Article 35



Article 35 – The eye of the needle[1]

What has the assassination of a white academic in 1978 got to do with Article 35 of the South African Bill of Rights? What ‘palimpsests of narrative and memory’[2] can we use to stitch these events together?

Richard Turner’s book The Eye of the Needle: Toward Participatory Democracy in South Africa (1972), critiqued the lack of participatory democracy in South African governance. In his introduction to the book, republished by Ravan in 1980, Tony Morphet wrote:

What is lost to South Africa, but in the same moment affirmed, is a meaning of a life lived in freedom. Turner revealed to a society caught in the defeating logic of oppression the shape and substance of life conceived in freedom and lived out through the enactment of rational choices … The value of Turner’s life lies in its triumphant demonstration of autonomous value-creating thought and action.[3]

My contribution to the Art for Humanity project is based on Morphet’s phrase ‘the defeating logic of oppression’—framed as an inter-textual historical hybridity—it conjoins the apparently discrete worlds of politics, television series and contemporary art. Of course I had the option of simply illustrating Article 35 by focusing on an accused, or detained person. Recent South African history has more than enough examples of white men being arrested and detained prior to receiving the fair trial envisaged in Article 35 of the SA Bill of Rights. But I wanted to do something different.

I knew Rick Turner during the time that I lived in Durban. Like many others, I was influenced by his appeal to think ‘more than the state allows’.[4] In the spirit of absence that the “eye of the needle” conjures up, I have focused on Rick’s house as a memorial. This is where he was shot all those years ago. His wife was away in Botswana, and his two young daughters were woken by the sound of the assassin’s gun going off. In my image of this house, a black cat can be seen sitting almost exactly where the assassin would have stood 36 years ago. Their house at 32 Dalton Road in the suburb of Bellair in Durban stands as an uncanny indicator of what television dramas call the ‘crime scene’. This cat, and the visual reference to a popular television series, helps to ‘modernize’ Morphet’s notion of the ‘Durban moment’.[5]

As a quixotic device for transmitting messages of cultural capital, I’ve included an image of his signboard: Rick Turner Road. Instead of helping to trace the culprit, or culprits, our new democracy has given him a road or part of a road. Mary Thiphe is remembered by the other half of Francois Road. It is through this onamastic gesture that we enact the ‘ritual of revolution’.[6]

Clause 35 of the SA Bill of Rights stipulates that accused persons have the right to legal representation and to a fair and timeous trial.

What about those responsible for the assassination of Richard Turner at 32 Dalton Avenue on the 8 January 1978? Their ‘right to silence’ has trumped Turner’s and our rights to a participatory democracy built on open and transparent judicial processes. Instead of his killers being hunted down by the Mandela and subsequent regimes (after all, Turner had been subjected to a banning order by the apartheid government), the search for justice and accountability and a ‘fair trial’ has been led, not by the police or the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), but by private investigators hired by the family.

The post-apartheid government has been derelict in pursuing the cause of justice for Turner and his family.


[1] The title is taken from Richard Turner’s book The Eye of the Needle published by Sprocas, the publishing arm of the Christian Institute in 1972. Turner advocated a socialist democracy as the only solution to South Africa’s economic divide. He was banned in 1973 by Petrus Pelser, Minister of Justice. On the 8 January 1978 he was assassinated at his home in Durban.

[2] Call for Papers: Special Edition of Image & Text. ‘Pointure: pointing, puncturing, weaving & lacing in visual representation and textual discourse. Edited by Leora Farber and Ann-Marie Tully, 2014.

[3] Tony Morphet. 1980. ‘Introduction’, p. xxxiii. In The Eye of the Needle: Toward Participatory Democracy in South Africa. (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1980).

[4] Taylor Sparrow.

[5] Coined by Tony Morphet in his Rick Turner Memorial Lecture to the University of Natal in Durban on 27 September 1990 to describe four simultaneous intellectual projects that took place in Durban between 1970 and 1974. These projects were the philosophical and political work of the intellectual Richard (Rick) Turner; the elaboration of the philosophy and political discourse of Black Consciousness (BC) by Steve Bantu Biko; South African sociologist Dunbar Moodie’s historical re-evaluation of Afrikaner history; and Mike Kirkwood’s challenge to the English literature canon from a South African perspective. See

[6] Maoz Azaryahu, cited in Adrian Koopman, ‘The Post-Colonial Identity of Durban’. Available at


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