968

Peter Wing in 1968

It is a constant reminder of what took place in 1968 in a deserted house in the wilderness south of Johannesburg.

There, for three days, South African police kept him tied and blindfolded while repeatedly beating him with truncheons.

His crime?

To be caught teaching night classes for young black men in the Apartheid country.

Peter Wing in 1966

Peter Wing in 1966

“I still shudder today if I hear a whistle,” says the Rotherham lad. “That’s my main memory. The police crashing through the classroom door blowing their whistles. Their dogs and truncheons. It was almost paralysing...”

It is a long way from Stanford Close, Maltby, where Peter lives today with partner Chris to those dangerous days in Johannesburg.

But this son of a Rotherham RAF pilot called Barry and a white Afrikaner mother called Harriet recalls his revolutionary youth in an autobiography released this month. It vividly describes his three years as information commissioner for the politicised wing of the liberal National Union of South African Students.

“It’s been a long time,” he says. “But I have diaries which I’ve been writing since 1963 and I wanted to make sense of what happened.”

What happened was his family settled in South Africa in 1963 after his dad retired from the RAF. There a teenage Peter quickly grew to dislike the Apartheid system.

“My dad was a typical Yorkshireman with a strong sense of right and wrong,” explains the former nurse. “He instilled that in me, so seeing Apartheid was very difficult.

“We had a black cook who had a serious accident once. Me and my brother were driving her to hospital when the police pulled us over. They said it wasn’t appropriate for white men to be driving a black woman. She was in agony but he wouldn’t let us go on. A black stranger had to pull over and take her.”

But it was when he started at the city’s University of the Witwatersrand that Peter – who retired to South Yorkshire in 2004 – really became radicalised.

He was responsible for organising protests, disseminating propaganda and bringing famous names, such as Robert Kennedy, to speak against the system.

In his spare time he would illegally teach young blacks. Which brings us back to those three days in 1968.

“The police were questioning me about being a terrorist,” he explains. “There had been explosives placed on railway lines. I always campaigned peacefully but, of course, I would deal with people who did use terror. They wanted names but I said I didn’t know. They never even arrested me. It was kidnap.”

Eventually he – and two other white teachers – were dumped in the country.

And within two days of that he had been visited at home by more officers who told him he should use his British passport to leave the country for good – or the family would face trouble.

“To start with I resisted but in 1969 my dad was arrested on a trumped up charge,” he says. “I was passionate but I couldn’t see my family hurt so I left for London. I’d planned to continue fighting there but, really, it was cocktail politics. It wasn’t for me. I felt useless.”

So he moved on, working first as an airline steward then as a nurse. “I’d done what I could for whatever good it did,” he says.

Perhaps more than he released.

Within 25 years the Apartheid system collapsed with Nelson Mandela’s famous walk to freedom in 1994.

And Peter was there to witness the start of this new era.

“I couldn’t miss it,” he says. “It was so euphoric. My time there seems so long ago now but I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime.”

On A Wing And A Prayer is self-published through www.troubador.co.uk and is available now.