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Bruce Haigh, Australian envoy who aided ‘Cry Freedom’ escape, dies at 77 Lalrp

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Bruce Haigh, an Australian diplomat who defied South African authorities throughout apartheid to assist a banned journalist flee the nation, an escape recounted within the 1987 movie “Cry Freedom,” died April 7 at a hospital in Wollongong, Australia. He was 77.

His sister, Christina Henderson, advised Australian media that Mr. Haigh’s well being deteriorated from most cancers whereas touring in Laos.

Over greater than 4 a long time, Mr. Haigh used his roles — first in diplomacy and later as a columnist — to problem Australia’s leaders as a self-styled voice of conscience. He was keen to “tilt at any windmill” the place he sensed injustice or imbalance, one Australian commentator wrote. Amongst his prime targets: harsh refugee insurance policies and the sturdy U.S. sway over Australia’s diplomatic and navy decision-making.

“I’ve this anger about issues that aren’t proper,” he once mentioned. There was no shock that he was by no means a straightforward match within the often-nuanced world of diplomacy after becoming a member of Australia’s international service in 1972. He discovered methods, nonetheless, to make use of his envoy standing as a robust software after he arrived in South Africa in 1976 as second secretary on the embassy in Pretoria.

Mr. Haigh recalled that his glimpse of South Africa’s racial divides got here earlier than his airplane touched down. Waves of protests had damaged out within the Black township of Soweto. “Apartheid,” Mr. Haigh mentioned, recounting his view from the airplane, “was laid out beneath.”

“Cramped, drab and draped in coal smoke, the slim streets and small field homes of the African townships stood in marked distinction to the pool-studded mansions,” he mentioned.

Mr. Haigh was quickly making contacts with Black activists, together with Steve Biko. He was not the one diplomat difficult the apartheid system, which had left South Africa largely remoted due to boycotts and sanctions. Mr. Haigh, nonetheless, was among the many most lively diplomats in anti-apartheid outreach and was given unusually vast latitude by his embassy to pursue contacts and intelligence gathering.

South African authorities had been all the time watching. Mr. Haigh was watching, too, and have become expert at evading them.

A distant spot exterior the southeastern metropolis of King William’s City (now known as Qonce) was chosen for his first assembly in 1976 with Biko, a frontrunner amongst a youthful technology of activists gaining prominence greater than a decade after the jailing of Nelson Mandela. Beneath police orders, Biko was restricted from leaving King William’s City. Mr. Haigh needed to secretly come to him.

“We sat beneath a tree and talked for 3 or 4 hours,” Mr. Haigh recalled.

Biko gave Mr. Haigh entry to the inside management of the apartheid struggle. But inside a yr, Biko was useless — arrested in August 1977 and killed in custody the following month.

Biko’s funeral turned one of many galvanizing occasions of the anti-apartheid motion and stirred rage over the abuse he endured. Testimony 20 years later, throughout post-apartheid Fact and Reconciliation Fee hearings, mentioned the torture inflicted on Biko included smashing him right into a wall headfirst like a “battering ram.” Nobody has been convicted.

Mr. Haigh mentioned he was at residence in Pretoria when he acquired the decision about Biko’s dying from Donald Woods, the White editor of a South African newspaper, the Every day Dispatch, who had develop into impressed by Biko’s indomitable spirit. Woods had gone into the morgue with Biko’s spouse and photographed Biko’s battered physique. (The pictures would develop into a part of the reporting for Woods’s 1978 e book, “Biko.”)

Due to his ties to Biko, Woods was positioned beneath home arrest. He additionally feared retaliation from authorities. A T-shirt handled with a chemical substance was mailed to his 6-year-old daughter, presumably by safety officers. It left the woman with burns on her face and arms.

Mr. Haigh had organized to satisfy Woods in individual, as a result of it was too dangerous to speak by cellphone. He requested Woods if had considered fleeing the nation.

“And he mentioned, ‘Sure, I’ve,’” Mr. Haigh told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2013. “And I mentioned, ‘Effectively, I’m completely happy to take you.’’’

The preliminary plan was for Mr. Haigh to drive Woods to Botswana, hiding him beneath blankets in Mr. Haigh’s embassy automobile. As a substitute, Woods disguised himself as a priest and crossed on foot into Lesotho on the final day of 1977. Mr. Haigh was ready on the opposite facet and helped get Woods on a U.N. airplane to cross South African airspace en path to Britain. Woods’s household later joined him.

Mr. Haigh mentioned none of his diplomatic colleagues knew in regards to the escape. “I didn’t belief anybody,” Mr. Haigh mentioned. “I used to be freelancing. I used to be a folks smuggler.”

Particulars of Mr. Haigh’s position had been stored beneath wraps for years. Within the movie “Cry Freedom,” primarily based on the interwoven tales of Woods (performed by Kevin Kline) and Biko (Denzel Washington), there’s a character named Bruce Haigh (John Hargreaves), however he isn’t a diplomat.

“To guard my identification,” Mr. Haigh mentioned, “I used to be portrayed as an Australian journalist.”

Bruce Douglas Haigh was born in Sydney on Aug. 6, 1945, and his household finally settled in Perth.

In 1964, he signed up as a ranch hand, generally known as a jackeroo, after embellishing his talents on horseback, and was despatched to the Kimberley, an unlimited area in northwestern Australia. He additionally labored on an oil rig earlier than serving within the military through the Vietnam Conflict.

He graduated in 1971 from the College of Western Australia, writing his thesis on Australian political cartoonists for his twin historical past and politics diploma. He mentioned the politics division supported the thought; the historical past college was much less impressed. “It was my first dust-up with paperwork,” he advised the Melbourne Age.

He joined Australia’s Division of International Affairs the next yr — and complained that the diplomatic coaching emphasised conformity over daring pondering. “We had not been collected collectively to be taught,” he wrote, “however to be institutionalized.”

He caught with it and was posted to Islamabad in 1973 as third secretary within the embassy. He turned one of many first diplomats to satisfy Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, who was again from research at Oxford and was being groomed for a spot within the household political dynasty. They turned buddies. After changing into Pakistan’s prime minister in 1988, she contacted Mr. Haigh instantly to rearrange shipments of Australian wheat.

Mr. Haigh rose increased within the diplomatic corps with postings to Saudi Arabia, Indonesia after which again to Pakistan from 1986 to 1988. He resigned from the diplomatic service in 1995 after a brief stint in Sri Lanka.

He was then appointed to Australia’s Refugee Evaluation Tribunal, which held hearings for asylum appeals. Additionally on the tribunal was Biko’s former protection lawyer, Shun Chetty, who mentioned Mr. Haigh spirited him out of South Africa in 1979 at the back of a diplomatic automobile.

Mr. Haigh left the panel in 2000 and have become a number one critic of Australia’s refugee insurance policies, which included sending folks to encampments on the Pacific island nation of Nauru and different websites, the place they generally waited years in limbo.

In a 2016 column, he in contrast Australia’s restrictive refugee system to the racism of apartheid. “The black shirts of Border Power [have] adopted the identical mentality for comparable causes,” he wrote.

Mr. Haigh’s first marriage, to Lysbeth “Libby” Mosley, led to divorce. Their son Angus died in 2016. Survivors embody his second spouse, Jodie Burnstein; a son from his first marriage, Robert; two daughters from his second marriage, Samantha and Georgina; and a sister.

In 2006, a group of fifty apartheid-era artworks and memorabilia was returned to South Africa beneath the Ifa Lethu Basis, led by Biko’s eldest son, Nkosinathi. Mr. Haigh and one other former Australian diplomat, Di Johnstone, helped create the inspiration within the hope that youthful generations don’t lose contact with the previous.

“My dedication in combating apartheid was sturdy,” Mr. Haigh mentioned, “however the emotional toll was excessive.”