Seminar speech paper for University of Évora seminar.
Transnational Connections in Southern Africa II:
The Decolonizing and Post-Colonial Experiences, 2016, October 12-14.
Nordic Solidarity with South Africa. New Insights on Social Movements and Governments.
By Hans Erik Stolten.
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Link to printed book of Abstracts / Link to Photos
Denmark’s borders are closed, and inside the country there is commotion. The country's government is using endless amounts of time and energy on creating suspicion towards refugees and groups of fellow citizens with a different appearance, dress, or religion. The media to a large degree follows the right-liberal government's agenda, and an unpleasant image of the Danes are about to develop – as an insecure people without tolerance, without surplus, without an eye for certain parts of the outside world.
In such times, it is worth remembering that the Danes are also, for example, grassroots movements and solidarity with people in repressive states. Among other things, solidarity history helps to maintain that this is also Denmark - and also that we do not have to accept new forms of global apartheid lying down.
(PP 2) More than twenty years ago, South Africa’s first democratic elections marked the end of prolonged liberation struggles in large parts of Southern Africa. There were links from all corners of the world to this freedom struggle in the form of humanitarian and political support, and popular boycott protests. As a Danish historian, who was engaged in the anti-apartheid movement of that time, I want to understand how this global, social movement developed in Scandinavia, and how this past solidarity has shown to have effects reaching into the future.
My research has so far focused rather narrowly on South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement; not much of what I have to say refer directly to solidarity with movements in the former Portuguese colonies, however, in practise, protests and actions of the Nordic AAMs very often included solidarity with SWAPO, Frelimo, MPLA and ZAPU or ZANU.
In the 1980s, I was a member of the international committee of the Danish Communist Party as well as of the Danish AAM, LSA - and in Copenhagen, London, Moscow, and Cape Town, I meet with leaders and activists from the whole of Southern Africa.
For a considerable period, substantial parts of the resistance against apartheid took place outside South Africa. Many of the country’s most brilliant intellectuals worked from the outside in, actively involved in the anti-apartheid movements of the countries of their temporary residence.
The history of the international anti-apartheid movement has since long been established as a recognised field of research as several conferences and book series on the subject have shown. It is important for the Nordic countries, among other western nations, that the history of their anti-apartheid movements should be recorded, but it is even more important for the peoples of Southern Africa to have access to those records to be able to fully understand their history. The global part of this history is also part of their national heritage and self-knowledge. For people in South Africa - who for generations were denied access to 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 – and many institutions and projects in the new South Africa have been involved in uncovering the past in this area.
(PP 3) The informal nature of many popular organisations led to an almost non-existence of records and a defective archival registration of these organisations’ activities. However, more and more remains have been discovered and organised.
Already in the early years after 1994, important steps were made by former activists engaged in history, 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, a number of initiatives have been implemented over the years including the African Activist Archive Project at Michigan State University. Countries like Holland, where the AAM had a natural strength, have been in the forefront of archiving.
(PP 4) Researchers and librarians at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden have a long tradition for dealing with the history of solidarity. With Tor Sellström as the coordinator, the institute published a comprehensive book series on Nordic solidarity with Southern Africa. When I ended my own research project at NAI, an extended workshop was convened, at the Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen, where I also worked as lecturer and research fellow. As it turned out, several contributions on the history of the anti-apartheid solidarity were presented. (PP 5, PP 6, PP 7).
In retrospect, everybody will agree that apartheid was an inhuman system, and the international solidarity with South Africa during the years of struggle 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, the Soweto uprising in 1976, and after the murder of Steve Biko in ‘77. The suppression of the township rebellions in the mid-late 1980s was also met with widespread condemnation. But to maintain a sustainable movement for support over long periods of time from the 1950s to 1990s, often under strain from established circles of public power, demanded great persistence.
Solidarity did not stop with de Klerk’s formal abolishment of apartheid in 1990. The complex transitional period saw beginning disagreements between some of the international solidarity movement’s players and the democratic movement within South Africa. Yet solidarity during the turbulent transformation period was very important and research is still thin on how it was possible to sustain popular support during the shifts of policy necessitated by the political and economic pressures that the negotiators faced during this time.
The development of a historiography of solidarity began long before 1994, but there are still histories to be written and they will not be simple ones since there were divisions within the AAMs, the Western governments, and within the African National Congress itself.
(PP 8) After the victory over an evil and powerful regime, some of the veterans engaged in the struggle through many years of hardship felt a justified need for enjoying the sweetness of triumph, and it has to be said that some of the personal internal accounts of freedom struggle and solidarity history have been rather uncritical. Others on the other hand have had an artificially “objective” approach or applied a purely empirical methodology. Transnational corporations have tried to cover up their apartheid links and governments have attempted to monopolise the agenda of support leaving little room for NGO-histories.
Many of the historians and social scientists drawn into the discussions on Southern Africa were de facto intellectual activists, and a continuation of the alternative writing coming from abroad could, for that matter, be viewed as a still needed continued solidarity with all those people in Southern Africa, who fought for social justice, but did not get it.
Globalisation, social movements, and the nature of solidarity
(PP 9) 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. South Africa could be illuminating for understanding recent cases of protection of privileges on a transnational scale (for instance cases of migration/xenophobia), which have parallels to the special form of internal colonialism the county had.
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 that constitute the majority of the world’s population? To which extent will they shut them out? The solidarity with Southern Africa gave rise also to that kind of questions.
Globalisation is hardly anything new, however. The new perception of globalisation mirrors real changes in the way we experience the world. Swift flows of news, technological knowledge, and commodities give new immediacy to events far across the globe and make national economies increasingly vulnerable to international forces - including pressures coming from social movements.
Globalisation is not only an elite process. It also involves diasporic ethnic/national communities or communities of activists, who work on issues of international human rights. Even for remote, local actors, the transnational, public sphere takes on new importance as a source of new resources, ideas, and support.
(PP 10) 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 international 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. Such circumstances also create the possibility that the work of western NGOs could take the shape of charity rather than mutual solidarity, and as Samora Machel once said: international solidarity is not an act of charity but an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives. It also heightens the risk that the interest in job security within NGOs and development aid industries could become a main motivation for the support.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, some might have had an underlying expectation that a broad series of combined victories for the liberation and solidarity moments could have led to fundamental changes in both the South and the North - as some would argue that it actually happened in the case of Portugal and its colonies - but optimism about that kind of scenarios has long been dwindling.
Viewed realistically, it must be considered as a problem that successes for the international solidarity movements, 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 can seldom be experienced as a necessity by the single participant, but must be learned and realised.
Aurora Morales have formulated it this way:
“Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate … our own … passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, - from the recognition that … our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet”.
(PP 11) Unfortunately, a growing part of western populations are already feeling uneasy by the potential costs of solidarity and are favourable to all kinds of demarcations against foreigners and importunate cultures.
The modern globalisation process is, in many ways, still in a rather early phase, and even the researcher is often stuck in a tradition of nationalism or localism. Reshaped 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 newly decolonised nations in second half of the twentieth century. In the case of the transformed 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 existing system of nation states, 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 that kind of expressions of interest, local features 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 the 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 actions of nation 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.”
Will this always be a problem? In an inspiring analysis, Gay Seidman flirted with the thought that both globalisation and solidarity could be halted by national social movements:
“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 … 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 unions involved in transitional aid to South Africa would have liked to see more of the resulting job creation happen in their own countries. And it is true that globalisation often appears to be the result of a hegemonic project, a process largely impelled 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.
The feeling of solidarity, however, does not seems to include large scale migration. Even left-wing parties still feel the need to protect the domestic poor against competing intruders. Sometimes, national labour movements are under severe pressure from right-nationalist parties to accept anti-migration measures and differential labour market treatment that show similarities with South African influx control and labour laws of former times, which served the protection of white workers’ standards. It could be argued, of course, that the first is a legitimate defense of a nation-based welfare society, while the latter served to keep the indigenous majority-population away from the resources of their nation. In any case, it demonstrates the danger of what is becoming known as global apartheid.
(PP 12) However, it is of course possible to argue that an oblique and unequal world is also an unstable world, which produces social fugitives and terrorism for instance. It can also be argued for that more equal wealth would transform countries now poor into better trading partners.
Theory of liberation and social movements theory
(PP 12) One aspect of the debate on solidarity strategies, which is today seldom considered directly in this connection is the theory of colonialism of a special type. This radical analysis also had implications for the international solidarity movement. It was to a large degree the colonial character of the apartheid regime, which made its lack of legitimacy obvious and in contravention of international law. The liberal, western view of South Africa as an allied state with certain mildly unpleasant deficiencies tended to reduce the freedom struggle to an argument for gradual democratic reforms. An acceptance from the anti-apartheid movement of this “constructive engagement” position would have reduced the freedom struggle to less than a national struggle for liberation from colonialism and thus weakened the possibilities for popular international support. The high degree of international isolation of the apartheid regime, which ultimately came in place, was strengthened by the awareness of its colonial behaviour.
Also, important to the analysis of solidarity history are developments in social movements theory. Social movements’ activists have long been aware of the way that global dynamics and transnational audiences might support or constrain their causes. More aware than most scholars, probably. While activists have often acknowledged the importance of universal rights in the way they understood and conveyed issues, academics have generally been more cautious especially in terms of their views of popular, collective action.
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.
Today the international appeal of some social movements also makes it necessary to consider the hierarchical, interest-based 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.
The history of solidarity
The whole area of liberation theories and strategies is still quite underinvestigated by historians. While more and more historical studies of concrete solidarity cases have emerged, for example in the book series published by the South African Democracy Education Trust, only few theoretical or principled works have been written on the theme of North-South political solidarity as such.
(PP 13) In a deeper theoretical study of the history of solidarity, the search for sources would have to reach back at least to the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Some of the earliest noticeable acts of solidarity with suppressed, indigenous populations and imported slaves should 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 and ideological advantages in imposing a new world order based exclusively 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 and working environment standards of today, which have the same kind of mixed effects when forced on third world countries).
A more recent source of solidarity was the working-class internationalism that began to emerge after the 1848 revolutions, missed by the Paris communards in 1871 and by the social democrats before the First World War, activated again by Comintern after 1921, and later again in another fashion by the Socialist International. Internationalism have obviously been of special importance in colonial and postcolonial settings, because activists in Asia, Latin America, or Africa are especially aware of the way global forces affect their possibilities.
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 new research). Even if it often seems convenient to forget it; until second half of the twentieth century, leading western countries (not only Portugal) held large parts of the world occupied 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 cheap imported raw materials and other forms of value transfers from the South.
(PP 14) 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 developments leading up to the First World War had shown the weakness of national movements compared to nationalist militarism. Since the mainstream socialist and social democratic parties often took government responsibility in western countries, their solidarity (especially in NATO member states) often had to be less unambiguous than that of the left wing. However, trade union control and government involvement also went hand in hand with greater economic possibilities and the Nordic social democratic parties and unions implemented a more low-voiced, and often indirect, but very extensive aid to a wide range of freedom organisations in Southern Africa.
A striking feature of the first 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (however, less pronounced in the Nordic countries) was the decline in popular political solidarity with the third world.
Large parts of the intellectual left wing in Western Europe had had an idealistic expectation that democratic socialism would gain popular strength and unselfish solidarity would bloom when liberated from the double burden of communist dominance and anti-Soviet ideological attacks. 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.
The triumph of neo-liberal globalisation meant that transnational companies spearheaded a new confidence in trade more than 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 sides though. Since NGOs were no longer considered a threat to the system, more ordinary development aid were canalised this way, which resulted in paid activist positions and more professionalism. But then again, 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 profit from state funding by running development projects.
The global anti-apartheid movement
(PP 15) The anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s was a truly transnational social movement. How was it possible for the international anti-apartheid movement to maintain effective campaigning organisations throughout 35 years? Was it a special philosophy or ideology, or were it the organisational policies or practices of the movement? Was it internationalism working in continuation of a long anti-colonial tradition? Was it the particular mix of local anti-imperialist activists supplied with exiled South Africans determined to take their country back?
The anti-apartheid movement in England, for instance, staffed to a large degree by South African expatriates and exiles, but with strong ties to left-wing Britain, including the 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 appeal of the movements was also strengthened by a deepening concern about racism at home.
In the case of New Zealand, for instance, participation in the anti-apartheid movement was connected to domestic politics of importance for the Maori part of the population. In Australia, issues concerning the Aborigines were accentuated.
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 developing “non-racialism”, and its gradual opening to white membership after 1969, 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 broader.
Pillars of 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 ruling National Party in South Africa. After Sharpeville in March 1960, the symbolic boycott developed to a demand for the total isolation of South Africa and for the enactment 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 often 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 the AAMs was also 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 potential mass movements inside their own country.
Boycotts and sanction-demands came to be an 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 approach the negotiating table, but former apartheid cabinet members have admitted that disinvestment effectively helped immobilise apartheid.
A further pillar was the international anti-apartheid movement’s innovative work with international institutions like the UN and the Commonwealth that made them more open to pressures from non-governmental bodies, in effect democratising them and making them more accountable.
The international trade union support
There were many contradictions in the international labour movement, when one looks closer at the role that the Western-dominated International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the American federation AFL-CIO, and the British federation TUC played. It seems that it was only when it was realised by these reformist organisations that failure to come forward with assistance to genuine African unions, and later on to COSATU, would leave the field to others that the ICFTU came strait. It was first after COSATU’s strength gained decisive momentum and depth that these international labour bodies started realising that they could not ignore it.
Roger Southall has described the British 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, Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha-allied union, in attempted manipulations of the South African labour scene.
The Americans bended the principles of the ICFTU by using US-state money in their South African work and withdrew from the organisation in the controversy over this, and they did not come back until 1982. The so-called Nordic Five (in this connection Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden) eventually chose to fund COSATU directly, instead of through ICFTU channels. Little explanation has so far 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 channelled through the internationals, came from the Nordic Five, it seems strange that nobody apparently have gone deeper into this. To what extent did the Nordic Five to push their own politics upon the South African organisations.
The anti-apartheid movement in Denmark
(PP 16) The Danish Anti-Apartheid Movement fought for more than 30 years against apartheid in South Africa. The first Danish boycott activities were launched in 1963 by the Danish Youth Council and student organisations. The grassroots pressure was to some degree successful in the sense that already from 1963, the Danish government gave a very limited and indirect anti-apartheid support channelled through lager more respectable NGOs. A certain duplicity lay behind this. Confronted by the right-wing and business, government would say that the support was strictly humanitarian to conflict victims – and to left critique, the government would answer that the freedom movements were actually supported politically. Due to Denmark’s membership of NATO, support was given indirectly and most of it went through national and international NGOs like IDAF in London.
The Country Committee South Africa Action (LSA), was formed in February 1978 as an expression of the resurgence of active solidarity with the resistance movement in South Africa after that the Soweto-massacre in 1976 had again placed the South African freedom struggle in the centre of the international solidarity work in Denmark. LSA was instigated by a variety of organisations, including youth groups, trade unions, and church societies as the most important, but also with a number of former volunteer development workers with Southern Africa experience as activists. The Socialist People’s Party, SF Youth, the Danish Communist Party (DKP/DKU), and the centre-liberal party, Radikale Venstre, constituted the political core. However, LSA never really succeeded in creating common ground with the Social Democratic Party, which chose to conduct its own solidarity work. This can partly be explained by the Social Democrats’ reservations about the ANC’s commitment to armed struggle, together with reservations about the energetic communists, who at times represented a significant proportion of LSA’s activists. The Social Democrats also had their difficulties with LSA’s demand for immediate, unilateral Danish economic sanctions. The Social Democratic Party had, since Per Hækkerup’s time as foreign minister in the 1960s, clearly indicated that the party would only support sanctions, if a consensus on a binding boycott could be mobilised in the UN Security Council. In 1978, The Danish Parliament joined the UN Security Council’s arms embargo, but at the same time distanced itself from the idea that Denmark could be a pioneer in the area of sanctions.
The LSA decided exclusively to support the ANC as the main liberation movement in South Africa, while a proposal from a minority of those present - including the representative of the Maoist Communist Workers Party (KAP) - suggesting concurrent support for both the ANC and PAC was rejected. After this, the issue of support for PAC gave no cause for contradictions in LSA, as opposed to sister organisations in Sweden and Norway, which included currents that wanted to support the PAC. LSA identified, in cooperation with the ANC and the underground trade union movement, SACTU, two relatively manageable support projects: a new transmitter to ANC’s Radio Freedom and a printing press to SACTU. Another main activity was to coordinate a consumer boycott, which aimed to demonstrate public support of the demand for government sanctions.
Although the extent of such actions was not recorded, there can be no doubt that the dramatic increase in the number of local South Africa committees was a result of such actions. The Early in the process, the most important retail dealer chains, such as Irma and FDB, stated that they would phase out sales of South African imports.
During Anker Jørgensen’s social democratic government, lasting until 1982, the boycott campaign did not succeed in a major breakthrough for government sanctions. It was, however, supported by several utility companies and public service providers, which had locally elected board representation. The social democrats on these boards mostly voted against boycott. They considered the rejection of coal import from South Africa as a foreign policy matter that should not be decided by county governments or city councils. Debates over this reasoning actually contributed in making the coal boycott a national political issue. Also contributing to this was a visit of the leader of the South African Council of Churches, Desmond Tutu, in 1979, where he described the Danish coal import as shameful. Tutus statement made the Churches Race Program active in spreading the boycott message.
In 1979 and again in 1982, LSA demonstrated in Copenhagen Airport against the direct SAS flight connection to South Africa. It was during these peaceful demonstrations in 1982 that Police Intelligence Service (PET) placed an agent to infiltrate the organisation. This provocation was only publicly known in 1998, and even then, the Minister of Justice denied it had taken place - probably because the Danish government in 1990 had officially decided that it had always wholeheartedly supported the struggle against apartheid.
(pp 17) When the right-wing Poul Schlüter government took office in 1982 and the Social Democrats were banished from their ministerial portfolios, they suddenly became somewhat louder. Many of them now realised that unilateral Danish initiatives could help isolate the South African regime. It opened for a closer cooperation between LSA and individual MPs from the so-called alternative majority in the parliament. It was this teamwork, based on campaigning around the coal import that made the breakthrough and paved the way for the Danish laws of 1985 and 1986, when this alternative parliamentary majority adopted an almost total ban on trade and investments in relation to South Africa. It happened as part of the so-called footnote policy, which in specific policy-areas forced the Schlüter-government to decisions it disagreed with. Had the social democrats been in government instead of in opposition, they would probably had preferred softer sanctions.
These decisions must be viewed in the light of the broad popular mobilisation for sanctions and for active support for the ANC. This mobilisation was getting closer to a peak from the end of 1984, strengthen by the establishment of an ANC representation in Copenhagen, which was primarily funded by considerable financial support from the LSA-attached trade unions. Among other key initiatives was the high school students joint Nordic Operation Days Work in 1985, which resulted in a boost of young activists in local committees. Activities such as Run Against Apartheid and the big concert Rock Against Apartheid also took place during this period.
From the organisation’s start, volunteer activists had carried out the activities. The demands to the Danish politicians were clear. Apartheid had to be isolated - politically, economically and culturally. It was not easy to make the politicians act on this. Although Mr. and Mrs. Denmark boycotted South African grapes and oranges, Danish trade with South Africa grew in the early 1980s. The Danish shipping company, Maersk, were the largest transporter of oil to the apartheid regime in 1984, and electricity companies’ purchase of coal in South Africa peaked.
Many Danish organisations were involved in anti-apartheid activities in this period, but LSA / Africa Contact was the broadest umbrella-organisation. An (incomplete) overview over Danish organisations, which were involved in anti-apartheid activities must include: Folkekirkens Nødhjælp (now DanChurchAid); WUS (now Ibis); Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (now Action Aid International); Dansk Flygtningehjælp (Danish Refugee Council); the Social Democratic Party’s Foreign Policy Committee; Workers Solidarity Fund; Kirkernes Raceprogram (the churches’ campaign, closed in 1996); Dansk Ungdoms Fællesråd (DUF); Internationalt Forum (IF); Fagbevægelsens U-landssekretariat; Arbejderbevægelsens U-landsudvalg; and Kvindernes U-landsudvalg. Several of these organisations were represented in the Danish government’s so-called Apartheid Committee. On top of these could be mentioned a range of trade unions, youth organisations, and international committees of certain political parties.
(PP 18) In 1986, Denmark adopted the most rigorous sanctions against South Africa of all the EEC-countries, but there was still a case for the NGOs. It became a central LSA task to ensure that the sanctions were actually observed. The wright-wing government did not allocate resources to enforce the sanctions, so the activists had to learn to read trade statistics and South African advertisements to substantiate the need for police intervention against Danish blockade-breaking companies.
Two new projects came to the center in 1987, when South Africa wanted to establish its embassy in Hellerup, a prestigious northern suburb of Copenhagen. The reconstruction works on the chosen building was hit by trade union blockades for 500 days and some of the skirmishes between activists and embassy staff were pretty agitated. The second major task was the Shell campaign, which aimed to expand consumer boycott of companies that played a strategic role in the South African economy. LSA’s campaign suffered a setback when young ultra-left radicals began to cut fuel lines and set fire to Shell gas stations. It backfired and Shell’s Danish turnover began to regenerate.
The so-called phantom campaign in early 1988, launched by the South Africa Committee in Copenhagen (SAKK) led to the arrest of several activists, some of them carrying painting utensils. The activists were accused of widespread vandalism - for instance against banks with South Africa connections that had the latches on their door locks sealed with superglue. Charges were extended far beyond the evidence, and it was attempted to outlaw SAKK‘s poster with the Phantom cartoon figure in action for an apartheid-free city and to prove organisational responsibility for extensive damages. The exaggerated accusations were used politically. In connection with the court case, most of SAKK’s office archives were impounded for almost a year and both SAKK and LSA lost the right to obtain lottery funds for several years because of the pending case. The case ended with a few verdicts against individual activists for painting jobs, but it also led to internal disagreements in SAKK concerning forms of action. The consequence was that the general meeting of SAKK distanced itself from that kind of direct action. Some activists left the committee in favour of more loosely organised Youth Against Apartheid groups.
With the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, it became the main task of the LSA to maintain sanctions until it was inevitable that apartheid would fall. Apartheid in fact lasted until 1994 - only then was democracy effectuated after extensive popular mobilisation. The Danish Foreign Minister, Uffe Elleman-Jensen, worked for more than two years intensively for the elimination of sanctions with no regard to the grave South African situation. The close cooperation between LSA, which continuously distributed information on the situation for the South African grassroots organisations, and a number of MPs from the alternative majority ensured the maintenance of sanctions through this time. The remaining sanctions, however, became increasingly linked to specific demands. The MP Jørgen Estrup from the centre-liberal party Radikale Venstre found his way to the front pages of a number of South African newspapers in July 1991, when he, based on an action plan prepared in cooperation with the LSA, could assure that the Danish government vetoed the repeal of the limited European EEC-sanctions. In late 1991, the Danish sanctions got closer linked to the freedom of 300 named political prisoners, and when they were released, the official Danish veto and the Danish investment ban were lifted. Parts of the embargo was maintained until there was assurance that the elections would be democratic. However, at that point in time, the parliament was disregarded. In March 1992, in the middle of a social democratic chairmanship change, foreign minister Elleman-Jensen repealed the trade ban act by way of a so-called royal decree.
After the lifting of sanctions, the Danish AAM changed its name to Africa Contact. In 1993 and 1994, the organisation ensured a comprehensive grassroots representation in the European Union and UN election monitoring in South Africa. From 1995, SAK published the journal I’Afrika, established a network of journalists in Southern Africa, and arranged numerous exchanges and conferences. Individual membership actually raise, but the organisation’s heyday may still be said to be the period 1984-87, which was characterised by locally based South Africa activism across the country.
After apartheid, the former AAM-movement dedicated itself to the fight against global inequality. Today Africa Contact still works against the legacy of centuries of oppression as a genuine grassroots organisation. South Africa remains one of the countries in the world with the greatest difference between rich and poor. Neoliberal globalisation means that many people in the countries of southern Africa are becoming poorer. Thus, in collaboration with African grassroots organisations from across the continent, the organisation works to put the difficulties of popular movements on the political agenda.
In principle, Afrika Kontakt is still a political solidarity movement. After the ending of apartheid, though, the organisation took up more traditional development aid projects in several African countries.
It supports the mobilisation of people-driven movements in Africa and their and fight for economic, democratic and social rights. The organisation now works within two main areas, namely capacity building and empowerment of grass-roots movements in Africa and political lobbying and campaigning in partnership with people and organisations that share its vision and values. The work is now focused on helping to improve the mobilisation and organisation of partners, so that they become included in the political and economic processes of their countries. More than 10 projects in Africa are currently active, covering areas like small-scale fisheries, health rights, land rights, democratic mobilisation, resistance against political violence, solidarity with Western Sahara, information work on suppressive policies in Swaziland, trade policies, privatisation of water, land-grabbing, etc.
The life of a Nordic AAM
(PP 19) What then were the characteristics of the popular, political, solidarity organisations? Patrick Mac Manus, former chairperson of the Danish Anti-Apartheid Movement, has stated that LSA, 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 requests to the government about a change of policy. 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.
Even if there was broad sympathy for actions, which aimed to discredit any kind of support to the illegitimate South African regime, it was the clear desire of the LSA 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, together with a possible 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 sometimes put the leadership in the role of a social educator. 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:
“We do not live in Soweto; we do not die in El Salvador. Every denial of this difference will lead to escapism and sectarianism”.
Also in their precise aims and means, solidarity organisations had to be particular. In the case of LSA in Denmark, undisciplined protests in 1989, including a break-in at the South African Embassy, 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 deploy severe laws of internal security, which could give up to six years of prison. The public debate over this event has parallels to more current discussions on “war against terrorism,” as the ANC was then still labelled a terrorist organisation by the American government.
Danish AAM experiences
It could at times be difficult to win popular understanding, for instance when contributions that were intended for South Africa’s struggling people were used to pay for the local ANC office’s ambition to claim a status, which was equivalent to the diplomatic missions of nation states. It was a source of frustration to witness how the ANC-representation bought very expensive furniture by means of donations. The travels of the representatives were financed through grants from Danish unions. As the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) also established a mission, it became even harder for LSA to find financing for the organisations own campaigns, because the unions chose to prioritise support for office and staff of the ANC and SACTU before funding domestic campaign work.
Also in Denmark, the popular identification with the ANC and SWAPO in Namibia came to the test, as in 1988-1989 it became clear that in some of the ANC/SWAPO camps in Angola and Zambia outrageous abuse on human rights had occurred. If the identification with the ANC at that time had been without reservations, LSA would have been forced to choose between denial and abandonment. Already at that time, LSA’s magazine, Amandla, warned that narrow-minded devotion to the ANC could lead to the identification with a new, less than perfect state.
In mid-1990, the ANC office in Denmark ended its dependence on LSA activists and contributions from left-wing organisations, as the Social Democrats and their support organisation, Arbejderbevægelsens Internationale Forum, began providing direct contributions to the activities of the Office. The ANC office stopped to see LSA as its primary Danish relation, but it continued to express its expectation that LSA and later Africa Contact had to loyally back-up the ANC-line and after 1994, ANC-government policy.
When President Mandela visited Denmark in 1999, LSA (by then renamed South Africa Contact, SAK) wanted to organise a peaceful protest against the western policy that required the new South Africa to continue to pay interest and principal on the debt created by the old regime to uphold apartheid. This action was actively counteracted by the South African ambassador, who had earlier, in the 1980s, been the ANC representative, through prolonged and close contact with several leading SAK-members. This behaviour led to a clearer identification with non-governmental organisations campaigning for democracy and social equality. The long-standing loyalty to the ANC thus translated into a more flexible, daily cooperation with non-governmental organisations in Southern Africa struggling for access to medicine, water, and the European market.
Outcomes of freedom struggle and international solidarity
(PP 20) Through 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, polarisation has not changed significantly either, even if a black elite has been fostered, and the black middle class continues to grow. With BNP growth rates only at a few per cent, the economy still shows serious lacunas. Unemployment has not fallen significantly, the interest for direct investment is modest, and the currency has been weakened incessantly.
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. Nevertheless, everybody seems to assume that South Africa will be able to play an important and respected role in the international community and in Africa in the future.
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, especially in the first 5-10 years after 1994, official interest in the matters of the new South Africa from the surrounding world 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 succeeded in establishing their respective traditions/histories of support by following up the popular, political solidarity with a continued, more official, 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 even better for the donor countries. A kind of Janus Head of solidarity, one could say.
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 unjust 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 in relation to the protection of its own import-sensitive areas.
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 built on thorough analyse work in their respective foreign ministries and areas 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, together with pilot projects for land reforms, education, and support to small black businesses.
(PP 21) It was criticised from the start, however, that support of civil society organisations and efforts for equalising social gaps was too vague and casual. Social disparity in South Africa still corresponds rather precisely to race lines and without support for very solid redistribution policies, all forms of socio-economic, differential treatment and subsequent 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 for the former underground black press, so that these forces could have continued their social pressure and build-up of black consciousness. South Africa’s main problem is not that the country is very poor, but that the welfare is still 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 direct invitation to Nordic companies’ involvement with aid funds. Extensive resources were allocated to trades and industries, less to preparations for land reforms. Despite politically 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 in reality “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 increasingly became mixed with professional considerations concerning career positions and prestige.
(PP 22) 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 anonymous structural violence or blind 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 some western governments might even have an interest in confirming their superiority by promoting solutions impossible for the partner country to effectuate.
The Nordic governments’ competitive use of solidarity history
(PP 23) Since the mid-1960s, the Nordic countries have, parallel to the expansion of development aid, built a solid tradition for research in third world issues. Enclaves of progressive Africa research have appeared at many different institutes and centres 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 - except for a short period of time, namely from when the breakdown of apartheid became an obvious perspective for everybody and until 10 years later, when South Africa was again regarded as “just another country”.
Gradually, however, quite a lot of scattered attempts to investigate motive powers and organisational forms of solidarity have appeared, and despite the recognition 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 for this field of research.
A special concern regarding the writing of solidarity history has been the question of the co-operation between Nordic institutions in the area of African Studies. The cooperation between the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden (NAI) and Danish institutions, for instance, has not always been unproblematic, and it is an ungrateful task to map that kind of tensions that involves both differing foreign policy interests and competition in academia. 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.
One reason could be that 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 right-liberal Danish government have some responsibility for escalating this development.
A more specific problem lies in the fact that NAI, in contrast to most other shared research institutions, were not situated under the Nordic Council, but have resided more directly under a foreign ministry agreement that have secured a Swedish financial and political dominance. In the area of policymaking activities, NAI has always been a Swedish more than a genuine Nordic institution. Sadly enough, it would, on the other hand, not have had such a high profile and generous funding over the years, had it been purely a research institution. The result has been a Danish withdrawal from the institute, a move to smaller building, and the former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt’s demand for more policy making.
In a situation where the transitional aid for Southern Africa appears to be rather unambitious, a strategy where the proud traditions of earlier times are used to supply the image of donor countries might be to the advantage of these countries.
In the case of solidarity history, it has shown possible to build the legend, that the anti-apartheid support of the Nordic countries was especially protracted, loyal, and heroic. However, despite that 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 champions regarding sanctions policies against the apartheid regime. A change of policy that domestic business opposed to the end. The later, official writing of this history has, in combination with the transitional aid, shown to be an asset for Nordic export industries.
For traders of Nordic products, South Africa has the advantage compared to many other countries in the South that approximately 20 per cent of the population have the same patterns of demand as middle class Europeans, 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 repeatedly visited South Africa to discuss combinations of aid and export. Sometimes even former de facto enemies of the freedom struggle have been 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, former state President Thabo Mbeki gave his sincere thanks to the Chief Executive Officer of the biggest Danish industrialist, AP Møller-Maersk, Jess Søderberg, 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 .... 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. In the crucial years of struggle of the mid-1980s, Maersk was actually the largest transporter of oil to South Africa.
One Danish export attempt that did not succeed despite the efforts of Crown Prince Frederik (who is actually a naval officer, fully trained in the special forces, Frømandskorpset, the Danish version of Navy Seals) was aimed at selling Danish corvettes in hard competition with other countries (Maersk, by the way, then owned one of the largest Danish shipyards, which was later disposed of). 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 reduction. Economic promises in the shape of extensive, but unreliable, counter purchases spoke for the deal. So did the history of solidarity.
It can of course be argued that it is completely legitimate and natural that the Nordic countries should try to increase their exports to Southern Africa (including weapons, even if all experience shows that dealing arms corrupts more than average). The problem for me arises when the sales argument consists of a distorted interpretation of history.
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 may seem trivial, others may 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, 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.
From 2013 ordinary development aid are officially faced out due to South Africa’s GNP-level.
(PP 24) 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 had 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 seriously.
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, from the beginning, there 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 archival 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, was clearly expressed at the programme’s conference at Robben Island.
In October 2003, the results of the project were profiled 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 too.
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. This 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.
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 the AAM in 1961 and as Minister of Overseas Development in Harold Wilson’s government from 1964, she embodied the treads between solidarity movement and Labour government. At this conference, also Gus Macdonald, Minister of Trade and Industry, and the first editor of Anti-Apartheid News, together with Lord Hughes of Woodside, symbolised the links between AAM and the established political system.
At the 2004 Durban-conference, Ten Years of Freedom, this discussion was brought up again.
In Sweden, the archival project, liberation.se, together with a whole range of NGO-history writings, received generous funding, and a workshop in South Africa ended the joint Nordic project.
Even if it is now more than twenty years since liberation, there is little doubt that history of solidarity will be used intensively also in the future. It may be a good idea for Danish exporters discretely to sponsor Danish solidarity history from now on.
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 what extent did Nordic anti-colonialism rest on the anticipation that small, export-oriented, non-colonialist states could gain from the breakaways of new nation states from former colonial powers and apartheid supporter countries? More disbelieving popular voices may claim that Nordic politicians from the late 1980s needed to make friends with possible new leaders, but that these friendships for a long time were estimated as less important than trade, profitable for domestic companies. And that this implies a cynical, de facto support of apartheid South Africa.
An overwhelming majority of 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 of colonialism, when the whole world seems to have been supporting the struggle all the time.
The fact is that the international community, including the Nordic countries, did not give Lutuli, Tambo, 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.
(PP 28, PP 29) All this 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, may be out-dated simply because 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 may indicate that the potentials for autonomous nation state advance might have reached its limits.
Global structures seem to be in the foreground as a condition for any kind of development, and without democratic reforms of these structures, most national reform attempts seem to be without lasting perspective. Therefore, the solidarity movement of today must be 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”.