A determined life spent fighting racism and injustice in southern Africa
Tue 22 Jul 2003 02.50 BST
The life of journalist and campaigner Eileen Haddon, who has died aged 82, spanned the changes of 20th-century southern African history. In her youth, she fought against segregation in her native South Africa; in maturity, she opposed repression in Rhodesia; and in old age, she witnessed with indignation the authoritarianism of the current Zimbabwean regime. To all these campaigns, she brought an honesty, a zest and a gift for friendship that helped others to experience the struggle against unjust power as a hopeful enterprise.
Eileen had no truck with the argument that what has been happening in Zimbabwe showed it was a mistake to support Africa nationalism or to oppose Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence. For her, it was never a mistake to oppose ideological narrowness and political persecution; a convinced atheist, she believed in nothing but truth and justice.
Born in the South African mining town of Boksberg, Eileen started medical school at the University of the Witswatersrand, but her family were unable to afford the fees for her to complete the course. The most important lesson she learnt at this time came from her father’s friend, Professor Fouché, who opened her eyes to racism and helped shape her lifetime convictions.
In October 1942, she married Michael Haddon, with whom she was to enjoy a profound 57-year partnership. He joined the Royal Marines and they moved to Britain, where their first son, Bryan, was born in 1945.
At the end of the second world war, the family returned to South Africa, where Michael worked on the goldmines. Increasingly aware of the harsh reality of most African lives – and of the need for social change – Eileen became active in various progressive organisations, including the South African Institute of Race Relations. When the Nationalist party won the 1948 elections and launched the apartheid era, Eileen and Michael moved to what was then Southern Rhodesia, where their second son, Timothy, was born in 1948.
There, in the early 1950s, they helped to establish the Interracial Association, which Eileen chaired for many years. They were also involved with the United Rhodesia party, led between 1953 and 1958 by the progressive Garfield Todd (obituary, October 14 2002), and with a number of initiatives to persuade white society of the need for reform. They supported, and were greatly influenced by, Guy Clutton-Brock (obituary, February 4 1995) and his wife Molly at St Faith’s, the country’s first farm cooperative, and by the emerging African nationalist movement.
During this time, Eileen began her writing career, preparing and researching papers on key issues – such as inequitable land distribution and discriminatory racial legislation – which helped to formulate the policies of the National Democratic party and subsequent nationalist movements.
After the 1959 emergency declaration by Garfield Todd’s successor Sir Edgar Whitehead, and the detention without trial of hundreds of nationalists, Eileen and Michael played a key role in establishing and running the detainees legal aid and welfare fund. They also donated their smallholding outside Salisbury (now Harare), Cold Comfort Farm, as the base for a multiracial cooperative launched by Clutton-Brock, Didymus Mutasa and others.
Their home became famous for mixed-race and mixed-generation gatherings, and they established intimate and lifelong friendships with such leading African couples as Stanlake and Tommie Samkange, Herbert and Victoria Chitepo, and Nathan and Dora Shamuyarira. The Haddons taught me, and many others, to relax and enjoy ourselves as well as to persist and fight.
In 1960, Eileen joined the progressive Central African Examiner, becoming its editor two years later. Intelligence files now available in the Zimbabwean national archives in Harare reveal how closely she was watched, and of what dire conspiratorial projects she was suspected.
Meanwhile, the Examiner became the target of increasing hostility from Ian Smith’s Rhodesia Front government. The newspaper brought the first test case challenging the legality of UDI in November 1965, and was forced to suspend publication the following month. A few weeks later, Michael Haddon was arrested and imprisoned for three years; Eileen was exposed to threats from Rhodesian society.
On Michael’s release in 1969, the couple left the country, just ahead of the security police. After a year in Britain, they moved to Zambia, where Eileen worked as publications officer at the University of Zambia between 1971 and 1977. The Zimbabwe independence celebrations in 1980 were a deeply moving and hopeful occasion for them, and they returned to Harare in 1981.
In 1983, Michael was invited to set up Zimbabwe’s state-owned mining company, in which he played a central role until his retirement. Eileen continued to write, edit and brief journalists. She was especially close to the great journalist Willie Musururwa, who was dismissed as editor of the government-owned Sunday Mail in an early indication that the Zimbabwean regime would follow the media policies of its Rhodesia Front predecessor.
Eileen Haddon was saddened and outraged by the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and by mounting political repression, but never gave way to pessimism and fatalism. Michael died in 1996, and her sons survive her.
· Eileen Haddon, journalist and campaigner, born March 9 1921; died July 6 2003