‘Barry Feinberg, never to be forgotten, my dearest friend’

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by Ronnie Kasrils

Barry Vincent Feinberg, SACP and ANC stalwart, has died in Cape Town after a long and difficult illness, bravely borne.

For thirty years of London exile, he was a tireless backroom worker designing the movement’s publicity. Many of the African Communist and Sechaba journals most striking cover designs were his work; as were the layout and graphic designs of ANC and SACP clandestine leaflets and literature distributed in South Africa. He created the early ANC and Umkhonto We Sizwe logos – the warrior with shield and spear is still used today.

An artist by training, poet and author of several books, and documentary films; he worked full-time for the International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF), heading its information division.

He volunteered precious time working on SACP and ANC clandestine publicity away from his regular job; and further assisted in the recruitment of internationalists for work inside apartheid South Africa.

He served on many ANC committees and was a member of the London District of the SACP and an active branch member. Before that, he had joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Of Barry’s return to South Africa following the unbanning of the ANC and SACP, Pallo Jordan has written: “He could proudly claim ownership of that outcome, to which he had made his own varied and consistently indispensable contribution.”

Barry settled in Cape Town with his partner Linda Pithers, to establish the Mayibuye Centre and archive resource (now on Robben Island), with its enormous IDAF and other collections, as well as establishing a History and Literature Series.

An outstanding example of Barry’s commitment to our country’s legacy was resurrecting the brilliant artistic reputation of Eastern Cape artist George Pemba, through exhibitions and a film.

Barry had been in contact with Pemba for years from London, through IDAF support. When he visited Pemba after 24 years, the latter exclaimed: “At last! After all those years and all those letters, we meet at last!” Their friendship was cemented. That was a quality of Barry’s. Once a friend he remained loyal to the end.

Barry was a quiet and unassuming revolutionary and internationalist, with a firm, unbreakable commitment. Born in Benoni, he was an active member of the Congress of Democrats allied to the ANC, greatly influenced by his two communist party uncles, Julius and Lewis Baker.

The latter was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 1964 for SACP membership. Barry never ceased to talk about those uncles who taught him so much as a youngster.

In a poem entitled Buchenwald! Buchenwald! he wrote:

red uncles

My mother’s brothers

Challenging apartheid

Unravelled my intestinal perplexities

Investing my head

In the fifties

With volumes of optimism

In 1960 Barry travelled to London to further his art studies and worked as an art teacher. His work, which reflected the struggle of humanity, was displayed at many art exhibitions. Later he became interested in writing poems, many about the liberation struggle.

He was closely connected to Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, and produced several books about him.

He was a founder member of the ANC cultural Ensemble, Mayibuye, with Johnny Matshikiza Pallo Jordan, Bongi Dhlomo, Poppy Nokwe and James Philips amongst others – and produced a historic record of their signature performance – The Spear of the Nation.

Among the books on poetry that he published are “Poets to the People” and “Gardens of Struggle”.

His memoir Time to Tell – An Activist’s Story was published in 2009. He was devoted to the cause of South Africa’s liberation and was overjoyed at the overthrow of apartheid. He never gave up on the quest for full socio-economic liberation and equality.

Barry Vincent Feinberg, born 26 December 1938, died 5th October 2023; is survived by his wife Linda, son Nicholas, daughter-in-law Candace, and grandsons Nathan and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (rising rugby player of note).

BF, never to be forgotten, my dearest friend.

Former Intelligence Services Minister Ronnie Kasrils.