Paper presented at the University of KwaZulu-Natal International Anti-Apartheid Conference 10-13 October 2004 in Durban.
(Also at the University of KwaZulu-Natal website: http://scnc.ukzn.ac.za/doc/AAmwebsite/Papers.htm).
Photos from conference
My PowerPoint presentation
Competition and cooperation in the use of solidarity history in a globalised world: the case of the Nordic support to South Africa
By Hans Erik Stolten, Lecturer, Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen
In mid-2004, South Africa held its third democratic election, and a full ten years have elapsed since the fall of apartheid and the dissolution of its last white government. During this time, South Africa has developed from Rainbowism to African Renaissance and New Patriotism.
The first democratic elections in 1994 marked the end of prolonged liberation struggles in the whole of Southern Africa. There were links from the Nordic countries to this freedom struggle through humanitarian and political support and popular boycott actions.
History was used extensively in the struggle against apartheid and the then passionate discussion on the use of history in the fight for freedom and democracy was to some degree influenced by international solidarity and by exiled academics.
The history of the international anti-apartheid movement has by now been established as a recognised field of research as several conferences on the subject have shown. Or as the South African president has expressed it:
“Who would have thought as a young student at Sussex that we were to make a history that now truly resonates throughout the world? These were such small beginnings, a few initial actions of committed people with a vision … Ordinary people … have shown that we can make a difference …” 
It is an urgent matter to collect the documentation and record the oral history from people involved while it is still possible. Many events, some of profound significance, are not yet recorded.
It is important for the Nordic countries that the history of their anti-apartheid movements should be recorded, but it is probably even more important for the peoples of Southern Africa to have access to those records to be able to understand their history. This history is also part of their national heritage. For people in South Africa who for generations were denied their own history, as well as access to the history of the solidarity with their struggles, the history of the anti-apartheid movement takes on profound importance.
Tina Sideris, who was a member of the Oral History Project of the South African Institute of Race Relations in the 1980s, argues that the informal nature of some popular organisations led to the non-existence of records and archival storage of the organisations’ activities.
Important steps have however been made by former activists, for instance by the British AAM Archive Committee, to encourage the preservation of the written and oral records of the solidarity movement. Also in the United States, fresh new initiatives are made.
Both researchers and librarians at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, where I worked as Danish Research Fellow for three years, have a long tradition for dealing with the history of solidarity. With Tor Sellström as coordinator, the institute has published a comprehensive book series on Nordic solidarity with Southern Africa.
In late August 2002, as part of my research project, NAI convened an extended research workshop at the Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen. The heading of the conference was: Collective Memory and Present day Politics in South Africa and the Nordic Countries.
As it turned out, several contributions on the history of anti-apartheid solidarity were presented and one section of this paper will attempt to accentuate certain developments in the historiography of solidarity, through a critical survey of some of these contributions. The picture drawn will necessarily be selective and fragmentary.
In retrospect, everybody will agree that apartheid was a bad thing, and the international solidarity with South Africa could therefore today appear uncontroversial and as a matter of course. Periodically, it was actually a rather unproblematic and rewarding task to raise the public opinion. Feelings were easy to catch just after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, after the Soweto uprising in 1976 and the murder of Steve Biko in ‘77. The suppression of the township rebellions in the mid-80s was also met by broad condemnations all over the world. But to maintain a sustainable movement for support over long periods of time from the 1950s to ‘90s, often under strain from established circles, demanded great persistence.
Solidarity did not stop with de Klerk’s formal abolishment of apartheid in 1990 either. The complex transitional period led to disagreements between some of the international solidarity movements and the African National Congress and the wider democratic movement within South Africa. Yet solidarity during this period was very important and nobody has really investigated how it was possible to sustain popular support during the shifts of policy and the pressures faced by the negotiators during this time.
Critical research in this field has barely started. There is a history to be written and it will not be a simple one since there were divisions within the AAMs, Western governments and within the African National Congress itself. For instance, it is my impression that the Nordic organisations, especially the Danish, were somewhat more independent in their relations with the ANC than the British AAM for instance was.
After the victory over an evil and powerful regime, veterans engaged in the struggle through many years of hardship might feel a justified need for enjoying the sweetness of triumph, and it has to be said that some of the internal accounts of freedom struggle and solidarity history have been rather uncritical. Others on the other hand have had an artificial “objective” approach or have tried a purely empirical methodology. The writing of this history in itself could be seen as a still needed continued solidarity. The development of a historiography of solidarity has just begun.
Globalisation and social movements
One of the reasons that research in South African matters is so appealing can be found in the fact that the problems of that country in many ways resemble global problems. This was the case with its special form of internal colonialism, and South Africa could also be illuminating in recent cases of protection of privileges on a global scale.
An issue which will predictably be part of the debate on international social movements in the future is the problems surrounding what has been called “global apartheid”. To which extent, in which way, and in what speed should rich (mostly white populated) countries share their opportunities and wealth with poor (mostly black, brown, or yellow) third world peoples? The solidarity with South Africa gave rise to that kind of questions.
Globalization is hardly new however: people in most corners of the world have been linked for centuries by multifaceted social, political, and cultural exchanges. Some of the interconnected patterns currently attributed to new global forces have been working on a minor scale for centuries. The same exalted sense of limitlessness in which business people now speak of the new global economy, also coloured nineteenth-century debates of global financial flows, while discussions on possibilities in new computer technologies often parallel the enthusiasm that welcomed the steam engine. Modernity has long been global, cultures have long interacted, and local consumption has been affected by imported products and possibilities since before silks and spices travelled over land from Asia to Europe and long before the European colonial expansion.
Even so, the new perception of globalisation mirrors real changes in the way we experience the world. Rapid flows of news, technological knowledge, and commodities give new immediacy to events far across the globe and make national economies increasingly vulnerable to international pressures.
The global organisation of production is however uneven and incomplete, and some areas are far more linked to financial power centres than others. Capital has a new sense of its own mobility, while governments seem still more concerned about whether state policies will attract or deter pernickety international investors, and while advanced industrial areas remain central to global production, most of Africa for instance remains marginal.
It is not only an elite process however. Diasporic ethnic communities or communities of activists who work on issues of international human rights. Also for local actors, the transnational public sphere takes on new importance as a source of new resources, ideas, and support.
In contrast to members of most other new or old social movements, such as trade unions, citizen’s rights movements, women's liberation movements, peace movements, or environmental movements, participants in western solidarity movements can only seldom portray themselves as directly affected victims of conflict or repression. On the contrary, the notion that some fellow countrymen, or in fact everybody, in the western native country profits by the exploitation of the third world is often more or less directly integrated in the foundation of solidarity movements.
In earlier times, some might have had an underlying expectation that a broad series of combined victories for the liberation- and solidarity moments could have lead to fundamental changes in both the South and the North, but that kind of determinism has long been dwindling.
It is of course possible to argue that an oblique and unequal world is also an unstable world which produces fugitives and terrorism for instance. It can also be argued for that more wealth would transform countries now poor into better trading partners.
Viewed realistically however, it must be considered as a growing problem that success for the global solidarity movement, at least in a medium-term time frame, will inflict higher living costs on people expected to be involved in the protest.
Mobilisation of a broad host of followers therefore cannot be produced out of self-interest, but has to be created on the basis of a genuine moral appeal. Solidarity cannot be experienced as a necessity by the single participant, but must be learned and realised.
Unfortunately, a growing part of western populations are already feeling embarrassed by the potential costs of solidarity and are favourable to all kinds of demarcations against foreigners and importunate cultures.
Despite treads back to before the fourteenth century, the modern globalisation process is actually still in a rather early phase, and even the researcher is often stuck in a tradition of nationalism or localism. The modern nation-state, nationalism and the discipline of history have had an intense, complex relationship. During the nineteenth century, the great wave of European nationalism was accompanied by the rise of history as a professionalised key discipline in universities and schools. New nation-states in nineteenth century Europe actively promoted historical research and a “powerful alliance was forged between historical scholarship and officially approved nationalism” as Tosh puts it.
Many of the same mechanisms, although less clear-cut, could be observed in the new decolonised nations in second half of the twentieth century. In the case of the rehabilitated South African state, discursive projects in nation building since 1994 have also been exercises in explaining different combinations of national history, class and race.
Under the persistent state system, most social movement activists seeking to change existing reality still tend to frame their demands in national terms as a way to appeal to policymakers. In such expressions of interest, local nationalisms are often superior to universalistic claims. However, in many cases, the persistence of national identities within global social movements may not reflect national limits to activists’ visions, but simply a realistic understanding that the institutional frameworks through which political aspirations must be channelled are still primarily national ones. In a world where global goals can best be met through national states, activists may think globally, but act locally, working in both spheres, using both identities simultaneously and strategically. Abdul Minty has expressed his role as an exile and leading member of the British AAM like this:
“Acting in partnership with the British people we were able to build this powerful movement … there were also those activists in Britain who resented the leadership role of South Africans in what they considered to be an essentially British movement.”
In her inspiring analysis, Gay Seidman flirts with the thought that globalisation could be halted by social movements:
“..it is worth remembering that this .. is neither inevitable nor irreversible. The history of the international labor movement is replete with examples of the resurgence of nationalism: despite a rhetoric of internationalism, national unions tend to frame identities and issues in ways that assume that workers in different countries stand in direct competition with each other, reinforcing a nationalist worker identity rather than an internationalist one. For over a century, the international labor movement has struggled with the problem of how to balance national labor movements’ local concerns with those of a broader international worker movement.”
This problematic is still topical. Some Nordic labour movements involved in transitional aid to South Africa would like to see some of the resulting job creation happen in their own countries. And it is true that globalization often appears to be the result of a hegemonic project, a process largely driven by those who are powerful and wealthy, and that global social movements, on the other hand, often seem to embody local resistance to that project, but Seidman also realise that:
“The shared networks, shared information, shared strategies-above all, the shared sense of moral connectedness and the construction of an identity that extends beyond national borders suggest that somehow activists in these movements are increasingly likely to define their concerns in a way that is emphatically not limited to the single territorially defined community.”
Theory of liberation and social movements theory
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was a lively, academic debate on how to characterise the suppression in South Africa. The intensity of this scholarly discussion reflected the growing political struggle in the country during the last years of apartheid as well as the liberation movements’ need for a precise theory that could also activate in the freedom struggle. This had importance for both internal mobilisation and for international solidarity.
One aspect of the debate on solidarity strategies, which is only considered directly by few, but nevertheless is underlying the assumptions of many analyses, is the theory of colonialism of a special type, which was developed by radical historians with relations to the ANC to describe the South African situation. The specific trait, which separates internal colonialism from “normal” colonialism, is simply that the colonial power (in the case of South Africa identified as the dominating, racially defined social group) is located within the same geographic territory as the colonised people. The adherents of the model often emphasise that the underdevelopment of the exploited ethnic or racial groups within the state boundaries is reproduced trough mechanisms of cultural domination, political suppression and economic exploitation almost similar to the global mechanisms, which have apparently created welfare and prosperity in the highly developed western industrialised countries through the underdevelopment of their colonial satellites. The radical historians tried to prove that during the 20th century, this kind of internal extra-exploitation was possible though the misuse of the pre-capitalist forms of agricultural production in the reserves, bantustans and homelands.
This radical analysis also had implications for the international solidarity movement. It was precisely the colonial character of the apartheid regime, which made its lacking legitimacy unique and made it fundamentally inconsistent with international law. The pragmatic western liberal understanding of South Africa as an autonomous and legitimate state with unfortunate imperfections might have reduced the freedom struggle to an effort for human rights inside the limits of the existing social order and thus turned the regime into the main agent of lasting but insufficient reforms. Acceptance of this position of “constructive engagement” could have reduced the status of the freedom struggle to less than a fully evolved, national liberation struggle with all its potentials for popular mobilisation.
The nearly complete international isolation of the apartheid government, which was eventually established, was strengthened by the awareness of the colonial character of the regime. The decision of the ANC to take op arms depended on the lacking legitimacy of colonialism, and the subordination of the armed struggle to the strategy of mass mobilisation, was also possible due to the widespread support of national liberation. The radical academics helped to enhance this vision at a critical point in history.
However, just as important to the analysis of solidarity history are developments in social movements theory.
Social movements’ activists have long been aware of the way global dynamics and audiences might support or constrain their causes. More aware than many academics. While activists have often acknowledged the importance of global dynamics in the way they understood and framed issues, academics have generally been more cautious especially in terms of their views of popular collective action. Academic research in social movements has most often explored construction of collective identities and mobilisation processes, often beginning on the individual level explaining participation or abstention, or using a case study approach to examine how local constituencies mobilise around specific issues. Even though discourses of shared global moralities and the assertion of universal norms have marked social movements from at least the eighteenth century, social movement theories have tended to view the world through local collective identities, campaigns, organisations, and strategies.
Activists themselves have long appealed for global visions of common humanity and for common universalistic values to build international constituencies for local movements: the antislavery campaign as much as modern human rights movements relied on international embarrassment and pressure for its efficacy. International appeals and cross-border activism are not new. For centuries, activists have sought help abroad and internationalist activists have worked across borders: French activists aided the American Revolution, African-American missionaries reported on King Leopold's regime in the Congo etc.
This accentuates some of the methodological challenges posed by transnational movements. Neither a locally oriented case study approach, nor a focus on targets would reveal the extent to which participants assumed a transnational identity or viewed their actions as oriented toward transnational goals.
The international character of some social movements also makes it necessary to consider the hierarchical character of global society. For instance, it raises the question to both activists and academics whether the request for international funds limits local activists to issues that fit with the aims of the donors.
History of solidarity
The whole area of liberation theories and strategies is still quite underinvestigated by historians. It seems that while, especially after 1990, more historical studies of concrete solidarity cases have emerged, only few theoretical or principal works have been written on the theme of North-South political solidarity as such. Lager analyses with departure in the history and interests of trade unions, political parties and social movements are still in short supply.
Lately several works dealing theoretically with globalisation or aid policy or South-South relations or even critically with NGO participation in nationbuilding, have been published, while most works on political solidarity movements have been limited to concrete case studies. Maybe because the reasons for solidarity usually seems rather obvious. Or maybe because the empirical history of a larger range of movements of international solidarity has to be established first.
The point of departure for a deeper theoretical study in the history of solidarity might have to reach back to the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution or longer, to find the first original sources of inspiration.
Some of the earliest solid acts of solidarity with suppressed indigenous populations and imported slaves should nevertheless be found in missionary circles, even if studies of this area have given a very mixed picture, since the mission also functioned as infiltrator and ideological child rearer in the interest of western colonialism.
Great Britain’s nineteenth century ban on slave trade should probably be seen also in the light that England as the most industrialised country could have competitive advantages in imposing a new world order based on (more or less) free labour on countries not yet ready for this. Nevertheless, the comprehensive anti-slavery campaign in both England and elsewhere must be regarded as a genuine early solidarity movement. (Parallels could be drawn to for example child labour campaigns of today, which have the same kind of mixed effects).
A more resent source of solidarity was the working class internationalism emerging after the 1848 revolutions, missed by the Paris communards in 1871 and by the social democrats before the First World War, and activated again by Comintern after 1921, and later in another fashion by the Socialist International. Internationalism might have been especially visible in colonial and postcolonial settings because activists in Asia, Latin America, or Africa are especially aware of the way global forces affect possibilities.
Some of the early white anti-racists in South Africa, members of the International Socialist League, defined their domestic struggle as internationalism. In their weekly paper, The International, they wrote in October 1915 that an internationalism that did not include full rights for the native working class would be shameful and that the white workers had to be liberated together with the natives.
The importance of the Communist International, and after the Second World War of the Eastern Bloc, for the anti-colonial struggle, should not be underestimated. (To which extent the outcomes were god or bad actually deserves more research). To forget it can be convenient, but until second half of the twentieth century, leading western countries occupied most of the world and racism was the normal standard.
In the days before the developed welfare state, when living conditions for workers in the west were less different from their classmates elsewhere, and for the most part only the upper classes enjoyed exotic products, shared class-consciousness might actually have been more natural than nowadays, when also the average western consumer benefits from the cheap imported raw materials and from other forms of value transfers from the South.
In 1927, one of CPSA’s coloured leaders, James La Guma, took part in a conference in Brussels organised by League Against Imperialism, where Marcus Garvey’s slogan “Africa for the Africans” was suggested. From there he travelled to Moscow, where he became the promoter of Comintern's strategy for South Africa, which came to demand an independent native South African republic. This strategy, which saw blacks as the main force for change in the country, divided the domestic communist party, but paved the way for cross-racial progressive cooperation.
Many social democratic parties were founded, not as national parties, but as sections of the First International, as most communist parties were established as sections of the Third International. Since the socialist and social democratic parties often took government responsibility in western countries, their solidarity (especially in NATO member states) mostly had to be less unambiguous than that of the left wing. Nevertheless both trade union control and government power went hand in hand with economic possibilities and the Nordic social democratic parties and trade unions implemented a more low-voiced (and often indirect), but very extensive aid to a wide range of freedom organisations in Southern Africa.
Even so, a striking feature of the time after the fall of the Berlin Wall has been the decline in popular political solidarity with the third world. The 1990s were marked by a higher degree of eurocentrism and inward-looking individualization. Focus was on the immediate near area and on areas of strategic interests, while brutal conflicts in Africa got less attention, after this continent had lost its importance for the balancing of the cold war confrontation. Many conflicts seemed more chaotic and difficult to label than before. Intra-African conflicts across colonial borders, triggered by the withdrawal of Western and Eastern Bloc stakes, made it less obvious, who to protest against.
Large parts of the left wing in Western Europe had an idealistic expectation that socialism would gain popular strength and unselfish solidarity would bloom when liberated from the burden of communism. Many got disappointed though. The breakdown of the “real existing socialism” and of many communist parties and communist influenced organisations also had seamy sides, such as loss of alternative power bases, organisational discipline, and political education. For many countries and peoples in Eastern Europe, this development resulted in political democratisation and greater freedom of choice, but for social movements in general, the outcome was weakening, even if the objective needs were growing, partly due to the imposing of neo-liberal policies. The Danish social democratic historian, Søren Mørch, expressed it this way: “The price of insurance against social upheavals has gone down”.
The triumph of neo-liberal globalisation meant that transnational companies spearheaded a new confidence in trade instead of in aid, which promoted foreign investment and control instead of political support of national solutions (despite much talk of partnership and local ownership).
This development also had some brighter elements though. Since NGOs were no longer considered a treat to the system, more ordinary development aid were canalised this way, which resulted in paid activist positions and more professionalism. On the other hand, this tended to make the organisations more dependent of the national Foreign Ministries than of grassroots mobilisation. Nowadays Nordic trade unions do not use their own funds for political solidarity. Instead, they earn state funding by running development projects.
The anti-apartheid movement
The anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s was a truly transnational social movement, and its history illustrates well that global movements might force theorists to rethink basic assumptions about identity, resources, and targets of collective action.
Many critical questions are waiting to be asked. How was it possible for the international anti-apartheid movement to develop effective campaigning organisations throughout 35 years and especially during the very difficult period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the liberation movement was effectively destroyed inside South Africa? Was it a special philosophy or ideology, or were it the policies or practices of the movement? Was it the particular mix of local anti-imperialist activists supplied with South African exiles determined to liberate their country? Was it the loyalty among the activists? Was it its internationality working in continuation of a long anti-colonial tradition?
What was it that enabled the anti-apartheid movement’s comparatively small organisations, which for most of their existence were rather unpopular in the governments’ corridors of power, to be capable of exerting considerable international influence?
As Seidman documents, activists developed a global anti-racist identity that transcended, even challenged, state borders. Participation in the movement changed the way many activists viewed politics at home and added a global dimension to discussions over any kind of discrimination.
The anti-apartheid movement in England for instance, staffed to a large degree by South African expatriates and exiles, but with strong ties to Britain's Labour Party, took on a more visible militancy in 1980s. British participants, like their American counterparts, were certainly responding to events inside South Africa, but the movement’s appeal was also strengthened by a deepening concern about racism at home. In the case of New Zealand, participation in the anti-apartheid movement also was connected to domestic aboriginal politics.
In America, many white participants joined the anti-apartheid movement to protest against the South African race system, but as they started to identify with an antiracist transnational movement, they also began to look more critically at the domestic racial situation. Many black civil rights activists in USA claimed that participation in anti-apartheid activism, particularly influences from ANC’s “non-racialism” prompted a rethinking of separatist attitudes toward white participation in antiracist movements. A new collective identity was constructed, giving participants a sense of belonging to something far broader than the local or national groups in which they participated.
In Italy and France, although they always belonged to locally based organizations, participants’ concern was with the transnational expression of opposition to South Africa's apartheid policies even when they focused on local state or even local university policies.
Even if it was less obvious than in most other cases due to informal structures and “activist democracy”, there were also elite members and followers in most AAMs. The inner network of activists for whom the anti-apartheid movement gave an important part of their identity was often easy to point out. With national and international ties to other parts of the movement and with a higher knowledge on the history of anti-apartheid struggle, they often had amazing influence on the movements’ discourses.
Activists included the South African diaspora concerned about events in their home country, trade union leaders, socialist party officials, left-wing intellectuals and students, civil rights activists, church people, liberal do-gooders, and many others.
Pillars of solidarity
Kader Asmal, who was a founder member of both the British and later of the Irish AAM, and served as minister of education in the new South Africa has explained some of the reasons for the strength of the anti-apartheid movement:
“There is a wonderful story to be written of Dutch men and women, of Danes and Swedes and Irish and English men and women, and Americans who went to South Africa, and came back as unsung heroes and heroines. One day that story has to be written, because they were in the best traditions of international solidarity.”
One source of strength was the relationship between the national AAMs and the freedom movement within South Africa. The earliest of them, the British Boycott Movement, was set up in 1959 in response to the African National Congress's call for international support for its campaign for a boycott of products produced by firms which supported the National Party. After Sharpeville in March 1960, the symbolic boycott became a demand for the total isolation of South Africa and for the imposition of comprehensive sanctions by the United Nations. When the African National Congress and other movements in Southern Africa embarked on armed struggle, most of the AAMs sought to explain and support this strategy. However, although they had a special relationship with the ANC, the AAMs were neither conceived as nor acted as exclusively ANC support groups. The AAMs were regarded as national NGOs, but in a way the AAMs was actually part of the liberation of Southern Africa, even if for instance the Danish South Africa Committees at several occasions stressed their independence to the local ANC-office.
One pillar of strength was actually the determination of most AAMs to ensure that they had a broad domestic appeal. The AAMs’ essential quality was to be mass movements inside their own country. From the beginning, their aim was to educate people about the evils of apartheid. In England the International Defence and Aid Fund was sat up for this purpose. It played a unique international role in the struggle and it was one of the most important areas for Nordic government funding during apartheid, despite that it also worked for revealing the hypocritical duplicity of Western governments. Guided by considerations for the domestic business community and strategic interests, they continued to give practical support to apartheid in the form of trade.
Sanctions therefore were another essential element in the international movement's strategy. Economists and economic historians will continue to argue over the extent to which sanctions distorted the South African economy and over how heavily economic difficulties weighed in de Klerk's decision to come to the negotiating table, but former apartheid cabinet members have openly admitted that disinvestment effectively immobilised apartheid.
One further pillar was the international anti-apartheid movement’s innovative work with international institutions like the UN and the Commonwealth that made them respond to pressures from non-governmental bodies, democratising them and making them more accountable.
The life of a Nordic AAM
What then were the characteristics of the popular political solidarity organisations? Patrick Mac Manus, the former chairperson of the Danish Anti-Apartheid Movement, has stated that LSA/SAK found itself in a “distributing frame” between the irritability and aversion of the established political system and the strains stemming from the organisation’s own wild-growing, partly uncontrollable mobilisation of engaged youth. The activities of the movement alternated between levels of the desk and of the street, between blockades and conferences, between paroles of the street theatre and substantiated approaches to the government. The aim was to bring the liberation struggle into ordinary peoples' everyday life by creating a broad participation which exceeded the narrow forms of the traditional political system. Mac Manus estimates that the movement succeeded in the sense that only very few Danes were not moved by the basic optimism of freedom struggle and international solidarity.
The detection work and later the supervision of sanctions (a task the Danish government did not perform) required skills in statistics, business accounting and corporation structures.
Even if there was broad understanding for actions, which aimed to discredit any kind of support to the illegitimate South African regime, it was the clear desire of the Committee to avoid forms of action, which, if generalised, could have isolated the movement. This often became a theme of discussion between leadership and activists. Also the question of political broadness, common touch and real influence versus demonstrative marking of thorough socialist perspectives and widening of the agenda to support of other kinds of liberation movements or to saving the world in general lead to internal conflicts. Lack of patience and expressionistic attitudes to politics among the activists some times put the leadership in the role of a social education worker. Through reading of historical texts in study groups and subcommittees, the movements closed in on its official aim of “democratic, non-violent traditions and a high level of information”. As Mac Manus argued in a Danish newspaper:
“It is the task of a solidarity movement to develop moral and material support inside the society and culture of which it is part. The democratic achievements of this society are the breeding ground for the activities of the movement, even if its aim is to create understanding for a struggle, which is fought under considerably different conditions. We do not live in Soweto; we do not die in El Salvador. Every denial of this difference will lead to escapism and sectarianism”.
The substance of most political protest is to a high degree of symbolic nature. The aim of the boycott campaign against Shell was not only to undermine the apartheid economy, but just as much to demoralise, isolate, and weaken the legitimacy of the regime, that actually suffered a political breakdown even before the macroeconomic costs had become unbearable.
Also in its precise aims and means, solidarity organisations had to be particular. The objective was to undermine illegitimate power structures of state and capital. Not to destroy the basis of life for the people. In the case of SAK/LSA in Denmark, undisciplined protests in 1989 gave the right wing an excuse for demanding severe counter action. At one point 21 members were arrested in a police raid and the police tried to use severe laws of internal security (Criminal Act paragraph 114, nowadays called the terrorism act) which could give up to six years of prison. The level of debate draws attention to the present “War against terrorism,” as the ANC was then still labelled a terrorist organisation by the American government.
Patrick Mac Manus has in his manuscript on the Danish AAM some provoking thoughts, which questions the relevance of future solidarity movements. The relation where a solidarity movement could be seen as an external dimension of a liberation movement’s national struggle might be outdated simply because that the possibilities of national liberation policies as such seems to have reached an end. The many adverse experiences in the area of postcolonial development policy, causes him to conclude that the potentials for autonomous nation state advance might have reached its limits.
Global structures seems to be in the foreground as a condition for any kind of development, and without democratic reforms of these structures most national reform attempts seems to be without perspective. Therefore the solidarity movement of today is an international movement focused on the worldwide political and economic structures of neo-liberal globalisation and on what is more and more frequently named “global apartheid”. In this clash between contrasting globalisation projects, the task of the oppositional movement is nevertheless essentially the same: To create empathy, to make people identify with others, to question the legitimacy of an established order under which people suffer. Or as some Germans have put it “Solidarität ist die Zärtlichkeit der Völker”.
The trade union support
In a book, Roger Southall has scrutinized the history of the international trade union support. Southall focuses on the conflicts and dynamics of the Western-dominated International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Simultaneously, he also gives details of the rise of trade unionism in South Africa and the links between the international and the national scene.
In one sense, as Southall states that international labour proved effective and beneficent. Nevertheless, his message contains contradictions, presenting the role of the ICFTU, the American federation AFL-CIO, and the British federation TUC in a critical light, seeing them in a role that at best was dubious. It seems that it was only when it was realized that failure by these reformist organisations to come forward with assistance to African unions, and later on to COSATU, would leave the field to others that the ICFTU came strait. It was only after COSATU's strength gained momentum and depth that these international bodies started realising that they could not ignore it.
Southall describes the TUC's historical links with the white trade unions, the disastrous involvement of ICFTU with the anti-socialist trade union FOFATUSA, the battles of the ICFTU against the ANC-allied SACTU-unions, the preference to co-operate with apartheid-like trade unions such as TUCSA/SATUC, and later their preferences for the so-called independent unions, and to some extent for UWUSA, in attempted manipulations of the South African labour scene.
The Americans bended the principles of the ICFTU by using state money in their South African work and withdrew from the organisation in the controversy over this and did not come back until 1982. The so-called Nordic Five (in this connection Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) chose to fund COSATU directly, instead of through the ICFTU channels. While the ICFTU, AFL-CIO and TUC get much attention in Southall’s analysis, little explanation has been given to the fact that the Nordic Five chose to break with the multilateralism of the ICFTU. Considering that for years the majority of COSATU's funding, as well as large proportions of the money coming through the internationals, came from the Nordic Five, it seems strange that nobody apparently have gone deeper into this. It is Southall’s view that in contrast to other international bodies, the Nordic Five did not act directly to push their own politics upon their South African comrades. The overall result was, he concludes, a relative, consistent even-handedness, which sought to foster unity.
Research is political
As “independent” liberal journalistic approaches more and more dominate the media picture in South Africa and elsewhere and the alternative black press has almost disappeared, we are allowed to forget the significant role that radical and socialist forces played in the destruction of apartheid, and these forces are frequently accused for having pursued unrealistic strategies and for trying to employ “either/or-solutions”.
Under the power constellations just before 1990, the national compromise would nevertheless have been impossible without approval from the South African left, including the communists. These people were actually very well aware of the difference between national democratic revolution and socialist revolution. In their theory of revolution in two phases, they did not expect the latter, but orchestrating the strong mix of national, ethnical and social mobilisation was absolutely necessary to get rid of apartheid. A fact that economic liberals still only reluctantly recognise and did not attribute much to. Conservative historians have never given much credit to the use of history for creating the necessary idealism for liberation struggle and solidarity, but history is always used in such fundamental conflicts, and the writer to some degree have to choose side.
In a process of reconciliation, it is perhaps understandable that some people wish to forget the past, to move beyond it, to let bygones be bygones. However, true reconciliation cannot be based upon ignorance. History may be dangerous and divisive but unawareness is potentially even more disruptive. Or as Shula Marks once said in a lecture:
“..in a society as deeply divided as South Africa, it is doubtful whether even the most conservative historian could harbour the illusion that history is somehow a set of neutrally observed and politely agreed upon facts. For all the contestants in contemporary South Africa there is a quite conscious struggle to control the past in order to legitimate the present and lay claim to the future.”
The intellectual argument between competing streams inside South African social science, first and foremost the great battle between the liberal and the radical schools of thoughts, has also marked the writing of solidarity history. This theoretical controversy had its principal point of departure in divergent views of the relationship between the economic development of South Africa and the race policies of its shifting governments, but also reflected conflicting opinions of contemporary political situations and expectations for the future. Since the early 1990’s converging tendencies have influenced the history profession and the ideological “boxing” nowadays seems somewhat constructed. Nevertheless new post-modern trends only finds delayed and weakened response in South Africa, which could be caused by apartheid’s prolonged upholding of an obsolete social structure. The working class solidarity of the industrial society has not yet been relieved by the individual, intellectual qualifications of the information society. This could be one of the reasons that the discussion between liberal and Marxist influenced actors on strategies for concrete social mobilisation still feels relevant. And why research in the history of solidarity is still undergoing vivid development.
Researchers will continue to discuss the influence and importance of the anti-apartheid movement for the liberation struggles in Southern Africa. No doubt, there will still be some conservative researchers in respected Northern academic centres, who will not see the direct impact of the movement and will not understand the complex relationship that developed between the two sides of the struggle. There will also be those who would like to romanticise the movement in a way that its problems and difficulties are not fully considered.
At the symposium held in 1999 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, Abdul Minty had critical remarks on some of the writing surrounding the movement:
“I have even seen accounts of movements in other countries recently which, through careful selection of material, exclude vital information so as to make the final product one of self adulation.”
The creation of popular consciousness, which has been a fundamental condition for a successful political struggle both in South Africa and in the solidarity movement, had more important sources of inspiration than the historians of course. The relationship between the masses and the organisations stood in the centre of this process.
It is a fundamental truth that history is created by people, but the notion that this happens mainly through a realisation of individual acts of willpower seems rather idealistic to me. During South Africa’s freedom struggle, history was to a large degree created though collective initiatives from the freedom movement and from the solidarity movement. The formulation of that kind of viable strategies and the calculating of political room for action demands the structural analysis as an important tool. A deep empathy and knowledge of the needs of the masses should originate directly from the experiences with the suppressive system and from the political organising. But the structural analysis does not rise spontaneously and should therefore be a high priority for historians and other researchers who wish to contribute with a differentiated understanding of important questions relating to the possibilities of an efficient solidarity from the surrounding world.
Contributions on Nordic solidarity history
After my project’s Copenhagen Conference, I have been examining some of the material (mainly the Danish papers) that could contribute to a history of solidarity. The contributors include professional historians, trade union officials and solidarity movement leaders. None of the papers could be called uncritical. Some however seek to represent an impartial “objective” view, while others could be seen as pieces of special pleading. The latter are just as relevant as long as they are balanced with conflicting outlooks. Even if my critical comments have been discussed with the authors for the aim of establishing a continued debating environment around solidarity history, the following evaluations of the contributions are entirely my responsibility of course.
Christopher Morgenstierne's paper African freedom struggle – in Denmark is partly a spin-off from his prolonged work with the Danish part of NAI's big project on Nordic solidarity history. Morgenstierne outlines Danish policies, building his project on several years of studies in the archives of the Danish Foreign Ministry and of Danish NGOs. He objectively focuses on the official foreign policy of the 1960s and ‘70s, while the important NGO-campaigns of the 1980s are still underinvestigated in Danish solidarity history. The author makes a clear distinction between popular boycott and official sanctions. Morgenstierne's research results includes a chronological account of the Danish anti-apartheid aid and he has outlined interesting connections between different kinds of support, while only few lines are drawn to the broader surrounding Danish political reality.
The Danish conflict researcher Bjørn Møller responded as discussant to a paper from the Swedish sociologist Håkan Thörn. Møller’s critique benefits from his great expertise in international relations and conflict resolution. It contains several general considerations on the work and positions of international NGOs during globalisation and their ambivalent relationship to governments.
Håkan Thörn’s Solidarity across borders: anti-apartheid as a global social movement is a very ambitious attempt to examine motive powers and organisational forms in the international solidarity movement through illustrating case studies, construction of definitions and general analysis. The aim of Thörn’s project is to investigate how a global issue, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, was articulated in two national contexts - Sweden and England - during the period 1960-1994. Thörn convincingly covers both angles from the important British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), the UN Special Committee against Apartheid, International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF), comparisons between exile situations in London and Stockholm, and the internal conflicts of Swedish solidarity policy. This is done through new research and stories of the efforts of centrally placed solidarity personalities. Also, the contribution of the churches across borders is taken into account. Different forms of transnational action are theorised. Thörn claims that it is actually difficult to establish a clear “inside” and “outside” of the South African situation because of the strong mutual influence across borders.
Thörn did in his counter critique share Møller’s critical assessment of "civil society romanticism" (i.e. that NGOs are progressive per definition) but he did not find it relevant for his own account, since he himself has elsewhere criticised automatic attempts of linking between NGOs and democracy. Thörn also disavowed the suggestion from Møller that he could have been inspired by an ideology claiming that NGOs will more or less replace the nation state, while the latter is fading away.
Møller stress the importance of the anti-apartheid NGOs in the struggle for a new South Africa, but he attempts to see their strength relative to other factors such as the crumbling of the outer defences of South Africa, the mounting internal contradictions of the apartheid regime, and the end of the Cold War.
Steen Christensen’s paper The Danish debate on support to the African liberation movements gets around in the periodically fierce debate on the solidarity issue in Denmark. Dealing polemically with both cabinet responsibility, party politics, left-wing blind activism, right-wing anti-communism, trade pragmatism, and Danish trade union solidarity. Founded in his long experience as social democratic international leader, Christensen’s middle position defence places the subject of solidarity in a cold war context. It is useful to be reminded on what late stage in the struggle for democracy that liberal and conservative parties were against any kind of efficient support.
Christensen’s paper has its main focus on two subjects: the political environment in Denmark concerning assistance to the African liberation movements, the discussions in Parliament and the outcome, financially and politically - and the political debate in Denmark, particularly the ideological and political ramifications. The centre of attention is the Danish assistance, starting with general support given by various social democratic ministers during the 1960s. Special emphasis is given to the political climate on the left in Denmark in the late 1960s - including the social democratic party, which was instrumental in changing the direction of Danish foreign policy. Critical interest is placed on the attempt of the Danish liberal minority government in 1975 to basically change direction of this, contentious policy in a Danish foreign policy environment, which had until then been characterised by a great measure of unanimity. Finally, the article looks at the domestic aspects of the political debate concerning the liberation movements - as en extension of the bitter political debates on the left concerning Vietnam and to a lesser degree, Chile. This is seen as a pronged debate between the various factions on the new left, the communists, and the social democrats. The paper dissects the weak spots of the left wing in Denmark in a revealing way, even if the invisible role of the Communist Party might be underestimated. Trough different implementation of popular front strategy, DKP was initiator to and organiser of broad solidarity movements to a degree that many of them were labelled as communist cover organs.
In this paper, support from Eastern Bloc countries to the freedom movements is mostly seen as a problem, not much as part of the liberation struggle. Heavy analytical weight is placed on parliamentary politics and the importance of grassroots organisations might be somewhat underestimated, which could also be the case with the debate over sanctions and the role of the Danish left in this political struggle against de facto private sector support of apartheid. The article also contains reliable self-insights in the social democratic universe and acknowledgements on the problematic role of NATO.
Christensen’s pragmatic realism don’t value left idealism for the mobilisation of liberation struggle as extremely important, which might help to explain the rather unobtrusive role of the Danish social democrats in the popular street based solidarity work. Some will probably question Christensen’s assessment of the apparently rather low level of socialist beliefs in the democratic movements in South Africa in contrast to their apparently more true nationalist feelings as being wisdom after the event.
The article also raises the question of the concept of solidarity as such. Should it be seen as one-sided charity, or did both social democratic governments, trade unions and the left have hidden agendas in their policy of support?
The contribution by Morten Nielsen The anti-apartheid struggle in Denmark originally occurred as a discussant reaction to Steen Christensen’s article at the conference. The author writes from his background as long-time leader and organiser of South Africa Contact (Sydafrika Kontakt/SAK), the former Danish anti-apartheid movement. The article by Nielsen could be seen as a rather rough debating piece of special pleading from the grassroots level. Nielsen has the courage (some would probably say rudeness) to ask some of the inconvenient questions which official interpretations and most media have allowed us to forget under the hail-fellow-well-met attitudes after the new regime was installed in South Africa.
Nielsen seems to think that others have stolen the palm of victory in the anti-apartheid struggle, which ought to belong to the popular movements. This kind of mistrust is quite normal in post-conflict situations, and in this case at least partly justified. In conversations with certain people from the Danish Foreign Ministry, from the Danish social democratic labour movement, from Swedish Sida, or with engaged Russian Africanists for that matter, their role in the liberation of Southern Africa often seems rather exaggerated.
No single agent can claim ownership over history though, and that goes for the solidarity movements too. And for the ANC for that matter. Without long term structural changes, which brought parts of business in opposition to apartheid, and without Gorbachev’s dismantling of the threat of offensive communism, the national compromise that constituted victory, would have been far from certain.
Against his background as an activist and organiser, Nielsen provides a range of strategic explanations to why the solidarity movement managed to get broad popular support. He throws light on the consequences of the small-minded tactical considerations of the Danish political parties, ad he invites the historians to make use of activist experiences and of the archives of the NGOs.
Anti-communism was an integrated part of the sanctions debate. Some of these Danish conference papers are influenced by the fact that the ideological discussion over guilt and shame in connection with the Cold War is still very open and far from over in Denmark. Some of those who took their first steps on the left wing as uncompromising hardliners, identifying unreservedly with e.g. the Soviet security-defined suppression of Eastern Europe or with individual terrorism (without any comparison), have made U-turns, apologised and distanced themselves, however many socialists who were mainly engaged in third world solidarity are generally proud of that side of their efforts and are not inclined to bow their necks to the neo-liberal ideological unification of today.
The Danish contributions are also marked by the fact that a major overall study of the history of the Danish solidarity movements still remains to be done.
Despite being critical to certain elements of these papers, I value them as being of high quality and I would like to see them published at some point together with similar Nordic contributions.
Outcomes of freedom struggle and international solidarity
Trough generations of exploitation, buttressed by massive political suppression, values and wealth in the South African society has been distributed extremely uneven, and in many respects, this situation remains unchanged. More than half of the black population probably lives under the poverty limit. Either because they are unemployed, underemployed, have informal jobs, or live as subsistence farmers.
South Africa belongs to the group of higher middle income countries and is among the richest in Africa, however the average income are still several times as high for whites than for blacks. According to UN’s Human Development Index, white South Africa is in line with Spain, while black South Africa remains at the bottom, and when it comes to spread of property, polarization has not changed significantly either, even if a small black elite has been fostered, and the black middle class continues to grow.
With BNP growth rates only at a few percent, the economy still shows serious lacunas. Unemployment is increasing, the interest for investment is modest, and the currency has been weakened incessantly until recently. Nevertheless, everybody seems to assume that South Africa also in the future will be able to play an important and respected role in the international community and in Africa.
The ANC has prioritised national reconciliation and economic stability as most necessary, and has been willing to almost any compromise to avoid national disruption. A relatively tight financial course with a limited deficit will most likely be upheld.
A severe impediment to foreign investments is the high level of violent crime and it is unlikely that presidential moral admonitions will have any effect here. During late apartheid, 40 percent of the labour force was excluded from society (not just discriminated in society) and left to its own fate in the often brutal communities of the townships. In reality, it was this development that made South Africa ungovernable for the old regime. The only way to reduce crime and secure a coherent society would be to create ordinary work for a larger part of the population. Nothing points in the direction that this could happen with the present policy. ANC’s previous critique of the business world for not being able to reform its own mindset for the common good has been toned down. “New thinking” enforced by the backlash for the socialist perspective has caused also the revolutionary cadres of the ANC leadership to administer an adapted social-liberal policy containing a strange mix of idealistic and neo-liberal elements, including accept of the uncontrolled spread of South African capital all over Africa.
It has been a rather common viewpoint in western neo-classical liberal economic thinking that growth and social redistribution do not harmonize well with each other. Growth has mostly been seen as measurable increase in capacity of BNP. In such a correlation, social development and poverty reduction are reduced to humanitarian agency of relief for the worst suffering. Contrary to this, the ANC government’s first restoration plan, RDP, saw development and redistribution in its totality as an integrated process and as a collective responsibility. This social perspective was to a large degree abandoned with the following structural adjustment inspired growth plan, GEAR.
On this background, there is a profound need for some kind of continuation of the solidarity movement and for a continued engagement from the former activists in order to uphold the pressure for a fulfilment of the ideals of the liberation struggle. To relate to this is an important task for solidarity history.
The transitional aid of the Nordic countries
After 1990 and especially after 1994 political solidarity changed to other more official and direct forms of aid, even if many of the former international anti-apartheid organisations continued their activities as private aid organisations, consultants, friendship societies, contact organs, or service providers.
From time to time, official interest from the surrounding world in the matters of the new South Africa has in fact been rather high. From the Nordic Countries’ side, it has at times been marked by a turbid compound of philanthropic aid and business interests.
During the transformation process under which the former liberation movement expanded its grip over society, the Nordic governments respectively succeeded in establishing their traditions of support by following up the popular solidarity with a continued transitional aid and by pointing out their own national merits in a favourable light.
Goodwill was extended, which have already shown to be worth its weight in gold. This development has hardly been to the disadvantage for South Africa, but it has probably been better for the donor countries. A kind of Janus Head of solidarity.
Through five hundred years of colonialism, Europe has appropriated the riches of Southern Africa. Nevertheless, a rather discouraging picture of stagnating aid from the EU-states to the region can be drawn, which only makes the question of more just trade relations so much more pressing. Trade and custom agreements between South Africa and EU have not given the country an especially favourable status, either regarding access to the European market or concerning the protection of its own import sensitive areas.
Western top businessmen have expressed worries that South Africa are facing economic difficulties, because it is hard to imagine other competitive export goods than the present, which mainly are minerals, fruit, vegetables and vine. Seen from the leading western countries, South African production industry is not fully competitive regarding productivity and wage level. The lack of new input during the years of sanctions left South Africa behind. On the other hand, the need for modernisation and know-how has opened possibilities for Nordic export.
The Nordic Countries’ transitional aid for South Africa has not differed significantly from that from other western countries, even if proportions have been a little more passable. Their “Country Strategies” towards South Africa were build on thorough analyse work in their respective foreign ministries and questions of priority were harmonised after consultations with the South African government according to a “partnership” ideology. The areas officially ranging highest on the aid agenda were democratisation, human rights and violence control. Furthermore pilot projects for land reforms, education and support to small black business.
It could be argued however, that support of civil society organisations and efforts for equalizing social gaps have been too vague and casual. Social disparity in South Africa still correspond rather precise to race lines and without support for concrete redistribution policies, every form of socio-economic differential treatment and following race discrimination could continue into an uncertain future.
Moreover, poverty orientation of the aid should probably have been increased properly by a continuation and further development of the former anti-apartheid funding policies for the organisations of marginalised groups and the former underground black press, so that these forces could have continued their social pressure and building of black consciousness. South Africa’s main problem is not that the country is very poor, but that the welfare is unequally distributed.
On top of that of course, the recurrent debate over the corporate sector aid continues, especially over the business-to-business part, which implied a solid invitation to Nordic companies’ involvement with aid funds. Extensive resources were allocated to trades and industries, less to preparations for land reforms. Despite correct declarations of intent, too many funds flowed into the cash boxes of big Nordic companies and too few actually helped job creation in micro-businesses in South Africa. Follow-up and control of company use of subsidies was superficial and long term real investment has been infrequent.
A breach between intentions and realities can be traced in the transitional aid of the Nordic countries. Officially, it has all been about positive employment effects in South Africa, but “more important” considerations have been in play. For the Nordic manufacturing enterprises, the bargain has been over state subsidised profits; for the Nordic trade unions, not only international solidarity, but also workplaces at home and reformist influence on the industrial scene in South Africa were at stake. Even the Nordic NGOs can’t be considered unselfish. Their idealistic mobilisation of former times has increasingly become mixed with professional considerations to career positions and prestige.
The Nordic aid strategies might also have relied too much on confidence in the results of a purely institutional conversion marked by traditional western civilisation and modernising attitudes. Support for rehabilitating centres for victims of torture and for truth commissions is worth much veneration, but it does not cure the existing structural violence or counter violence, caused by the frustrating powerlessness of poverty. Most of us can agree in the ideals of universal human rights, but many western NGOs might have unrealistic expectations to the practical implementation of western style democracy in poorer areas and Western governments might even have an interest in confirming their superiority in this way.
I might risk my neck and argue that democracy as we define it now in the West is not an original state of affairs given by nature (or by our moral superiority), but rather a luxury that the riches countries in the world have been able to allow themselves in the course of the last one hundred years, because they can now afford to satisfy the majority of the population (partly on the expense of third world peoples). In less developed countries, where the poor majority of natural reasons will be fundamentally unsatisfied, a stable democratisation process can be difficult to sustain, as tendencies towards growing defeatism, political demoralisation and cases of low attendance in local politics have shown also in South Africa. This is not in any way an argument against representative democracy in South Africa which was to some degree what the freedom struggle was about. It is just not enough. Much more focus on social human rights, on organising the unorganised and on practical support to local social movements are needed.
The Nordic governments’ competitive use of solidarity history
Since the mid-1960s, the Nordic countries have, parallel to the expansion of development aid, build a solid tradition for research in third world issues. Enclaves of progressive Africa research have appeared at many different institutes with groups of engaged researchers within many different disciplines. NAI in Uppsala, Padrigu in Gothenburg, CMI in Bergen, NUPI and CDE in Oslo, IDS in Helsinki, and CAS and DIIS in Denmark could be mentioned as dedicated centres, but there are many others.
Despite the broad engagement of these institutions in Africa generally, it must be said that the history of international solidarity with South Africa has not been a prominent subject either for university researchers, applied policy institutions (sector research), or foreign ministry employees before the breakdown of apartheid had become an obvious perspective for everybody.
Gradually, quite a lot of scattered attempts to investigate motive powers and organisational forms of solidarity have appeared, and even recognising that the South Africa research in the Nordic Countries remains on a modest quantitative level, it is actually about time to advertise for a historiographical survey or at least for an annotated bibliography for this field of research.
A special issue has been the question of co-operation between Nordic institutions in the area of African Studies. The cooperation between Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden and Danish institutions for instance has not always been unproblematic and it is an ungrateful task to map that kind of tensions. It seems to me that there are a number of factors which have from time to time contributed to a less than optimal atmosphere between the institutions of these two countries. The following is of course just my own preliminary thoughts.
Danish students and researchers simply place less weight on having a Nordic orientation than their colleagues in the other Nordic countries. They have relatively good possibilities for fieldwork in Africa, and they have increasingly found EU and US connections relatively more relevant than Nordic. Signals from the present Danish government have some responsibility for escalating this development.
The fact that NAI does not belong under the Nordic Council as most other shared research institutions, but resides more directly under a foreign ministry agreement might make it more suitable for policy-making activities. It also secures a Swedish financial and political dominance. In the area of policymaking activities, NAI is hardly a genuine Nordic institution. Sadly enough, it would on the other hand not have such a high profile and generous funding, if it was purely a research institution.
In situations when the level of aid for Southern Africa appears to be rather unambitious, a strategy where the proud traditions of earlier times are used to complement the image of the donor countries might be to their advantage.
In the case of solidarity history, it has already shown possible to build the historical narrative, that the anti-apartheid support of the Nordic countries was especially protracted, loyal and heroic. Since there are strong material interests behind this view, it must be the task of the critical social scientist to scrutinize this account. It might be that the historical reality was slightly different.
Despite that both Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark can call attention to particular areas where they came first with support to anti-apartheid activities, it was only after prolonged political pressure from domestic solidarity movements that the Nordic countries in the last years before 1990 became proper pioneers regarding sanctions policies against the apartheid regime. This change of policy, which domestic business opposed to the end, has, together with the transitional aid, shown to be an asset for Nordic export industries. Compared to many other countries in the South, an advantage for traders of Nordic products is that 20 percent of the population in South Africa have the same patterns of demand as in Europe, even if the majority lives in poverty, and in the years after 1993 Nordic export to South Africa rose significantly.
Trade delegations from Nordic countries headed by cabinet ministers and royalties have repeatedly visited the new South Africa to discuss combinations of aid and export. Sometimes even former de facto enemies of the freedom struggle are embraced by the South African government in a way that undermines the history of solidarity.
At the opening of the South African Maritime Training Academy at Simonstown, 9 September 2003 for instance, Thabo Mbeki gave his sincere thanks to the Chief Executive of the biggest Danish industrialist, AP Møller-Maersk, Jess Søderberg (Mr. Møller’s deputy and successor as managing director) for supporting the academy:
“I met the leadership of AP Møller-Maersk as they prepared to take over Safmarine, I remember the commitment this leadership made to participate in a meaningful way in the development of our country. This indicated to us that as the Danish people had stood with us during the struggle for our emancipation from apartheid, so were they determined to continue working with us to ensure that our democratic victory opened the way to a better life for all our people. Accordingly, it is most inspiring for me to be here today, to see the how faithfully AP Møller-Maersk has kept its word. With all-weather friends such as these, we cannot but succeed.”
The sad fact is that the Danish anti-apartheid movement through many years had to fight against the de facto support that Maersk ships gave to the apartheid regime by transporting parts of its trade.
One export attempt that did not succeed despite the efforts of the Danish Crown Prince was aimed at selling Danish corvettes in hard competition with other countries (AP Møller bye the way owns one of the largest Danish shipyards). Sweden had more luck. As part of an arms deal which is still very controversial in South Africa, the Swedes got an order from the South African government which included a portion of JAS Gripen fighter planes. Most people from the former solidarity movements would probably agree that South Africa had very little need for these advanced jetfighters and that the many billions of rand would be better spend on poverty control. Economic promises in the shape of extensive counter purchases spoke for the deal. So did the history of solidarity.
It is an intriguing question if the more convincing documentation of Sweden’s solidarity history has played any role in the matter of export goodwill. For some this might seem trivial, others might see it as pure speculation, but actually it is worth an independent historiographical study in its own right.
There were real differences in Danish and Swedish foreign policy. Sweden’s was more independent during the time of apartheid and still is. Sweden directly supported the ANC. Denmark only indirectly and discreet. (In the story of the Baltic countries under Soviet dominance for instance, the picture was in some respects the other way around). On top of that comes that the Swedish aid follow up has at times been quite massive. But there were also differences in the way in which history was used. In the possibilities, in the levels of consciousness, and in the resources allocated for the purpose.
As mentioned before the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala was used as base for the coordination of an extensive programme which intended to document solidarity with the whole of Southern Africa as this developed in each of the Nordic countries. The contributions from each individual country were funded by its foreign ministry, but Sweden had the most glorious past, the most laurels to gain, and most money for the project. In short, the Swedes had a better opportunity for taking their history serious.
The result of the Norwegian part of the project was a good-quality anthology edited by the experienced Africanist Tore Linné Eriksen, which examined most sides of Norwegian support for Southern Africa. The Finnish contribution ended as a decent empirical representation of the policy of that country.
The Danish contribution was limited in size and scope with its main emphasis on source critical analysis of foreign ministry archives, while the strong Danish NGOs got less attention. Danish voices later expressed the suspicion that the Swedish side had not been directly unsatisfied with the rather low Danish profile. The fact is probably that there from the beginning was a certain animosity or carelessness in the Danish Foreign Ministry towards a project which partly consisted of the history of popular movements’ oppositional achievements.
The more harmonised agreement between NGOs and Foreign Affairs Department gave the Swedes a better hand. The experienced and hard-working Swedish coordinator of the overall programme was financed favourably through several years under which he focused mostly and with good workmanship on writing three quantitatively strong volumes plus collecting a massive archive material for the Swedish side.
It has been said that NAI in this connection mostly functioned as a policy making centre for the Swedish development agency, Sida. The departmental intrigues which surround this case will probably remain a mystery, but the Danish frustration of being taken hostage in a joint Nordic institution, which they were unable to use in the same way as the Swedish part could, was clearly expressed at the programme’s conference at Robben Island.
In October 2003, the results of the project were used once more at a conference on Swedish solidarity history organised by NAI, the Olof Palme International Centre and Swedish trade unions among others. The Swedish aid minister and the deputy secretary general of the ANC attended, and Cyril Ramaphosa and other nouveau riche former South African trade unionists were invited.
Simultaneously an even higher profiled English conference on the same theme was initiated by the South African High Commission in London, with the aim of using the bonds of popular international solidarity, developed during the anti-apartheid struggle, in a new attempt to accelerate stagnating trade and investments. Twelve South African cabinet ministers attended this conference with British and European partners. The London Solidarity Conference was also attended by an array of senior corporate, parastatal and government officials. Its official aim was to "reconnect" with former members of British and European anti-apartheid movements, as the South African Foreign Affairs Department said. It was also aimed at forging closer links with “new partners” in the country's reconstruction and development efforts.
"The conference will examine ways and means to mark the tenth anniversary of democracy in South Africa in 2004, while looking at international solidarity, new partnerships and collaborations between South Africans, British and Europeans to push back the frontiers of poverty and under-development."
Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lead the South African delegation. South African delegates also included Mike Spicer of Anglo-American and several government director generals. Speakers included former British Anti-Apartheid Movement executive secretary Mike Terry, and Hillary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development.
At the earlier 1999 AAM-conference at South Africa House in London, Baroness Castle of Blackburn opened an exhibition on the history of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. As president of AAM in 1961 and member of Harold Wilson's government as Minister of Overseas Development from 1964, she could symbolise treads between movement and labour government. At this conference also Gus Macdonald, Minister of Trade and Industry, and the first editor of Anti-Apartheid News, and Lord Hughes of Woodside symbolised links between AAM and the established political system.
There is little doubt that history of solidarity will be used even more intensively both during and after South Africa’s 10 years of freedom celebrations.
And Danish exporters might consider sponsoring Danish solidarity history in the future.
Irony aside, this small paper of course leaves many outstanding questions. How have different forms of friendly pressure and support along with lack of alternatives influenced political and economic choices in the new South Africa? Why did social democratic and official government attitudes in the Nordic countries change in favour of more and more direct support to the liberation movements despite scepticism from leading Western partners? To which extent did Nordic anti-colonialism rest on the anticipation that small, export oriented, non-colonialist states might gain from the breakaways of new nation states from former colonial powers and apartheid supporter countries? More disbelieving popular voices might claim that politicians needed to make friends with possible new leaders, but that these friendships for a long time seemed less important than the trade profitable for domestic companies, which implied a de facto support of apartheid South Africa.
It is worth remembering however that other Western countries have had worse problems living up to their declared democratic intentions than the Nordic as Shula Marks have stated:
“This meant that in Britain, unlike in the Scandinavian countries where government assistance to the anti-apartheid struggle was generally far more direct and material, or even in the United States where the vested interests were far less strong and internal domestic politics dictated a very different strategy, the [British] Anti-Apartheid Movement was, and indeed had to be, a people's movement.”
Most visitors coming to Southern Africa nowadays would probably say that they agreed with the anti-apartheid struggle. One has to wonder why it took so long for South Africa and the region to become free from colonialism, when the whole world seems to have been supporting them all the time.
The fact is that the international community, including the Nordic countries, did not give Lutuli and Tutu the whole range of boycott, isolation, and militant support they wanted, until victory was almost certain. It was mostly later, when the ANC-dominated government needed to secure continued support and investment, when the West wanted to gain unlimited access to the growing South African middle class market, and when the alternative of socialism did not exist any longer, that we could all agree in making South Africa the darling of the world.