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Wednesday, December 12, 2018


The Secret Thread: Personal Journeys Beyond Apartheid by Deborah Ewing has been published by UNISA Press.

Ewing took up the challenge of 'mapping' The Secret Thread many years ago, tracing the stories and footsteps of the hundreds of grantees of the Christian Fellowship Trust. The CFT was founded by Dr. Beyers Naude with the support of British businessman Sir Derrick Bailey in 1964.

Sir Derrick (brother of Jim Bailey of Drum Magazine), believed that direct confrontation with the Apartheid Government would not bring change. Instead, he thought the key to challenging apartheid was through the Dutch Reformed Church. The idea was to use travel as a transforming experience, more powerful than indoctrination, to drive a 'Trojan Horse' into the citadel of Apartheid theology.
The CFT travel grants exposed individuals, black and white, initially within the DRC and later other denominations, to people and situations that questioned everything they had been taught about race and religion. The tours, on which grantees travelled as couples and stayed in homes rather than hotels, provided opportunities for reflection and respite, for confrontation and solidarity.

 (Deborah Ewing)

The Secret Thread refers to the ‘legally subversive’ network that spread across South Africa to the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and to Namibia. In South Africa, Ilse Naudé wove this thread, meticulously organising the itineraries and contacts of those who would travel - over a period of 30 years - so that they would be able to meet liberation leaders in exile and activists on the run without putting themselves or others at risk. In London, CFT Secretary Alison Harvey not only managed the grantee tours but ensured that their perspectives reached the ears of community leaders and decision-makers. As a result, CFT was instrumental in organising the programmes of the International Commission of Jurists in South Africa, and arranging parliamentary visits to Namibia to ‘hear the cry of the people’ as the South African government delayed independence.

The Secret Thread is a collection of connections between people. Sometimes it is the shimmering filament of an idea shared across continents. Sometimes it is the instant bond between strangers standing side by side in a crisis. Sometimes it is the whisper, the scribbled note or the handshake that starts someone on a journey through humanity.

Tribute must be paid to Dr.Beyers Naudé who at 87 years old in 2002 reviewed the manuscript for The Secret Thread page by page. Credit must also be given for this project to the then editor of Unisa Press' Hidden Histories Series, Raymond Suttner, who first saw the value of publishing the story of the CFT, and to the current Unisa team under Tshego Sehlodimela who saw it through.

Ewing first came to South Africa for the Anti-Apartheid Movement as an undercover journalist during the 1988 State of Emergency and shortly after joined the Christian Fellowship Trust committee in London. She returned to SA in 1993 as a peace monitor for the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme headed by Dr Beyers Naudé. In 1994, Deborah gave up a new appointment as head of the Women's Environmental Network in London, to work on democracy education in KZN for the months leading up to the 1994 elections - and stayed for 24 years. She worked for many years as a journalist, child rights activist and HIV treatment activist. She lives in Durban and is currently Advocacy Manager for sexual and reproductive health rights at the AIDS Foundation. 

Jane Argall is a research, writing and editing specialist, who has edited several important biographical works, including Albert Luthuli : Bound by Faith by Scott Couper, Theophilus Shepstone and the forging of Natal by Jeff Guy and the just published A Life in Letters: Selected Correspondence of Denis Hurley with Paddy Kearney and Father Philippe Denis. Argall has been involved with the process of writing up the story of the CFT since it started. In 2003 she travelled to the UK to go through the CFT archive held by Alison Harvey. She first met Ewing during preparations for the 1994 elections and since 2003 has worked extensively with her to realise the publication of The Secret Thread.

The launch of the book was opened with a song by Reverend Danny Chetty who shared his involvement with the CFT. He was part of the CFT network in SA and the UK. This included briefing grantees on the situation on the KZN South Coast and explaining how what was described as black-on-black violence in the media was orchestrated by the apartheid State. Rev Chetty consulted often with Dr Beyers Naudé, discussing how 'Everyone can play a role in eradicating evil, one chip at a time - the Christian Fellowship Trust was chipping away at the block of apartheid.'

Published by UNISA Press, The Secret Thread comprised 360 pages and is priced at R356. ISBN 978 1 86888 904 4. Order enquiries to Cedric Sissing on email: or phone 082 873 2702