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Rian Malan, Paul Trewhela and Bill Keller Correspond in NY Review of Books over Nelson Mandela’s Communist Link

Both Rian Malan and Paul Trewhela have responded in the New York Review of Books to Bill Keller’s review of Malan’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight: and Other Stories of Africa, an internationally published collection of Malan’s articles, some of which had previously been published in Resident Alien.

In the review, Keller had refuted some of Malan’s statements on the South African Communist Party, saying “Most…members weren’t all that Communist” and “Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were not Communists…”.

The Lion Sleeps TonightInside Quatro External Mission

Malan and Trewhela take exception to this, pointing him towards the research of Stephen Ellis, author of External Mission: The ANC in Exile, which found that “SACP militants co-opted Nelson Mandela onto the Communist Party’s Central Committee and tasked him to ‘bounce’ the mighty ANC into agreement with their position”.

Keller has replied to their letters with his own, stating, “I part company with Mr. Trewhela and Mr. Malan on the significance of this evidence”.

Read their correspondence:

I enjoyed Bill Keller’s review of my scribblings [“The Heretic,” NYR, March 21] but must take issue with his view of the tiny but hugely influential South African Communist Party (SACP). “Most…members weren’t all that Communist,” writes Keller, seemingly wishing to impute that our Reds were only pretending to believe in the totalitarian Soviet ideal.

I’m afraid Mr. Keller is wrong. We know this from any number of sources, but let’s hear it from Hilda Bernstein, who lived long enough to acquire a shrewd understanding of herself and the Communist movement of which she was a lifelong part. “Joe and Rusty were hardline Stalinists,” she said in 2004, speaking of her late husband Rusty, a Central Committee member, and Joe Slovo, the most influential Communist of his era. “Anything the Soviets did was right,” said Mrs. Bernstein. “They were very, very pro-Soviet.”

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