Research unearths viral image of Labour Party leader

If you have been paying attention to the mainstream media coverage surrounding Jeremy Corbyn in recent months, chances are you may have seen this photo (right) before - it was reproduced during the Labour Party leadership contest and immediately after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the party.

The photograph shows Corbyn being arrested on an anti-apartheid protest in 1984 - and was originally ‘discovered’ through Dr Gavin Brown's “Non-Stop Against Apartheid” research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

In September 2012, Gavin, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography from the Department of Geography, travelled to Bristol to visit the photographer Rob Scott to look through old contact sheets of photos he had taken of protests outside South Africa House in London in the 1980s.

Amongst the photos that Gavin asked to use for the research was the image of Corbyn’s arrest. Gavin subsequently used the image on his research project’s blog, telling the story of how Corbyn was arrested defying a police ban on anti-apartheid protests in front of the South African Embassy in June 1984.

After Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership was announced earlier this year, the image went viral - but it wouldn’t have been on the internet if it wasn’t for Gavin's project.

Sourced from Dr Gavin Brown's research project - No ‘peace and dignity’ for apartheid (Photographer: Rob Scott)
He said: "The South African Embassy in London was the focus of periodic protests against apartheid from the late 1950s onwards. In the early 1980s, as resistance to apartheid intensified in South Africa, so too did the frequency of protests outside the embassy. The diplomatic representatives of the apartheid regime brought immense pressure to bear on the Foreign Office to curtail these protests. In June 1984, the Metropolitan Police took action to ban protests directly outside the embassy. Members of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group organised a campaign of civil disobedience to defy and break the ban.

"Many members of the group were arrested for breaking the ban, and attempting to protest directly outside the embassy. They saw this as important, not only as a protest against apartheid and racism in South Africa, but as a way of defending their own right to assembly and protest in Britain.

"Jeremy Corbyn was one of a small number of politicians who was arrested alongside less famous protesters. In doing so, he helped to defeat the police ban and reinstate anti-apartheid protests in front of South Africa House - where they could have maximum impact on the representatives of the apartheid regime in Britain.

"I published the story of these events long before Jeremy Corbyn announced his candidacy for the Labour leadership. As his campaign built momentum earlier this year some former anti-apartheid campaigners started republishing the photo of his arrest on social media. For them, I think, the fact that he has risked arrest to oppose apartheid and to defend the right to protest in Britain was a measure of his political leadership and his proven track record of support for progressive causes. I think many people felt his principled stand against apartheid demonstrated qualities that have been missing in mainstream politics for some time."

Gavin has a forthcoming book about British anti-apartheid activism in the 1980s, which will also feature excerpts from an interview Corbyn gave for this research.