Former SA exiles hail Jeremy Corbyn

Posted on June 11, 2017


That a grey-bearded, bicycle riding socialist politician could upset the British establishment seemed, until last week, ridiculous. But that is exactly what Jeremy Corbyn has done. And his victory will be hailed by many South African exiles who spent time in London during the dark days of apartheid.

For Jeremy Corbyn, throughout that period, in the 1970s and 80s, was a solid supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. It was a prime focus of his during a series of campaigns against racism and injustice to which he gave fulsome support. While the Labour Party leadership often dithered, Corbyn and a minority of the “Labour Left” maintained a steadfast criticism of apartheid and racism in Britain.

His constituency of Hackney is also the site of the Hackney Empire, a theatre that provided a venue for numerous fund-raising concerts for human rights causes. The production by the 1985 Edendale strikers of KwaZulu-Natal played to packed houses there, as did a benefit concert in support of Moses Mayekiso and the “Alex Five”. Corbyn was always to the forefront.

However, in those days, he was, as he remained, on the radical fringes of his own, Labour Party. A member of the Campaign Group, that tried to push the party toward a more collective, co-operative — “socialist” — direction and he never deviated from these principles. Now, it appears that these principles, embodied in an election manifesto that included the scrapping of university fees, have carried Corbyn to within a whisker of the British premiership.

He was carried there by the votes of the young, the 18 to 35-year-olds who did not turn out to vote in the “Brexit” referendum about leaving the European Union. Early analysis reveals that 72% of this demographic turned out to vote — and almost all voted Labour.

“Not at all surprising,” says a lecturer at London University’s Goldsmith College, where hundreds of students were polled about their intentions before last Thursday’s election. “The students saw it as supporting a party that promised them a no fee education or one that would leave them with up to £80 000 (R1.3 million) in debt.”