The full story of how campaigners based in Wales played a major role in ending whites-only rule in South Africa is to be told by the man who spent two decades leading the struggle against racism.
Solicitor Hanef Bhamjee, who was born in South Africa and came to Cardiff in 1972, has been commissioned by leading Welsh publishers Seren to write a book about Wales’ involvement in the anti-apartheid movement.
Mr Bhamjee, who was awarded an OBE in 2009 for his part in the campaign, said: “The movement is known very largely in Wales because of its efforts to get the Welsh Rugby Union to break links with South Africa.
“Demonstrations were held from the 1960s – there was a notorious protest in 1969 in Swansea, when hired thugs beat up anti-apartheid demonstrators.
“After that the movement was very active every time there was a rugby tour.
“In some cases games were disrupted, as in Llanelli where people ran onto the pitch in an attempt to obtain publicity.”
The WRU called off a planned tour of South Africa in December 1982 but announced that it would not stand in the way of clubs or individuals who wished to play in South Africa or if South Africa arrived here. Cardiff Rugby Club then played five matches in South Africa despite massive protests before they left.
Mr Bhamjee said: “In October 1983 a so-called mixed team undertook a clandestine tour of Wales but acting on information received each of their games was picketed.
“Attempts were made to conduct tours in secret but on almost every occasion we were informed where games were due to take place because of the support we had in local communities.
“Pressure began to mount on the WRU to severe links with South Africa, with councils for example refusing leave of absence to coaches and players and denying any youth training facilities to them if they were intent on going to South Africa.”
On April 7 1984 a charter against apartheid appeared in the Western Mail signed by MPs, church people, councillors, academics, trade unionists, artists, writers, sports personalities and others.
“The growth of the movement was clearly evidenced for example by our ability to get 200 people to a picket within 24 hours by using the telephone network,” said Mr Bhamjee.
“On Boxing Day in 1984 we learned that a South African youth tour was taking place in the Gwent area.
“I phoned people on Christmas Day and much to my amazement over 200 people turned up at the demonstration including members of the Church, MPs, trade unionists and ordinary members of the movement. The game was completely disrupted.”
Nevertheless in June 1985 the WRU decided by a large majority to continue links with the South African Rugby Board.
Despite such setbacks the campaign continued and Mr Bhamjee will write about clandestine meetings held with officials of the WRU who were sympathetic to the cause. Eventually In 1989 the WRU became the first of the home nations to break links with South Africa.
Campaigning was carried out in other fields too, including efforts to get the Welsh public not to buy consumer items like fruit, vegetables and South African wine.
Mr Bhamjee said: “The National Eisteddfod was almost entirely supportive as was the Urdd in contrast to Llangollen which allowed participation of South Africans but eventually stopped because it was afraid of disruption.
“Choirs like Morriston Orpheus who performed at Prince Charles’ wedding to Diana refused to have any contact with South Africa.
“The Welsh Arts Council was persuaded as a result of a signature campaign which included famous writers not to host a visit by South Africans.
“We succeeded in persuading Tom Jones without much difficulty not to go back to South Africa but Shirley Bassey was another kettle of fish.
“She eventually signed a document saying that she wouldn’t go to South Africa again.”
He said: “It was argued that we brought politics into sport, but the reality of the matter is that the South African’s government introduced politics into sport by not allowing young children to play together at school level. Indeed all life in South Africa was segregated. The inclusion of a few blacks in the team from time to time did not alter that problem.
“There is no doubt that the boycott campaign brought considerable pressure on the apartheid regime and played a very significant role in bringing change. Wales was a major focus of that and everyone who took part can be proud.”
* Mr Bhamjee is interested in any information on campaign activities in Wales before 1972. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org