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Ex-student leader secretly flees South Africa Comment on this post ↓
September 23rd, 1974 by Warren Swil

Banned NUSAS man Neville Curtis seeks asylum in Australia

First published in the Cape Times, Cape Town
And all its sister newspapers in the
South African Associated Newspapers group of companies
September 23, 1974

Click logo to visit the Cape Times

Banned former Nusas President Mr. Neville Curtis has arrived in Australia and has applied for political asylum there.
This emerged from telephone calls to Mr. Curtis, who is aboard the luxury Italian liner Guglielnlo Marconi, and to a senior newspaperman in Perth, Australia. The conversation with Mr. Curtis cannot be reported because he is a banned person.
His mysterious disappearance was discovered on Wednesday last week when he failed to appear at a court  hearing on charges of contravening his banning order .

Mr. Peter Ewing, night news editor of The West Australian, a newspaper in Perth,  yesterday told the CapeTimes of Mr. Curtis’s arrival in Fremantle on Saturday morning.
He gave an immigration department official a written application for residence, and he did not have a passport.
Mr. Ewing, who used to work for a South African newspaper, said Mr. Curtis had returned the passport he had used to its owner, a Mr. L Reynolds, before he left Cape Town.
“When he arrived without a passport, the official put him in the custody of the ship’s captain, Captain R. Santorini. The ship is now bound for Adelaide and Melbourne where it will arrive on Wednesday,” he said.
“Mr. Curtis’s application will be sent to the Minister for Immigration, Mr. Clyde Cameron, today, and the Department of Foeign Affairs will consider the case.”
“Mr. Cameron’s decision is expected to be ready when the ship reaches Melbourne, where Mr. Curtis is planning to get off.  Mr. Curtis did not leave the ship at Fremantle, and was seen by only one departmental official.

Here is the Cape Times cover page
from April 30, 2013.

“We suspect that a South African journalist on board the ship recognized him.”
Mr. Ewing said he had spoken to Mr. Curtis yesterday.
“He had been organizing political activity in South Africa and feared reprisals from the South African government,” he said.
“He did not tell anyone at home about his decision to escape, and he had no problem getting on board the ship,” Mr. Ewing said.

“He chose Australia because he has relatives here – an uncle in Canberra and other relatives in Melbourne. He wanted to tell Australians what conditions in South Africa were really like. He is very much committed to South Africa and will return ultimately.

“Officials at Fremantle did not let him off the ship but were friendly and kind. He hopes to be able to continue his studies toward an MA in politics in Australia. He is writing a thesis on South African politics and ‘decision making’.”
The story, of Mr. Curtis’s arrival in Australia is to be used as the lead story in The West Australian this morning.
Mr. Jack Curtis, father of Mr. Neville Curtis, said from Johannesburg yesterday that his son’s arrival in Australia was “just great. I feel more relieved now than at any time since he was banned,” he said.
“Australia is my former home country and we have family there who have tremendous sympathy for Neville personally and the liberation movement.
“This will give Neville the scope for continuing the work he was doing before he was banned, both political and academic,” he said.

Post script written on April 30, 2013

 There is a terrific backstory to the published version of this saga.
I had personally known Neville Curtis for about four years when he was the president of the National Union of South African Students while I was a student at the University of Cape Town.

I participated in many of the anit-Apartheid demonstrations organized by NUSAS.
Upon graduation at the end of 1973 I began my newspaper career as a cadet reporter with South African Associated Newspapers, first in the same office building as the now-defunct Rand Daily Mail in downtown Johannesburg.

Wessel de Kock’s best-selling book, “USUTHU! Cry Peace!”
Click on the image to purchase it.

In about March or April of 1974, I was assigned to the Cape Times in Cape Town for a six-month training period.
Now famous author, Wessel de Kock was my first City Editor. What a great journalism teacher he was. Today, I emulate him in many ways with my students.
About the same time the apartheid government decided to crack down
on the student movement – a major irritant, though hardly a threat to Afrikaner political domination.
Despite my youth and inexperience, it was almost obvious that I should be the reporter assigned to the developing story since I was so well and recently connected with all the major sources.
After Curtis was banned by government decree that imposed all sorts of limitations on his public participation, he made his decision to surreptitiously leave the country without a passport. Not even his closest friends knew; it was too dangerous. We were all being monitored constantly by the not-so-secret police.

It was only when Curtis was three-quarters of the way to Australia that I discovered he was aboard the ship Guglielmo Marconi.
Knowing this would be a major story, I worked it from every angle, and managed to contact Neville by ship-to-shore radio with the assistance of an editor at the Perth Australian.
Neville could not be quoted in the Cape Times (or anywhere in South Africa) at that time. Instead, I quoted Peter Ewing quoting Neville Curtis. Not a bad trick for a rookie, eh?
The West Australian broke the story in Perth the same day we did in South Africa.
If I recall correctly, it was my very first Page One lead story, and my first Page One byline ever.
Bylines were not nearly as common in those days as they are today; most stories were just credited to “staff reporter.”
Not only was my story Page One lead in the Cape Times that Monday morning, but it also lead the front page of every single newspaper in the chain of newspapers owned by South African associated Newspapers.
What a scoop!
And I had only been on the job six months.

Read Neville’s obituary from the Cape Times of Feb. 16  2007.

 



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