Heinz Kerry, the forgotten radical
AS A would-be Democratic First Lady, Teresa Heinz Kerry nailed her radical colours to the mast with stories of the struggle against South African apartheid while a student in the country.
But now contemporaries from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg say her participation in an anti-apartheid protest march, which she used to describe her fearlessness, was an isolated event.
John Kerry’s billionaire wife is remembered either as very religious or beautiful, but certainly not as a radical political activist.
In April 1959, students and lecturers donned their academic gowns and marched on the Johannesburg City Hall. Banners announced their opposition to the government’s attempts to ban black students from campus. Teresa Ferreira, as she was then known, was among the 3,000 or so who marched that day, as she reminded US Democratic Party members at their convention in Boston.
She told delegates: "I learned something then, and I believe it still. There is a value in taking a stand, whether or not anyone may be noticing and whether or not it is a risky thing to do."
Colleagues from the time say her participation in the march should not be seen as indicative of a broader involvement in the anti-apartheid movement which became known as the "struggle".
"She certainly wasn’t in the broad left, nor was she active at all in the fight against university apartheid," Alf Stadler told Scotland on Sunday. A student at the university from 1957 to 1961, Stadler went on to become a Professor of Political Studies at the institution.
Stadler maintains the protest in which Heinz Kerry was involved drew virtually the whole campus. "Everyone was on it, it was the formal protest of the university."
The protest, for which permission had been granted by the authorities, was led by the university’s vice-chancellor, W G Sutton, a man Stadler claimed was so cautious he virtually would not "leave his office without permission".
"A lot of students got clobbered," said Stadler, remembering some of the anti-apartheid protests on campus. But "not as many were involved in what eventually became known as ‘the struggle’ as pretended to be," he chuckled.
He said of Heinz Kerry’s references to her participation: "She’s trying to make some kind of personal role... but it’s not working."
"I don’t remotely see this lady as having indulged in that kind of thing," said Stadler, referring to a range of anti-government protests by students.
Situated on the edge of downtown Johannesburg, the Wits campus, as it is known, was a divided one. Fraught with political tensions, meetings in the Great Hall often broke out into fights. Some students’ anti-apartheid activity involved sneaking into the city centre at night, sticking up political posters, and attending rousing political rallies at the City Hall.
Some students went further, joining and forming organisations which led to their arrest, imprisonment, and "banning" - a process by which the government made it illegal for a person to be quoted or to be in the company of more than a few people at once. One former student, John Harris, who formed the Armed Resistance Movement, was hanged in 1965 for planting a bomb at Johannesburg’s railway station.
A senior South African politician who attended the university at the same time as Heinz Kerry and who was "banned" by the apartheid government for his political activities said he had "no recollection at all" of her.
Paleontologist Professor Phillip Tobias, one of the principal organisers of the march, says he does not remember Ferreira. But he added: "I do not think any student who went through those events could remain untouched by it. She must have been "sensitised in the fight against racism".
One of three children of a Portuguese doctor and his wife Irene Thierstien, Maria Teresa Thierstien Simoes-Ferreira was born in Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, which gained its independence in 1974, 13 years after the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique began a guerrilla struggle.
Her primary school years at the Baraso Convent were interrupted when her father took the family back to Portugal, to further his medical studies. She returned to Africa for her high school years, from 1951 to 1956.
South Africa was at the time in the grip of a rising resistance to the relatively new racist rule of the Nationalist Party, which was settling in for a long reign. It was beginning to clamp down on anti-apartheid political organisations, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.
At the end of an impressive high school career, Heinz Kerry went on to the University of the Witwatersrand, where she graduated with a BA in languages on March 26, 1960.
Heinz Kerry was known for her intellectual abilities and her devout Catholicism. She attended mass every morning at Roman Catholic Maris Stella Convent High School in the coastal city of Durban.
"She made quite a mark for herself," said the school’s headmistress, Eleanor Hough. Heinz Kerry received an award for academic excellence in her final year and was given the Old Girl’s Achievement Badge after having been judged "the most outstanding girl" at the school.
The American public is still trying to figure out what to make of Heinz Kerry. About four in 10 view her favourably, three in 10 unfavourably, and 27% said they haven’t decided, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll last week.
The unfavourables had increased from 19% in early July to 31% in a recent survey. Two-thirds view First Lady Laura Bush in a favourable light, 12% view her unfavourably.
In her adult life, Heinz Kerry has become a powerful woman, accustomed to speaking her mind. She is the head of the $1.2bn Heinz Foundation and her personal fortune is estimated to exceed $1bn.
A WORLD APART
When Teresa Heinz Kerry arrived in South Africa in 1951, the resistance to white minority rule was growing daily.
Political groups, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s passive resistance strategy, embarked on a campaign of defiance against unjust laws.
Just as the young Heinz Kerry was completing her glittering high school career, 156 activists, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested and charged with treason. The trial lasted longer than the period she spent at university. All were acquitted.
Five days before she graduated in 1960, police opened fire on a crowd of black people, killing 69 in the Sharpeville massacre. They had been protesting against mandatory ‘pass’ books.
Political groups, including the African National Congress were soon banned. In less than a year Mandela was jailed for leaving the country illegally, and in June 1964 he was jailed for life for sabotage.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west