Abel Ramarope (1961-2005): from PAC to anarchism # 1

Article from Zabalaza, number 7, 2006, p. 26, here.

Remembering Our Fallen Comrades! Another Anarchist Dies in Prison: 

Abel Ramarope, Political Prisoner Turned Anarchist, died September 2005

by Jonathan Payn

“You must be aware that we are victimised by our fear to stand up for what is entitled us as people whether in prison or outside prison. We are firstly determined to challenge any barbaric or tyrannical system if it needs be. Change is a must; and it shall come and be effected by those who needs to see it.

Well we need to be strong even when we face incarceration. We cannot afford to be sacrificed at the expense of the capitalists. We fought for the transformation of this land, and yet we are deprived of the right to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Now our votes are seen as a priority but our release as political activists/prisoners is not important to them.”

Abel Ramarope

It is always saddening to hear of someone dying in a prison, with cold concrete and steel preventing them from being comforted by loved ones in their time of need. However, and not to place any more value on one life over another, but when I hear of yet another anarchist, whom I believe often have a more acute awareness of suffering and a stronger longing for freedom and justice than do most people, having died in a prison cell, I am filled with a sadness unparalleled.

Abel was imprisoned as a member of the Pan-African Congress for his role in the struggle against apartheid but, through contact with the southern African chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross in early 2004 he began to develop a great interest in anarchism and devoured any reading material he could get hold of. Despite a decade of humiliation and abuse at the hands of the authorities, when Abel became an anarchist almost two years ago he was filled with a hope and belief in a better future that is rare; especially in someone who has spent so long in prison, having been forgotten both by his former organisation and the very people whose freedom he fought for.

In prison he began to organise a clandestine reading and study group on anarchism, educating prisoners about the real nature of the prison system, and set about organising to expose the corruption of the ANC and the Amnesty Commission; which denied amnesty to political prisoners and freedom fighters of the apartheid era who were not affiliated to the ANC leadership or were not part of the South African Police or South African National Defence Force during the times of struggle.

Abel was an inspiration to fight back against the injustice of the system if ever I met one; I remember when he told me not to bring him anything that would make his stay in prison more comfortable, as it made him feel stronger and more of an anarchist to suffer. And not to buy him anything from the prison tuck-shop as he didn’t want to contribute in any way to enriching the corrupt prison wardens and Department of Correctional Services. Instead he asked for a kettle, which the ABC supplied, that he could use to drink hot water, which he said helped his asthma. I only hope it made his last months more bearable.

Of course one can be sure that if Abel hadn’t had to endure a decade behind bars, surrounded by concrete and steel, trying to survive on a worthless diet and if he had had access to the right medication, he may have had the strength to fight his sickness as he did his oppressors. That is why; when the prison warden told us that Abel had died in September from asthma I was furious. Maybe I wanted to cry, but my tears have dried up like the blood of so many who sacrificed their lives and freedom for a better future. Anyway, we don’t only mourn for the dead… we turn anger and sadness into resistance.

It was an honour and a privilege to have know Abel and, inspired by his enthusiasm and commitment to exposing and expelling the lies about the role and function of the prison system – that of protecting and upholding class society – with the aim of destroying them both, we will not rest until every prison has been razed to the ground.

Love & Rage
Jonathan,
on behalf of the Anarchist Black Cross – SA

While there is a working class I am of it,
While there is a criminal element,
Then I am in it,
And while there is a soul in prison,
Then I am not free.

Let sadness turn to anger, harness that anger and turn it to rage 
Give expression to that rage and tear down the fucking cage

NOTE: The Prison will not pass on the details and date of his death until a written request has been approved by the Department of Correctional Services.

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I have long been involved in union education, and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented or published 100s of papers conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 4 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and produced five books. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. My books includd include 'Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives' (2018, co-edited with Kirk Helliker), 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' and 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014).