I don't know why I should have been honoured in this way by being asked to open this exhibition; awhole stream of people have done far more than I have been able to do for the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I was President, but I was only able to stay in that post for a few years because in 1964 I became a member of Harold Wilson's government as Minister of Overseas Development and that meant giving up an official post with the Anti-Apartheid Movement. But I accept the honour with gratitude.
Like the rest of you, I am dazzled to be in South Africa House - and to know it's yours. All the 34years I was in the House of Commons I never set foot in the place except to spit at it from outside on the pavement. But as I was listening to the speeches and looking round, I thought 'There really is hope in the world'. Because we, an apparently powerless and relatively small band of people inside and outside South Africa, overthrew one of the most powerful regimes in the world. We are all grateful to Abdul Minty for telling us about those initial struggles. It seemed impossible - there were only a few of us. But all the little things we did added up.
I shall never forget the three weeks I spent in the bowels of the House of Commons with Abdul Minty in 1961. We were working out a black sash demonstration outside Lancaster House. Sharpeville and Langa's massacres had shocked the British public and as the newly appointed President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement I said to Abdul 'Come on, let's get South Africa out of the Commonwealth. She sullies it.' And so we worked out our scheme, based very much on the Black Sash Movement in South Africa, of a 48-hour silent vigil outside Lancaster House, unbroken night and day, to coincide with the Commonwealth Conference. It took some organising. Try working out a schedule of two hours each through the day and the night for people who were already busy. We got bishops, actors, authors, scriptwriters, a lot of MPs and we always had faithful people to fill any gaps. Although Abdul and I did find ourselves doing most of the night shift!
The remarkable thing was the discipline we managed to get into this succession of people. One journalist turned up at about 3 o'clock in the morning because he was sure there would be nobody there - but there we were. We used to stand, four of us, with our black sashes with 'Sharpeville, Langa' slashed across them. And the strict rule was - nobody's to speak a word. We had stewards ready to throw out anybody who tried to disrupt our demonstration. The satisfaction of watching those limousines roll up to Lancaster House with faces peering at us out of the windows as the diplomats and leaders went into that conference!
South Africa was going to dig its heels in. But the Canadian Prime Minister moved a motion, stirred up we hope and believe by our own action, that every Commonwealth country should agree to adopt a Bill of Rights. The next day South Africa resigned. It didn't seem possible, because, as Abdul has reminded us, there were strong economic interests in Britain not to upset South Africa. Macmillan didn't support a boycott, Macmillan didn't support expelling South Africa from the Commonwealth, despite his wind of change speech. But we managed to prick consciences with a hundred and one small activities that had a cumulative effect. You would go into a shop to buy oranges and you'd say 'Where are these from?' knowing that they were South African. 'Oh! South African, no thank you' walking out as though the shop stank. Then people did wonder whether there might be something in what we were demonstrating about.
I am proud that for 10 years, from 1979 to 1989, I was in the European Parliament and that although it was Conservative-dominated, with the Christian Democrats and British Tories, Igot through it a motion demanding the release of Nelson Mandela, carried unanimously. Ithought that something was moving, because the press conveyed the impression that the ANC was armed to the teeth, ready to massacre everybody. But there was oozing out from Robben Island a sort of aura of this imprisoned man. I remember the Leader of the Conservative Group, Sir Henry Plumb, saying, 'Yes Barbara we ought to carry this'. We all somehow knew by some spiritual transmission from him to the outer world, that there was a very remarkable man indeed.
I was honoured to meet Nelson Mandela when I was sent by the Sunday Pictorial to witness the Treason Trial. I saw them all, 162 of them; there was very little I could do about it except write a column about them. And there I met Nelson. He wasn't a flamboyant personality. He was rather quiet. But a sense of authority radiated from him, a sense of leadership. These men and women were on trial for their lives, but they all insisted on walking together through the entrance marked 'Non-Europeans Only'. The world began to realise that something was afoot, some new spirit would prevail. I loved their sense of humour. First the accused were herded together in a sort of wire cage. Their counsel had to come and talk to them through the wire. So one of them hung out a notice 'Danger Do Not Feed'. And the laughter and the defiance, the glory of it all, the beauty of the atmosphere in Trevor Huddleston's church in Sophiatown although he himself was no longer there. Everybody sang their hearts out and Father Jarrett-Kerr of the Community of the Resurrection took me to hear an African concert at which there was a wonderful performance on the penny whistle.
It's a great country that has fought a great battle. I think those of us that are here to celebrate the modest work we were able to do in the Anti-Apartheid Movement should never forget the sufferings of those who fought inside South Africa itself. I would like to think that I would have had the courage to do what they did. In opening this exhibition which tells the story of our support movement over here, I am sure we shall all remember them.