28 February 2017



6 February 2017

Mark Gevisser is a South African writer and journalist. In about 1997 Gevisser made a film called “The Man Who Drove With Mandela which was issued originally on a VCR and in 1998 it was issued in DVD format.

I went to school in Johannesburg, South Africa from 1933 to 1943. The school had a primary school and a secondary school, each with their own premises on separate but related pieces of land next to each other. In those days they were called prep. (preparatory) school and high school, and I went to High school in 1939, the year the second world war started.

The school was called King Edward VII School because it was founded in the new mining town of Johannesburg in 1905 and King Edward VII was on the throne in Great Britain and South Africa was a colony of Great Britain after Great Britain had won the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902.

In 1910 the four colonies in South Africa were combined and South Africa became a dominion of Great Britain and joined other dominions like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Our school was very “English” in its education and teachers, and some of our teachers in High School actually came from Britain.

When I got to high school in 1939 we were divided up into different classes from what we had had in primary school, so we had different teachers for different subjects.

One of the teachers of English was, in fact, an Englishman called Cecil Williams, and it was only as time went on during the war and after the war ended in 1945 that Cecil Williams’ name became very well known in South Africa.

I was not fortunate enough to be put in a class taught English by Williams, but somehow – as happens with schoolboys – the boys knew he was homosexual and they also knew where he lived in the City. In those days homosexuals were called queer and many other names, most of which I have now forgotten, and because there are so many different words used in the late 20th and early 21 centuries.

Williams went from school as a teacher into the Royal Navy during the war, and when he came back to South Africa after 1945 he did not go back to teaching but became a broadcaster for the South African Broadcasting Corporation and also an actor and theatre producer and he was very well known and acclaimed for his productions and acting.

In the mean time there was another side to Williams which most of us didn’t know about and even when we went to university in the mid to late 1940s, he was mostly known for his acting and broadcasting, and basically that is all we know.

Field Marshal Jan Smuts had been one of the generals during the 1899-1902 war and when that war ended he had remained close to the British in his affiliations and politics. When Britain went to war with Germany in 1939, Smuts was in opposition in the South African parliament and when a vote was taken by the South African parliament as to whether South Africa should join the war with Britain or should remain outside the war as many South Africans wanted the government to do, the government lost its majority and Smuts won enough to take over the government and thus joined the British war effort.

After the war ended in 1945, Smuts was still the prime minister, but at the election in 1948 Smuts lost power and the Nationalist party came to power, and that was more or less the beginning of official apartheid although of course it had existed since white settlement started in South Africa in 1652 when the Dutch established a colony in the Cape as a half way house to the Dutch East Indies, now called Indonesia.

At that stage in South Africa, in about 1948, the South African population consisted of about 8 million people of whom six million were black and two million were white.

The whites had the power and ruled the country and the blacks were the labourers without any political rights and were treated as third class citizens of their own country.

The next part of the story is recorded in South African History online:

Cecil Williams was born in Cornwall, England in 1906. He left for Johannesburg in 1928 and worked as an English teacher.

During World War II he switched to journalism and then became a theatre director using black and white actors.

Being gay he often got assaulted.

After the war when South African soldiers returned from Italy and other war zones, the ex-servicemen formed an organisation called the Springbok Legion  and War Veterans Action Committee – formed in 1951 - and Williams became an active member and became chairman of the Springbok Legion.

Williams worked closely with Bram Fischer ( a leading barrister at the time) in bringing the Springbok Legion and the Congress of Democrats (COD) together.

In 1953 The Springbok Legion’s offices were raided by the security police, and the Minister of Police ordered Williams and his colleague Alan Lipman to resign from any organisation they belonged to. They were banned from any gathering or meeting for two years.

In 1954, after the formation of the Congress of Democrats (COD) and the newly revived South African Communist Party (SACP), because these organisations were banned by the Nationalist Party government, they operated underground with freedom fighters which included Rusty Bernstein, Ruth First (later murdered in Mozambique by the South African government) Cecil Williams and Rica Hodgson.
Williams served in the first executive committee later serving as vice-chairman and he later became part of the underground unit.

In 1959 Williams was tried for treason but later acquitted.

Involvement in the activities of the banned SACP and opposition to racism led to contact with Nelson Mandela.

After the banning of the African National Congress (ANC) and the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, Williams became involved in underground work of MK. For instance, when Mandela returned from military training in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia, formerly Abyssinia), he was met by Williams in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) They continued to work together intil 1962 when Mandela was arrested posing as David Motsemayi – a chauffeur for Williams.

The story of how Mandela was caught got much publicity, but there was not much ever about the man he was driving that day.

Though involved in the struggle, Williams kept that part of his life separate from his personal life. Consequently few knew about his political activities and his lifestyle as a gay person.

After Mandela’s arrest, Williams left South Africa for Britain, where he lived until his death in 1979.

Mandela tells of his friendship with, and assistance from Cecil Williams in his biography LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (published by Abacus in 1995) but once Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 he possibly didn’t have the contacts or ability to find out what had happened to Cecil, as he called him in the book.

The film about the Mandela arrest with Cecil Williams is the first paragraph of this story, but what happened to Williams after he left South Africa? Did he get involved in the UK with the anti-apartheid movement in the UK?  I believe research in the UK will be richly rewarded into the later years of Cecil Williams’ life.

There are probably many facets of Williams’ life and political activities in the latter years of his life, but many of us remember some of his life in South Africa which, as far as we knew, was not political.

Cecil Williams was well known as a broadcaster on the airwaves in South Africa with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, but became more widely known as an actor, producer, director and theatre manager which must have made this a very fulfilling life.

I firmly believe Cecil Williams to have been a freedom fighter of our times and someone for whom recognition of his activities and his bravery in the context of the brutal South African apartheid and police state regime need to be recorded and acknowledged for all to know about.

I graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1951 and have been receiving alumni journals and magazines over the years.

The alumni journal is called WITSReview and an article in a recent issue was about a sculpture erected at the place Mandela was arrested by apartheid police in 1962.

Here is the article, followed by my letter to the journal a few months later:


March 2015 Volume 31

In 2012, an artist and anarchitect collaborated to create Release,
a sculpture honouring Nelson Mandela at the site where he was
captured in KwaZulu-Natal in 1962. Marco Cianfanelli
and Jeremy Rose regrouped in 2014 to craft falcons and
forests in a mall in Abu Dhabi.
Falcons &



March 2015

Joburg-born Cianfanelli graduated with a distinction in Fine Arts from Wits in 1993.
He is an artist “constantly looking to realise art where one doesn’t expect to find it”.
A rambling road in KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands is one such space. It was on such a road
that Nelson Mandela, operating “underground”, was driving on 5 August 1962, posing as a
chauffeur. Just outside Howick, he was flagged down by apartheid police. They’d been tipped
off about the driver’s real identity. Mandela was exposed, arrested and eventually imprisoned for 27

Cianfanelli’s sculpture Release, of Mandela at this capture site, was unveiled 50 years later on
4 August 2012.

The sculpture is made from 50 steel columns, each about 8-metres tall and planted on a concrete
base. The sculpture comes into focus from 35-metres and the image of Mandela emerges.
Viewed from the side, however, the design and arrangement of the columns create a sense of
fracture – or release. The sculpture is affected by the changing light around it, and visually shifts
throughout the day. It both exerts influence on and is part of its surroundings.
Silhouettes of human figures, like Release, are characteristic of Cianfanelli’s art – colossal works
in steel. He creates monumental silhouettes that juxtapose with other shapes and enable
unexpected connections in social forces to emerge.

Locating Release in the rolling Midlands landscape was thus not only accurate, but deliberate – and
required an architect.

Jeremy Rose (BArch 1988) is Principal Architect at Mashabane Rose Architects in Johannesburg. His consultancy work focuses on museums and cultural heritage site projects, and has included designing the Apartheid Museum and the Robben Island heritage site.

Cianfanelli and Rose regrouped in May 2014.
A property firm commissioned them to install a
sculpture in Yas Mall, which opened on Yas Island
in the United Arab Emirates in November 2014.
The artwork, currently untitled but referred to as
Swooping Falcons, is made of 140 tonnes of
steel. The
Swooping Falcons, like
Release, fluctuate
with the viewer’s perspective.
The mall doors open to a massive sculpture of
six falcons aloft 132 columns, each 18-metres
tall. “The idea is that, as you move around the
sculpture, you see different falcons from different
angles,” explains Cianfanelli. “From any position,
you will see one falcon and the others will
break apart, becoming an expression of rhythm,
movement or flight.”
Whichever way you look at it, this artistic alumni
collaboration continues to soar.

December 2015

WITSReview Volume 33


The Man who drove with Mandela

Dear Editor,

Deborah Minors’ article (WR March 2015) about the sculpture Release honouring Nelson Mandela at the
site where he was captured in 1962, in what was then either Zululand or Natal, is part of the story of that
eventful trip which needs to be told in full, and probably needs a sculpture supplemented to honour the man who was with Mandela when the capture took place.

Cecil Williams had gone to fetch Mandela from a meeting in Natal and they were returning to Johannesburg.

Quoting from the DVD called The Man who Drove with Mandela, the story unfolds as follows:

“Driving a gleaming Austin Westminster, Mandela was able to travel around the country by
disguising himself as a chauffeur for an elegant, impeccably dressed white man. That man, Cecil Williams, was a leading Johannesburg theatre director and a committed anti-apartheid freedom fighter.”

In fact, Cecil Williams was so very much more than that. When WWII started on 3 September 1939, he
was teaching English at King Edward VII High School in Johannesburg.
He had a flat in Anstey’s Building in Joubert Street and, apart from his gay activities which some of us
at the school had heard about, he was involved with the South African Communist Party. He also broadcast
on SABC and acted in theatre. When the war started he joined the navy (he was an Englishman) and after the war his political activities increased untithe fateful day when he was in the car with Mandela, the whereabouts of whom had been revealed to the South African authorities by those in the USA who didn’t want apartheid to end.

Cecil Williams needs to be recorded historically in the South African anti-apartheid struggle, and the DVD
of this episode is well worth seeing.

Actor Corin Redgrave plays Cecil Williams in the 1998 film directed by Greta Schiller.

Mannie De Saxe (BSc Eng Mech 1951 Wits.), now living in Australia


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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm