A chance name search on google prompted a delightful e mail exchange remembering Peter Hjul, a fascinating individual who played an important role in two widely different spheres – pre-Mandela South Africa and International Fisheries. My search began while scanning photo slides from the 1970s when my work in federal Fisheries Communications brought me together with Peter on several occasions.
We first met in Vancouver in 1973 when I was Canadian Press Officer at the FAO International Conference on Fishery Management and Development. Peter Hjul attended as Editor of Fishing News International, a leading British trade magazine. The ten-day conference was organized at the instigation of Canada’s Minister of the Environment, Jack Davis, as a prelude to negotiations that led to establishment of the Law of the Sea and the 200 mile fishing limit. Two years later we met at the World Fishing Exhibition in Marseilles, France, where we in Canada were promoting the 1977 edition of that exhibition to be held in Halifax, N.S.
Peter and I became good friends during this period and, when my wife and I planned a trip to England in 1979, he invited us to visit him in London and to his home in Windsor. He treated us to an intriguing pub crawl of Fleet Street, then the famous hub of British news media, capping it off with lunch at the London Press Club. In Windsor, a home visit was preceded by a marvelous private tour of Windsor Castle where Peter amazed us with his thorough knowledge of its rich and colourful history.
In re-discovering my pictures from that era, I wondered what might have happened with Peter Hjul in later years, so I browsed through google one day and was rewarded by finding significant references to him and his career. I found that he had died in 1999 at the age of 70 but his obituary paid tribute to his many achievements since growing up in Northern Rhodesia. His family had come originally from Norway.
Most gratifying to find was an article about his South African experiences entitled “Days When My Father and Mandela Stood Against the Forces of Apartheid,” written by his journalist daughter, Jenny Hjul. It was published in 2013 in the Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s most prominent newspapers. Peter Hjul was working in Cape Town as editor of the South African Shipping News and Fisheries Review. Strongly opposed to the ruling party’s apartheid regime, he became a leading figure in the mainly white Liberal Party, heading its radical wing which advocated voting rights for all adults black and white. His party was unsuccessful in efforts to elect members to Parliament, and his persistent agitation against apartheid policies resulted in his being banned from any political involvement and subjected to police harassment and two years of virtual house arrest. After a Nationalist fanatic’s firing of a bullet into his home, he and his family left South Africa in 1965 for a new life in Britain. There he founded the highly successful Fishing News International magazine, followed later by Fish Farming International. He travelled to all continents to report on, and participate in, major fisheries conferences and events.
Having discovered Jenny Hjul’s article, I contacted her by e mail and had the pleasure of telling her about my experiences with her father and sending her some of my photos from those encounters. She answered enthusiastically, remarking that she knew her father had visited Canada several times and even considered moving here at one point. She was thankful to receive “these wonderful pictures,” which she was sharing with her sister.“ She recalled how much her father loved to travel, particularly after having been banned for several years from going anywhere beyond his house and work.
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Peter Hjul, along with other political exiles, was invited to a celebration with the African National Congress, Jenny recalled, he did not go, downplaying his role in South Africa’s long road to democracy. “But, until his death, he kept Mandela’s photograph beside his bed, a symbol of hope in the years when there was none that one day his country would be free.”