Film highlights drama behind pamphlet bombs

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The Rand Daily Mail reporting on the Pamphlet Bombs in 1970.

London Recruits – A new documentary film about the clandestine war against apartheid driven by Ronnie Kasrils, who organised the smuggling of material into South Africa in the 1960s and ’70s – is currently underway.

The Wales-based production company called Barefoot Rascals is looking for eyewitnesses to a series of daring ANC propaganda actions undertaken in South Africa during this period.

Dozens of missions were organised from London by the then exiled Kasrils. Beneath the noses of apartheid’s notorious secret police, the recruits struck across South Africa’s cities, making front-page news.

An ANC leaflet used in 1970/71 campaigns, a government poster dating from the apartheid era, and press articles of those days.
An ANC leaflet used in 1970/71 campaigns, a government poster dating from the apartheid era, and press articles of those days.

According to producer, James Barrett, they decided to do the film now in the hope that the story of the London recruits will inspire not just those who remember the struggle and global movement against Apartheid, but will also influence those who are growing up today where racism and injustice, which are still widespread in society.

“It is the sense of solidarity and internationalism and standing together against all forms of oppression that is at the heart of the story, and we hope this message will encourage generations to come.”

Barret said the part of this specific history captured his interests because it is a tale of youthful high-risk adventure with a timely universal, political and philosophical theme.

“London Recruits is set in a culturally and socially rich period when anything seemed possible,” he added.

“Kept secret for over 40 years, this is the incredible story of their recruitment, the nail-biting excitement of death-defying missions and of the secret agents closing in on their trail.

Featuring the recruiter in London, Ronnie Kasrils, eyewitnesses on the ground, key players in the ANC resistance, surviving recruits and the secret police who pursued them, this documentary is high drama, a spellbinding thriller of espionage and bravery told for the first time. We hope it will reach audiences across the world.

“For the first time ever speaking to the media revealing her true identity, one of the recruits, Cathy Sinclair Dolphin, spoke to Bloemfontein Courant about her two missions to South Africa and also to Bloemfontein.

Cathy Sinclair Dolphin during one of her visits to South Africa. Here she is sitting on one of the well-known 'Europeans only' benches.
Cathy Sinclair Dolphin during one of her visits to South Africa. Here she is sitting on one of the well-known ‘Europeans only’ benches.

She was 20 years old when she embarked on her first mission to South Africa in 1969. “I was a young girl from the east of London, coming from a middle class family. I left school at 15.

I was uneducated and started working in what they used to call a sweatshop. I had many discussions with the older Jewish men who worked with me. They were quite political and introduced the book

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck to me. This was the first book I had ever read. Then they gave me a book about the Spanish Civil War and I gradually got through a lot of literature.

Listening and talking to these elderly men was my way into politics. I met Peter (Sinclair) and within a short time I was asked by Ronnie to go to South Africa. They thought it would be a really good front if Peter and I went over as a young couple going to set up home in South Africa,” Sinclair Dolphin told from her home in Brighton.

During their first mission in 1969 they had these four bottles of leaflets with a small explosive in a bag that they would put into a bin or bucket. The pamphlet bombs scattered revolutionary African National Congress (ANC) propaganda leaflets once it exploded, for all the people to read.

Dolphin Sinclair in Port Elizabeth.
Dolphin Sinclair in Port Elizabeth.

One of the bigger media companies covered events Sinclair Dolphin was involved in in 1970 (on her second mission), which was the pamphlet bomb in Port Elizabeth that was found by a member of the public after Peter had walked through a bus station and had been noticed.

Talking about her visit to Bloemfontein, she said they flew to Bloemfontein and then hired a large luxurious car to drive to Lesotho to deliver top secret messages to comrades there.

“That was quite an amazing experience. This huge policeman approached us at the border post and asked what we were doing there. So we said we heard it was lovely countryside. He said we had three days before we needed to back out. It was exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.”

Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo comments on the random 'bomb attacks'.
Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo comments on the random ‘bomb attacks’.

During an interview those days with the Cape Times, Police Commissioner General J.P. Gous said “it is almost certain Whites are behind the series of pamphlet-bomb explosions that distributed ANC propaganda in several major South African centres last week.”
After her two missions, Sinclair Dolphin has never been back to South Africa or has spoken about her involvement with the London recruits. “We were asked to never speak about it, not even to family or close friends. I was quite surprised when one of the other recruits contacted me when we heard that a book was going to be released on the London recruits.”
Back in London she started to attend evening classes to further her education. She joined a women’s movement which set up a house for battered women called Women’s Aid Centre and became involved in women’s politics. She later became a teacher and by the time she retired, she was the head teacher of her school.
Sinclair Dolphin was one of more than 50 London recruits that came to South Africa during that period.  – Maricelle Botha 
maricelle@centralmediagroup.co.za

NEWS YOU CAN USE

The filmmakers are searching for eyewitnesses of these ANC propaganda actions. Did you see the leaflet bombs explode? Do you know someone who did? Did you come into contact with the activities of the London recruits? Anyone who has any leads can contact us by sending a Whatsapp (071-253-0876), SMS (071-253-0876), email (www.isawit.co.za), or on Facebook (@isawit_sa), twitter (@isawit_sa) or via the website (www.isawit. co.za), or call (071-2530876). For more information on the film, go to www. londonrecruits.com.