Sunday 17 July 2016

One of my earliest political memories…

On Friday I was reminded of one of my earliest political memories, when Mark Shayler came into Open to talk to us about some fancy marketing stuff.

In his talk he mentioned the trouble he got into at his supermarket job after watching Cry Freedom in the 80s, the film that tells the story of Steve Biko an anti-apartheid activist. Mark refused to handle South African apples as a matter of principle. He cited Cry Freedom as a contributing factor to his understanding of apartheid and the small protest he made.

Steve Biko

Cry Freedom was released in 1987 and I saw it at my local cinema in Somerset. It film had a profound impact on me. It sounds silly now, but at 17 years old I had no real idea about apartheid. I knew what it was. I knew it was wrong. But I had no idea of the scale of it. Everything I knew I was picking up from bands and the NME. So the film started to teach me about the struggle and gave me the incentive to find out more.

But it wasn’t the film itself that had the biggest impact on me.

When I left the cinema there were about 4 people waiting outside. I think they were Amnesty or ANC campaigners from Bristol, but I’m not sure. One of them pressed a photocopied leaflet into my hand and spoke to me earnestly about what I could do to join the struggle. I could give money. I could sign their petition. I could join their group. That evening outside the cinema I did two of those things. I gave a small amount of money and I signed their petition. I didn’t join the group. That felt far too radical for a country boy like me. But that meeting had a real impact on my politics and my desire to do something.

One of the questions Mark asked us on Friday was ‘Why?’ Why do you do what you do? Part of the reason I do what I do, can be traced back to the excitement I felt when meeting those real life activists — it was one of the first times I realised that the ‘typical’ career path wasn’t for me. More importantly it showed me that taking action against the things you disagree with is easy. You just need to start.


  1. Good on you. 'Cry Freedom', 'A World Apart', 'The Killing Fields' - I too was inspired to work for the likes of Amnesty and Oxfam by those films. They made me think, feel and determine to do something. I didn't quite know what, but I knew there were groups of people doing something, and I knew I wanted to help them if I could.

    I don't remember groups outside the cinemas at the time, but kudos to those who did turn up, seeing it as an opportunity. Let's not forget that, though you could learn about those injustices, they were not so widely reported on as today.

    Yes, starting - donating, joining, letter-writing, asking - is the first essential step.

    1. Thanks for commenting Howard. Maybe I was an early Slacktivist :)