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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Michael Cardo’s Debut: Opening Men’s Eyes: Peter Brown and the Liberal Struggle for South Africa

Opening Men's Eyes“We have to open men’s eyes, not tear them out.”
– Nineteenth century Russian liberal thinker Aleksandr Herzen

Herzen’s idea was a one that Peter Brown, a white South African liberal living in an illiberal country, took to heart, as he made his contribution to the struggle against apartheid. He paid a price. Imprisoned by the government during the 1960 State of Emergency, and “banned” from public life for a decade soon after the infamous Johannesburg Park Station bomb in 1964, Brown nevertheless lived to see the vindication of his life’s work.

Opening Men’s Eyes: Peter Brown and the Liberal Struggle for South Africa tells the story of how Brown, a privileged youngster growing up in the all-white world of conservative Natal settler society, had the scales of racial prejudice removed from his eyes, and how he set about opening the eyes of his compatriots.

Michael Cardo brings to life Brown’s friendships across the colour bar with the likes of United Democratic Front founder, Archie Gumede, which he cultivated in Edendale, and his close relationship with Alan Paton, the celebrated author of Cry, the Beloved Country, who viewed Brown as his closest friend and political ally. Cardo provides an important documentary history of the Liberal Party and shows how it was radicalised under Brown’s leadership. He also pays careful attention to Brown’s concern with land and community. This was the “golden thread” that connected Brown’s liberal activism in the 1950s and 60s.

About the author

Michael Cardo was born in Durban in 1977. In 2003 he gained a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. He has worked for the Democratic Alliance since 2003 in various capacities: as Director of Research; as Helen Zille’s speechwriter during the 2009 election; and currently as a policy adviser. Between 2006 and 2008, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, while he researched and wrote Opening Men’s Eye’s. This is his first book.

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