Tributes have been paid following the death of Hanif Bhamjee, a lifelong anti-racist activist and former secretary of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Born in Marikana, South Africa, Mr Bhamjee fled to the UK in 1965, aged 18, to escape government persecution for his involvement with the African National Congress and Communist Party student movements.

From a young age he was acquainted with leaders in the movement, including future president Nelson Mandela - who he welcomed to Cardiff on a visit in the late nineties.

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Settling in the Welsh capital in 1972, Bhamjee transformed the cluster of small anti-apartheid groups that existed in Wales into a national organisation, the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM), which he ran from his home.

The Movement became Action for South Africa (ACTSA) Cymru in 1994, following the end of apartheid in the country and the election of Nelson Mandela as president.

 

"Hanif touched the lives of all he came into contact with,” his brother, Yusuf Bhamjee, wrote on the ACTSA Cymru website this morning.

“He had so much to give in love.  His honesty and sincerity inspired us all.

“Hence he played a significant role in shaping the thinking of so many of us.  A revolutionary, a freedom fighter, a fearless fighter championing the cause for social justice.

“Together with the Welsh Anti-Apartheid Movement Hanif made a huge contribution to the liberation history of South Africa.

“This is carved in history.

His legacy will continue to inspire us to struggle for a better life for all."

 

Mick Antoniw, Welsh Government Counsel General, called Mr Bhamjee a “great and historic Welsh/South African internationalist”, adding that he was a “great friend and comrade”.

He told the BBC today that the activist had been ill for several years and had been in hospital.

"He looked like he was making a recovery but the repeated strains on his body perhaps became too much," he said.

Wayne David, Labour MP for Caerphilly, said: “Hanef was a brilliant campaigner and put Wales at the centre of the international struggle against Apartheid. He will be remembered.”

Shavannah Taj, General Secretary of the Wales Trades Union Congress, also paid tribute, calling Bhamjee a “prolific campaigner and organiser”.

“May you rest in perfect peace and power,” she added.

Dan De’ath, the former Lord Mayor of Cardiff and current Labour councillor for Plasnewydd, said: “Really sad at the passing of my friend Hanif Bhamjee.

“Hanef was a giant of the Welsh anti-apartheid movement and socialist politics.”

He added that Bhamjee’s death was a “huge loss”.

 

During his time as secretary of the WAAM, Hanif Bhamjee worked tirelessly to ensure that Welsh organisations did not financially support the racist South African government.

The WAAM targeted the Welsh Rugby Union, pressuring it to cut its connections with teams from South Africa by picketing matches and sometimes smokebombing pitches.

Mr Bhamjee’s dedication to the work is recounted by a Cardiff activist in a 2009 WalesOnline article: ““At this time Hanef was teaching sociology part-time in several places, so that he was effectively working full-time.

“But he was also working full-time for WAAM during the hours of the day and night that he wasn’t otherwise working.

“If that sounds like an exaggeration, talk to anyone who visited his home during the 1980s.

“His house was the movement’s office until 1989. To visit it was to visit a warehouse filled with anti-apartheid T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, badges, flags, posters, leaflets and coffee mugs.

“It would have been impossible to rest and get away from the anti-apartheid movement in that environment.”

 

In a 2017 interview with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, Mr Bhamjee described the process of building the WAAM as “painstaking work”, recalling that by 1989, 22 branches had been started across Welsh towns and cities like Wrexham, Tenby, Swansea and Merthyr.

“Every university was more or less affiliated,” he said.

“From then on, the movement began to grow – not only demonstrating against rugby, but the boycott movement more generally.

“Boycotting products, like South African fruits, vegetables – anything that was coming in from South Africa, including vehicles.”

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Following the fall of apartheid in the nineties, Mr Bhamjee continued to dedicate his time to anti-racist causes, speaking at Palestine solidarity demonstrations, and supporting development projects in South Africa through ACTSA Cymru.

He was awarded an OBE in 2003 for “services to race relations, the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement and the charity and voluntary sector", and received South Africa’s prestiguous Mahatma Gandhi award for his contribution to ending apartheid.

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