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Robert Resha (1920 - 1973)

The Order of Luthuli in

Robert Resha (1920 - 1973) Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the achievement of a non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic South Africa.

Profile of Robert Resha

Robert Resha was born in 1920, in Bolotwe, Queenstown. Resha was a prominent member of the new generation of leaders who emerged in the African National Congress (ANC) during and after the 1952 Defiance Campaign.

He completed eight years of formal schooling and in his late teens went to work as a miner on the Reef. After several years, he was dismissed as a troublemaker, after which he took up freelance journalism, moving to Sophiatown in Johannesburg around 1940.

He later became sports editor of New Age and also wrote for The World. In the late 1940s, he was an active member of the ANC Youth League and was jailed for participation in the Defiance Campaign. In 1952, his wife Maggie, a nurse also went to prison for the same cause.

Committed and powerful on the public platform, Resha was co-opted onto the ANC’s National Executive Committee in December 1952. In early 1953, he replaced Diliza Mji as Transvaal president of the Youth League.

Resha took over as acting president during 1954 and 1955 when bans restricted the league's national president, Joe Matthews. The government scheme to remove African residential areas west of Johannesburg involved Resha as volunteer-in-chief in the ANC's frustrated efforts to mobilise resistance in Sophiatown in the mid-1950s. One of Resha's speeches of late 1956, in which he said ANC volunteers must “'murder” if called upon to do so, became a prize exhibit in the Treason Trial. As one of the first-string accused in the trial, Resha was held with 29 other defendants until the final acquittal in March 1961.

In 1959, during the course of the trial, he helped to launch the ANC's Economic Boycott Campaign at a mass meeting in Durban. He was shortly thereafter banned from attending gatherings and restricted to Johannesburg.

After his acquittal in the Treason Trial, he left South Africa and became a major representative of the ANC in exile, serving in Algiers and other ANC offices abroad and on numerous occasions speaking for the ANC before United Nations (UN) committees.

He became the ANC representative in Algiers and was placed in charge of activities in Europe and North America. He was a member of the first delegation of the ANC which appeared before the Special Committee in August 1963.

Thereafter, he was invited on numerous occasions to participate in the meetings of the Special Committee and for consultations with the Special Committee and its missions. He also appeared before the Special Political Committee of the General Assembly and the African Group at the UN and in numerous conferences.

Robert Resha showed tremendous energy, resourcefulness and wisdom in all his activities – in publicising the struggle of the South African people against apartheid, in organising assistance to the victims of apartheid and in promoting support to the resistance in South Africa. Despite all the odds, he had unshakeable faith in the destiny of his people. He was a freedom fighter who was always prepared to risk his comfort and even life for the freedom and dignity of the oppressed people of South Africa.

He died in London in 1973. At the time, his wife was general secretary of the All Africa Women's Conference based in Algiers.