A politician with a clear conscience

Book: A Life in Transition

Book: A Life in Transition

Author: Alex Boraine

Publisher: Zebra Press

Reviewer: Eric Naki

I was one of the people that Desmond Tutu, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman, says in the forward of this book, "rightly thought Alex Boraine should have been the chair".

I was one of the many national and international journalists covering the first TRC hearings in East London in April 1996.

I thought Boraine, as deputy chairman, was stronger than Tutu, who cried every time victims wept as they related sad tales of apartheid atrocities. Boraine cried with his heart.

This and other stories of this crusader for justice and peace are contained in this autobiography, a record of Boraine's journey from childhood, through varsity and his work for and formation of the International Centre for Transitional Justice and earlier for Idasa.

This is a chronicle of Boraine's work at the Methodist Church, as a politician and as deputy chairman of the TRC and his reflections on issues of justice, and reconciliation in the world.

At 39 Boraine was elected the youngest Methodist Church president in October 1970. He used religion to fight against injustice and for equality.

An all-rounder politician, he was elected Progressive Party MP for Pinelands in 1974 and fought apartheid alongside Dr Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert and Helen Suzman.

Reading this book helped me understand the humbleness I witnessed when I interviewed him at an East London hotel a day before the TRC hearing.

He stood up, smiled and greeted me when I arrived - in a somewhat soft but firm voice.

Born in Lansdowne, Cape Town, his family moved to Brooklyn in 1931. Like all children from a poor background, Boraine and his two brothers, Ronnie and Aubrey, did house chores. Despite his working-class background, he managed to get a good education overseas.

While studying in the US he was inspired by the civil rights movement and followed the preachings of Martin Luther King. As president of the Methodist Church's Conference, one of his tasks was to visit and check working conditions of black mine workers in then Transvaal and Orange Free State, campaigning for improvements.

Then the call to politics came.

Boraine, who joined politics to make a difference, had a close friendship with the late Steve Biko, whom he often visited in King William's Town, to which he had been banished.

He often sent Biko letters that were intercepted by the security police. He took part as a "theological adviser" in Saso's founding conference in Stutterheim addressed by Biko in 1969.

Together with Suzman and Donald Woods, Biko's best friend, Boraine attended Biko's funeral in 1977. He was part of the group that initiated the first Dakar Talks with "communist" and "terrorist" ANC exiled leaders in 1987 and subsequent meetings in Lusaka.

"I think Idasa gave the ANC a human face," he writes in the book.

He also reveals how apartheid agents were intercepted and arrested by ANC security while carrying a list of people to be assassinated - among them Steve Tshwete.

There is also more about recent political developments, including Thabo Mbeki's current mediation role in Zimbabwe.