Back to top

James Randolph Vigne

The Order of Luthuli in

James Randolph Vigne Awarded for:
His contribution to the struggle for a democratic, free and non-racial South Africa.

Profile of James Randolph Vigne

James Randolph Vigne was a founder member of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), which launched, among other things, a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In being a member and leader of the ARM, Vigne put at great risk the future of his young family and his own life from 1961 to 1964. Shortly after he escaped from South Africa, the right-wing elements of the day burnt his house down.

Vigne played a leading role in promoting the concept of a non-racial democracy on both sides of the colour line and in radicalising the extra-parliamentary Liberal Party in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He headed activities of his party in campaigning against the Bantustan policy in the Transkei and for the liberation of illegally occupied South West Africa (Namibia). He worked closely with the Pan Africanist Congress in the “positive action campaign” in the Cape in 1960 and retained a link with its leader, Robert Sobukwe, until the end of the latter’s life.

In 1961, Vigne brought the struggle for democracy into the white supremacist camp by standing for Parliament on a “universal suffrage” policy and in the same year, assisted Nelson Mandela in Cape Town in preparation for the May “stay-at-home” campaign.

Throughout this period, he wrote for and edited journals such as Contact and the New African (which he co-founded in 1962). He was the founder of the underground National Committee for Liberation (later renamed the ARM) when the Verwoerd government’s actions had made constitutional political action for democratic change impossible.

He was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1963, brought to trial in Umtata under the emergency regulations in the Transkei and held in detention in Cape Town, charged with holding an illegal meeting with delegates of the Transkei Democratic Party, which he had helped to form, in close association with King Sabata Dalindyebo, the Thembu King.

In 1964, he escaped arrest with the exposure of the ARM and left the country without a passport. For 30 years he campaigned in Britain, Africa and the United Nations against the apartheid regime in South Africa and the occupation of Namibia. He spent 22 years as chairperson and later secretary of the Pro-South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo) Namibia Support Committee and as a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

He was closely involved with Canon Collins and the International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) over many years, bringing many cases of South African and Namibian activists to the IDAF for legal defence and the assistance of their families, in particular acting as intermediary for Robert Sobukwe. He published widely in books and articles on radio and television in support of the struggle for non-racial democracy, and as a member of such high-profile bodies as the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) and the United Nations Association.

He visited and reported on Swapo offices and camps in Tanzania, Zambia and Angola until the late 1980s and was able to return to South Africa after 1990, continuing to research, write and lecture on South African and Namibian politics and history, always seeking to promote non-racialism and democracy.

Randolph Vigne has continued to be a dedicated supporter of the struggle for non-racial democracy in South Africa, and a volun­teer and activist of many good causes in the country. He is still active as a freelance writer, promoting ideas of non-racialism and democracy.