A mural dedicated to South African anti-Apartheid activist Marius Schoon, who lived in Dublin for several years, was unveiled last week in the new offices of Comhlámh at 12 Parliament Street. It was painted by by street artist Katrina Rupert (aka KIN MX). Comhlámh, founded in 1975, is the Irish Association of Development Workers and is committed to “social justice, human rights and global development issues”.
Marius Schoon (1937 – 1999) was a long-term political prisoner and exile of Afrikaner dissident. He served 12 years in prison for a futile effort to blow up a radio transmitter at a police station in Johannesburg in 1964. On his release in 1976, he joined the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party in exile.
In 1984, his second wife Jeannette Curtis, and their 6-year-old daughter, Katryn, were killed by a letter bomb intended for Schoon. The pair were blown up in front of Fritz, their 3-year-old son, in the kitchen of their house in exile in Angola.
Jeanette and Katryn both held Irish passports due to the fact that one of Jeanette’s grandparents was Irish. After the horrific incident, Schoon and his son moved to Dublin where they were granted an Irish passport by the Fine Gael-Labour government. Fritz later spoke about their relocation to Ireland:
Marius and I arrived in Ireland on the back of what was a very traumatic experience for us both. The Irish government was kind enough to grant us both citizenship on compassionate grounds. Over and above this gesture, Marius and I received compassion and generosity in many forms from Ireland and its people. As testament to this Marius, speaking of his time in Ireland, reported – in the Rift, by Hilda Bernstein – that ‘I really feel that for the last two or three years, for the first time in my life, literally, I’ve got a stability and a security that I’ve never had. I am actually enjoying the security that we have at the moment.”
Living at 22 Shamrock Street in Phibsboro, Schoon became active with the Irish Anti-Aparthied Movement, the new Ranelagh Multi-Denominational school and was co-ordinator of Comhlámh between 1988-1991.
In January 1988, the Media Association of Ireland hosted a lecture on ‘The Media and South Africa* by Marius Schoon at Newman House, St. Stephen’s Green. In May 1990, RTE Radio 1 produced a 30 minute documentary on Schoon’s life.
During this period, he met and later married Dublin-born anti-Aparthied activist Sherry McClean. From 1985 through 1987, she worked as a volunteer at Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO), a school for refugees established by the African National Congress (ANC) in Mazimbu, Tanzania, where she counseled and developed social support for children and adults. An interview was recorded with Sherry in 2004 as part of the African Archivist Archive.
Schoon, son Fritz and new wife Sherry returned to South Africa in late 1991 where he began work in the Development Bank, overseeing projects to help rural black communities.
In August 1995, he launched a lawsuit against Craig Williamson, spy for the security forces and former family friend, who was responsible for sending the parcel bomb that killed his second wife and daughter. (Williamson also admitted responsibility for the bombing of the ANC headquarters in London and sending the package which killed left-wing Jewish anti-Apartheid activist Ruth First in Mozambique in 1982). In 1998 Williamson and Jerry Raven, his accomplice, applied for amnesty with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In 1999, Schoon died in hospital after a long battle with lung cancer. A year later the TRC granted both Williamson and Raven amnesty. (In 2008, Williambsurg was declared bankrupt by the Johannesburg High Court which will probably be the only form of legal justice he will probably ever face”).
Nelson Mandela described Schoon after his death as:
an enduring example of the fight for non-racialism and democracy. He destroyed the myth that all Afrikaners were racists and oppressors. He therefore will be greatly missed, not only by his colleagues in the fight against apartheid, but by the entire South African nation.
The event last Thursday was attended by Marius’ widow Sherry, independent social researcher Brian Harvey and Cathryn O’Reilly, one of the Dunnes Stores workers who went on strike in 1984 over the handling of South African produce. Schoon and his young son frequently joined the picket lines during the two and half-year strike. Cathryn recalled the period:
We were all invited to the AGM of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. They had this man Marius Schoon who got up and thanked us for going on strike. He was a white South African who lost his wife and his six-year-old daughter to a letter bomb because they were opposed to the apartheid system. He had a very profound effect on everyone in that we had nothing to lose only our jobs. He had lost his wife and his daughter for what he believed in. That made us more determined to continue doing picket duty and to speak out about it. Arthur Scargill (president of the National Union of Mineworkers) came down to the picket line. He had a placard and walked up and down with us.