Neville Curtis, 1947-2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I was very saddened to hear about the death of Neville Curtis at his home in White Beach, Tasmania, on February 15. He was 60 years old.

Neville was a long-time anti-apartheid activist and in 1969 was the president of the National Union of South African Students. He was credited with transforming the NUSAS from a student union into a political organisation, taking people to the streets and contributing to the development of black trade unions in South Africa.

During this time he developed many friendships, including with Steve Biko and Andrew Murray, now a senator for the Australian Democrats. Nelson Mandela, when released from prison, thanked NUSAS for its contribution to defeating apartheid.

Neville's activities resulted in him being arrested, injured and banned by South Africa's apartheid regime. He decided he could do more for the movement outside of South Africa than in prison, and escaped to Australia in 1972. In 1973, Neville formed the first national anti-Apartheid network in this country, the Campaign against Racial Exploitation (CARE), and toured Australia and New Zealand urging action against apartheid.

I first met Neville when I was a Resistance member in Hobart in the 1980s. He gave inspiring talks about the anti-apartheid struggles. He spoke warmly of his friendship with Steve Biko and with great sadness about the death of his sister Jeanette Schoon and her six-year-old daughter, killed by an apartheid death squad letter bomb sent to them while they were living in exile.

I have since met other friends Neville made while he was living in Canberra, where he regularly protested outside the South African embassy and was involved in the Jobless Action group. One of the highlights for Neville was finally being allowed to vote — for the tripartite South African Communist Party-African National Congress-Congress of South African Trade Unions alliance — in South Africa's 1994 elections.

Those of us who knew you Neville will continue to miss and love you, and keep your memory alive so as to inspire others in the fight against injustices.

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