Hanef Bhamjee obituary

Other lives: Activist who left South Africa aged 19 and founded the Welsh Anti-Apartheid Movement

My friend Hanef Bhamjee, who has died aged 74, devoted most of his life to trying to bring down apartheid, first as an activist in South Africa and later from Wales, his adopted home.

Hanef was born in Marikana, in the North West Province of South Africa, one of four sons of Suleman Bhamjee and Anisa (nee Varachia). He grew up in Pietermaritzburg, where his family ran a shoe shop, and attended Woodlands Indian high school.

In his teens Hanef was part of a politics study group and went on to found the Indian Youth Congress of Natal. As a young activist with the African National Congress he was arrested and interrogated a number of times. When the security services began to take a close interest in him, he left South Africa in 1965, aged 19, and spent some time in London supporting ANC leaders in exile and running political study groups.

He studied social science at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 1971, and moved to Cardiff, where he had South African friends. He was then a lecturer in sociology at the University of Cardiff from the mid-1970s until the mid-80s, during which time his main focus was to strengthen anti-apartheid activity in Wales.

In 1981 Hanef founded the Welsh Anti-Apartheid Movement, becoming its secretary. A fearsome campaigner who created alliances across religious and Welsh language groups, political parties and trade unions , he inspired thousands to join the movement. Hanef’s house was WAAM’s office for years, and anyone visiting had to tread over mountains of papers. WAAM battled for years to persuade the Welsh Rugby Union to sever links with the South African game, which it eventually did in 1989.

In the 80s Hanef decided to switch careers and began working as a paralegal for law firms. He studied law at the University of Cardiff and qualified as a solicitor in 1996, aged 50, afterwards working for Crowley and Co solicitors as an immigration specialist.

In 1992, in the dying months of the apartheid era, a colleague and I made a film for HTV Wales about Hanef’s return to South Africa after 27 years in exile. On arrival in Pietermaritzburg, he went straight to the cemetery to visit the grave of his father, who died in 1974, and that of a close friend who had died under police torture. Standing in the graveyard, this tough campaigner was overcome by the suppressed emotions of a lifetime’s sacrifice.

Once back in Wales, Hanef devoted his efforts to Action for Southern Africa Cymru, the successor to WAAM, which fundraises for anti-poverty projects. He was made OBE in 2012, the year he retired from legal work.

Hanef loved watching cricket, collecting coins and medals, cooking vast meals for parties at his home, and doing the Guardian crossword. He was a warm and loyal friend to many and a devoted stepfather to Robyn and Luke, the children of his former partner, Annie Griffiths.

He is survived by his brothers, Shabier and Yusuf.

Clare Hudson

The GuardianTramp

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