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Struggle icon Leon Levy is finally honoured

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DAVID SAKS

As president of the SA Congress of Trade Unions, a position he held for nine years, he helped to organise the famous Congress of the People, and on behalf of the independent trade unions, was one of the six original signatories to the Freedom Charter that was formerly adopted at that gathering.

For this, he was one of 30 activists who was tried and eventually acquitted, on charges of treason. He was the first person to be detained under the 90-day detention law and, like many other Struggle activists, was finally forced by state harassment to go into exile in the UK.

On his return in the 1990s, he resumed his work in the trade union movement, inter alia playing a key role in Cosatu’s submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At its national conference on Sunday, the SAJBD honoured Levy by presenting him with the Rabbi Cyril and Ann Harris Human Rights Award. The award, inaugurated in 1999, is presented at each biennial Board conference to Jewish community members who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution to the advancement of human rights and social justice in South Africa.

The award was recently renamed in honour of the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, whose 10th yahrtzeit was in September this year, and his wife, Ann, both of whom were prominently engaged in various aspects of South Africa’s transition to democracy from their arrival in the country in 1987 onwards.

On coming up to receive the award, Levy was warmly embraced by President Jacob Zuma, whom he had known during the years when both were in exile in London.

The award itself was presented by Ann Harris, who praised Levy for having been one of only a small minority of whites who refused to accept the unjust, racially discriminatory system that denied the majority of the population the most basic human rights.

“The name of Leon Levy has an honoured place in the history of the liberation struggle. Tonight, the Jewish community recognises, and lauds you for the part you played in bringing freedom to our beloved country,” she said.

Prior to this, legendary philanthropist, business achiever and Jewish communal leader Bertie Lubner and the professional staff of the Community Security Organisation, were presented with the Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award by Eric Samson and Jill Kaplan respectively. CSO National Director Jevon Greenblatt accepted the award on behalf of his organisation.  

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