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Wolfie Kodesh (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Wolfie Kodesh (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His brave involvement in the fight against apartheid. He chose to fight on the side of the oppressed in a period where he could have chosen to be silent and lived comfortably on the privilege provided by the colour of his skin.
Profile of Wolfie Kodesh (Posthumous)

Wolfie Kodesh was a renowned political activist who put his life at risk to assist liberation struggle activists such as former President Nelson Mandela to evade security police. Kodesh was born on 6 April 1918. He belonged to a generation of radicals. His grandparents had fled the devastations in Eastern Europe and settled in South Africa.

His contribution to the ultimate overthrow of apartheid was substantial. Kodesh was born in the Transvaal mining town of Benoni but he grew up in Woodstock and neighbouring District Six, Cape Town. He became involved with the South African Communist party in 1938, selling the left wing newspaper, The Guardian. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Union Defence Force, and fought in the Ethiopian campaign against the Italians. Later, he served with the South African forces in the Western Desert.

His first experience of arrest and detention came in the army, when he espoused the cause of black soldiers. He was charged with mutiny for speaking to them, and agitating for them to receive equal pay, the charges were eventually withdrawn. Back in South Africa after the war, Kodesh became a full-time Communist Party worker in 1947, writing for The Guardian about conditions in the Cape Town townships and continuing to sell the newspaper.

Three years after the Communist Party was banned in 1950, he was served with a banning order preventing him from working openly as a journalist. He carried on nonetheless, and his work with the late Ruth First helped to expose the plight of black workers on the potato farms of the then Eastern Transvaal.

He also wrote an exposé of the Afrikaner secret society, the Broederbond. Former President Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography, A Long Walk To Freedom, recalled the time in 1961, when he went underground and spent two months in Kodesh’s one-room flat in Berea, an inner-city area of Johannesburg. Kodesh moved Mandela from one safe house to another, and his ingenuity kept the future President away from the security police until his capture in Howick, in the then Natal in 1962.