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Friday, November 30, 2012

AAM: A history of the movement in Britain


David Kitson with Amandla and Norma, in this "Occupy South Africa House" 
                  action of the City of  London Anti-Apartheid Group, 1984

Anti-Apartheid: a studystudy in opportunism
Anti-Apartheid. A history of the movement in Britain. A study in pressure group politics.

Roger Fieldhouse. The Merlin Press,
ISBN 085036549X, 2005, 546pp, £20

Fieldhouse recounts: on 1 January 1960 a special Cabinet Committee chaired by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and attended by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (the Earl of Home), the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Ian Macleod), the President of the Board of Trade (Reginald Maudling), the Minister of Labour (Edward Heath), met to discuss the newly-formed British Boycott Movement which had declared its intention to build a consumer boycott of South African goods. Despite the fact that the Labour Party and TUC had publicly announced their support, the Tory government was reassured to hear from Heath that the TUC had privately told him that they had no intention of calling for industrial action. On this basis the Committee concluded that the campaign posed no real threat. The TUC’s assurance and a private word in Lord Home’s ear from one of the campaign’s founders led the government to tell the South Africans that the boycott was ‘no more than an irresponsible political manoeuvre’.

Already, in 1960, this infant Anti-Apartheid Movement had sealed its alliance with the British labour aristocracy and set the tone of the campaign for the next 30 years: British imperialism’s boat would not be rocked.

Roger Fieldhouse has written an exhaustive, and exhausting, account of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), examining its archives, interviewing some of its officers and activists, reviewing its relationships with the liberation movements, political parties and the British government. The book examines the minutiae of letter-writing, meetings held with ministers, junior ministers, civil servants over more than 30 years. It ends up as an apologia for a movement that prided itself on its moral, liberal stance, but in practice betrayed its cause, censored and alienated its supporters and covered up for the world’s most ardent apartheid prop – British imperialism.

There is no sense in this book of the life and death struggle that was going on in South Africa: the tragedy of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the heroism of Soweto school students in 1976, the brutality of Steve Biko’s murder or the militancy of the new black trade unions and the township struggles of the 1980s which were, eventually, instrumental in the defeat of apartheid. Perhaps this is appropriate for a book about the British AAM. It was not the necessities or urgencies of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa that dominated the AAM’s activities, but its allegiance to the Labour Party in Britain which totally circumscribed its conduct. It would not even commit itself to the anti-racist struggle in Britain for fear of alienating its ‘broad church’. Anything with life had to be smothered.

In 1963, speaking on an AAM platform in Trafalgar Square, Harold Wilson promised to end the arms trade with South Africa: ‘How can he [Macmillan] speak of the wind of change and supply arms to those who are brutally resisting change?’ Labour won the general election in 1964, and Wilson found no difficulty in continuing both trade and the ‘bloody traffic’ of weapons to the apartheid regime. Labour Ministers like Barbara Castle and David Ennals had been in the AAM leadership, only to ditch all pretence of action when in power. By 1976, with the next Labour government in power, Britain was South Africa’s biggest export market with 23% of apartheid’s exports coming to the UK. It was not just that successive Labour governments failed to act against apartheid, they invariably played an active role in supporting the regime. On every possible occasion when a vote arose at the UN either proposing sanctions against South Africa or opposing its illegal occupation of Namibia, the British government, Labour or Tory, used its power of veto.

When the Tories were in power, the AAM made great efforts to influence the government. During the Thatcher years their correspondence was answered by under-secretaries and their representations met with studied insults.

Did any of this cause the AAM to review its role? Not a bit. It even performed somersaults to keep its uncritical fellow travellers in the Communist Party of Great Britain off its platforms in order not to offend its Labour Party allies. It would happily welcome any renegade Tory or Labour MP regardless of their parties’ support for apartheid (see pp216ff). Plus ça change: the so-called Stop the War campaign of today does very little to stop the war in Iraq but is committed to giving any Parliamentarian a voice. What neither the AAM nor today’s Stop the War campaign will ever do is really challenge British imperialism

Fieldhouse argues that Thatcher was opposed to apartheid but simply disagreed on the question of how best to defeat it. It takes a curious sort of political tunnel-vision to suggest that Thatcher’s constructive engagement policy was anything other than a ploy to continue British imperialism’s support for the apartheid regime. She had proclaimed, after the 1985 Commonwealth Summit in Nassau, that she had conceded only a ‘tiny little bit’ to pressure from the Commonwealth and argued that sanctions would harm the black majority. At the time Britain headed the league table of foreign investors in South Africa, with £12 billion invested. Winnie Mandela responded in the only fashion possible: ‘We regard it as complete racism that she should think for us’. It is a great pity that Professor Fieldhouse and sections of the AAM did not share this view.

Fieldhouse does not hesitate to dish dirt on behalf of the AAM. For ten years from 1982 the RCG was centrally involved in City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (City AA) which built a vibrant campaign against apartheid, centred on protests outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square. City AA directly involved hundreds of young people, of all backgrounds, races and creeds in solidarity with the liberation struggle in South Africa. It held two non-stop pickets of the embassy (one lasting 86 days, another lasting almost four years) calling for the release of all political prisoners in apartheid gaols. It held regular protests, mobilised the support of all sections of society (including MPs and councillors), but made no concessions to British imperialism whatsoever. It operated in a completely democratic fashion: all participating organisations and individuals were free to speak on its platforms; all participants could distribute and sell literature; all its members were encouraged to attend and participate in its meetings which were held weekly. It gave active support to all the liberation movements without distinction: the African National Congress (ANC), Pan-Africanist Congress, Black Consciousness Movement, and indeed any forces fighting apartheid.

When City AA was started by myself, Norma Kitson, wife of South African political prisoner David Kitson, and their children Steven and Amandla, the work of the AAM in London was moribund. Norma was inspirational in this work. She had spent the previous decade trying to get something done for the prisoners and detainees. She had done the rounds of lobbying David Owen, then Labour Foreign Secretary, and being fobbed off with promises that were never kept. She was determined to build a local AAM group that was really active in giving solidarity to the struggle. Together with other RCG members, we mobilised and worked to build events in London.

Norma was determined to achieve change for the prisoners, and as an ANC member she was given permission to hold a non-stop picket of the South African Embassy demanding that the white political prisoners in Pretoria Central gaol be moved out of Death Row (where they were held following an ANC prisoner escape) to better conditions. The prisoners were segregated by race and David Kitson was one of these prisoners. Black political prisoners were mostly kept on Robben Island. Before the picket had even begun the AAM was circulating rumours that Norma was only acting in solidarity with white prisoners – a ludicrous accusation. This was the AAM that could not generate enough enthusiasm to hold a London committee meeting. Norma did more to educate thousands of young people about the realities of life under apartheid, the names of all the prisoners and the history of the liberation struggle, than any of the AAM’s paper pushers and timekeepers ever did. The picket was successful: after 86 days and nights, the prisoners were moved. But the AAM’s hostility to City AA had only just begun.

Fieldhouse gives a garbled account of the events that followed which resulted in City AA’s
disaffiliation, nodding only occasionally in the direction of the truth, that City AA built a campaign involving thousands, and built a worldwide reputation through its four-year-long non-stop picket. Fieldhouse accuses the RCG of using ‘Trotskyist entry tactics’ – the sort of ignorant abuse that the AAM dished out. The RCG is not Trotskyist and was openly and legitimately affiliated to the AAM.

Fieldhouse’s account is also mealy-mouthed. When David Kitson was released from gaol after serving his 20 year sentence, the ANC tried to force him to condemn Norma and City AA. He is an honest man and he refused. As a result his ANC membership was suspended (along with Norma’s) and the funding for his job at Ruskin College – his only income after 20 years in prison – was withdrawn by the trade union TASS (led by Ken Gill of the CPGB). Fieldhouse uses these events to illustrate ‘the symbiotic relationship’ between the AAM, the ANC and a sympathetic British trade union. He describes the affair as ‘unedifying’, when any honest person would be revolted by the double-dealing, dishonesty and treachery that underpinned the whole affair.

Any normal standards of journalism or academic history would demand that, before accusations are made in print, some attempt be made to check the truth or investigate the standpoint of the accused. Fieldhouse didn’t bother. No one associated with the RCG or City AA was interviewed before Fieldhouse assembled his ‘facts’. This is how the lies of the past are exhumed and given the badge of history. Fieldhouse accuses City AA of assaulting a SWAPO representative at an AAM AGM when the only people assaulted were City AA members. City AA is accused of being violent, when it was nothing of the sort. He even goes so far as to dredge up a forged press statement attacking SWAPO in 1989, suggesting it was issued in revenge against SWAPO. The press statement was investigated at the time by City AA and a Guardian journalist and traced back to the South African Embassy. Fieldhouse would not know this: he didn’t ask.

Why was it so important for the AAM and ANC to undermine City AA? Why were they so afraid of supporting the anti-racist struggle in Britain? Why were they opposed to direct action? Why did they allow the Labour Party to pretend it was anti-apartheid, when it was the opposite?

One might be tempted to think it doesn’t matter; it is all water under the bridge. But there are two very good reasons why it does matter. Firstly, South Africa has achieved a bourgeois revolution: the black majority have the vote. But the ANC government stopped there. The Freedom Charter was ditched and the mass movement demobilised as soon as the ANC was elected. The result, 10 years on, is that the working class and oppressed still live in squalid squatter camps and townships on the edges of cities, the rural poor languish without land, the working class toils while the black and white elites protect their privileges in gated communities behind high fences. Millions have been consigned to death by the AIDS pandemic, unchecked because of the prejudices of Thabo Mbeki. The South African Communist Party plays lickspittle and settles its comfortable bum in the back seat of bourgeois rule. This is the measure of what the ANC and the AAM have achieved. Because of movements like the AAM, the Labour Party and its wealth of hacks remain in place to administer British imperialism and betray the working class in the 21st century, time and again. Because of the AAM, we know what opportunism looks like.

The second reason why this history is important is that we saw the power of the working class in Soweto in 1976 and in the uprisings of the 1980s. In our own way, fighting apartheid in City of London Anti-Apartheid Group we learned the lessons of struggle. It is in our consciousness for the future when the working class is conscious of its destiny again. We know what revolution can look like. Fieldhouse can have the AAM, we prefer life.

Carol Brickley, formerly convenor of
City of London Anti-Apartheid Group

Norma Kitson commemorated in this Sierra Leone stamp: Born 1933; died 2002

The AAM and blacks in the British backyard

     Anti-Apartheid Activism in Britain: The AAM, the BEM/BSC and the wider concerns of the Black community regarding anti-apartheid activism in Britain

Elizabeth Williams 
Birkbeck College, University of London

In the written accounts of the origins of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement thus far, we have become familiar with its origins emanating from the initial boycott of South African goods, and in particular the indelible part played by South African exiles in shaping and directing the organisation from the late 1950s onwards. However the early influence of Africans and African-Caribbeans living and studying in Britain upon the precursor to the AAM has not yet been adequately recorded.

The AAM came out of the Boycott Movement set up in the late 1950s, this itself sprang from the work of the Committee of African Organisations, set up by Africans students residing in the UK.1

Research on the extensive reach of the work of the CAO is still very much in progress.2 The essential facts are as follows: The CAO was formed in March 1958 in London and was a union of 13 ‘constituent bodies.’3 The stated six objectives of the CAO were:
  • To work with, and promote the aims of the All-African Peoples Conference, as well as the Independent African States and to spread among Africans the spirit of Pan-Africanism
  • To work with all constituent organisations and to ensure the fullest possible cooperation and solidarity on issues affecting the Continent of Africa, or any particular country.
  • To provide an all-African forum for the discussions of matters affecting Africa.
  • To cooperate with other organisations which support the above aims and help to keep the conscience of the world alive to the problems affecting Africa.
  • To work with and provide facilities for, African leaders who visit the UK for purposes of furthering the struggle against colonialism and imperialism.
  • To assist the struggle of our people for freedom liberty, equality and national independence.4
However Adi has noted that the only published account of the founding of this organisation is provided by one of the early leaders, Ghanaian Kwesi Armah, which expresses little about the circumstances that led to its founding or those who were responsible.5 However in material published by the CAO on the occasion of its first congress in 1965 it noted that the organisation was formed:

As a result of the deep desire among Africans in Britain to have a uniting body, which would voice out their opinion on African and world events. The immediate cause of its formation was the passing of the racialist discriminatory Franchise Bill by the white-dominated Federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia, which was awaiting the approval of the British government. From the beginning, the CAO was an Anti-imperialist and Anti-colonialist Students and Worker’s Movement. The Movement was effectively organised in this country to contribute to the struggle for National Independence and Unity.6

The first headquarters of the CAO was at Warrington Crescent, the site of one of WASU’s hostels in London. By November 1958 the CAO had established its own headquarters in Gower Street in central London, in premises also used as a surgery by Dr David Pitt who would later become Lord Pitt of Hampstead, one of only three peers of West-Indian origin to sit in the House of Lords in the twentieth century.7 The CAO became actively involved in anti-colonial battles of the time as well as campaigning against the injustices surrounding racially motivated crimes and issues of the period.8 Notably its representatives formed part of a delegation that met with the Home Secretary in May 1959 calling for more government action and enquiry into racism by a Select Committee and suggested more active recruitment of black constables into the police force.

The CAO and the Boycott Campaign

In reaching the decision to launch a boycott campaign to support of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the CAO was influenced by the ANC’s spring conference in South Africa during 1959 calling for an international economic boycott of South African produced goods.9 The decision of the All-African People’s Conference held in Accra Ghana December 1958, calling on independent African countries to impose economic sanctions against South Africa, may have also played a part in influencing the CAO to launch its boycott.11 It launched its boycott sub-committee in May 1959, the chairman was Femi Okunnu.11 Other members included representatives from African student unions based in Britain, and Claudia Jones of the West Indian Gazette and Rosalyn Ainslie and Steve Naidoo from the South African Freedom Association. With the exception of Claudia Jones all the members of the sub-committee were delegates of CAO’s constituent organisations and it held its meetings at the CAO headquarters at 200 Gower Street. The sub-committee worked closely with Tennyson Makiwane and with leading members of the CAO-Alao Bashorun and Denis Phombeah. In writing letters to potential supporters to join and organise the campaign, Bashorun explained:

The CAO has been asked by the South African National Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Association and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, to launch a boycott of all South African goods in this country, in an attempt to force the Nationalist Government of South Africa to abandon its policy of racial discrimination and segregation. 12

The CAO called a press conference on 24 June 1959 to maximise publicity for the boycott campaign, the speakers were Kenyama Chiume and Tennyson Makiwane followed by a 24hour vigil outside South Africa House. The 26 June the CAO held a public meeting in Holborn Hall London calling for the boycott of fruit, cigarettes and imported goods from South Africa.13 It was agreed to boycott all South Africa goods sold in the UK as well as protesting in shops that sold the goods. In following days shopping centres were picketed. Leaflets issued by the CAO encouraged shoppers to purchase Caribbean, European, and Australian goods rather than South Africa produce.14 In July 1959 the CAO held in conjunction with the Finchley Labour Party, Pickets in North London as well as in St Pancras, Hampstead and Brixton. It encouraged other organisations to set up their own protests and courted the support of trade councils and local Labour Party branches. Support was widespread and demand for the ‘Boycott Slave Driver’s Goods’ leaflet was so high the CAO began asking supporters for donations to finance the cost of printing larger numbers.15 An important supporter was the Movement for Colonial Freedom which had contacts and local branches throughout the country, and the Liberal Party. Adi has noted however that the campaign brought problems, such as the constant demands for speakers and the increasing demand for more leaflets. A plan to give prominence to South African brand names in 1959 produced the problem of possible litigation, and printers refused to print. Criticism had to be fended off from the national press and various trade organisations. By time of the a sub-committee meeting at the end of July 1959, it was noted that after the initial impact of the campaign the CAO had not been able to mobilise enough forces to broaden and intensify the campaign sufficiently. It was decided to work harder and gain the support of more ‘eminent sponsors’ as well as broadening the campaign nationally and internationally.

Restructuring of the Committee in September 1959 brought a new name; the South African Boycott Committee and new officers.16 Denis Phoembeah chaired the meetings, Rosalyn Ainslie of the SAFA, was now secretary, Vella Pillay of the SA Indian Congress now would act as treasurer. Tennyson Makiwane recruited Patrick van Rensburg of the SA Liberal Party, who became Director of what was now the Boycott Movement Campaign by the end of November 1959. Adi has commented that at this juncture:

Most of those involved were exiled South Africans and although CAO chaired the committee it was clear that it began to play less of a leading role.17

Similarly Gurney notes:

It was becoming clear that if the campaign was to fulfil its potential, the Committee needed a broader base with more formal representation from a wider range of British-based organisations…..the Committee was very concerned to achieve the correct balance between South African and British involvement…this arrangement of personnel linked satisfactorily South African and English participation.18

It was fitting that just as the BMC was about to reconstitute itself as the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the front page of its publication should acknowledged that:

…the Movement was first launched by the CAO, who transmitted an appeal from South Africa in June 1959.19

The BMC renamed itself the Anti-Apartheid Co-ordinating Committee, then the Anti-apartheid Committee and finally the Anti-Apartheid Movement in March 1960 just before the Sharpeville massacre galvanized anti-apartheid activism. This tragedy transformed the nature and direction of the future of anti-apartheid activism in Britain. Although Gurney has shown anti-apartheid activity had already been transformed by the work of the CAO and the boycott movement, in particular during the boycott month-March 1960.

However after Sharpeville the CAO and MCF and the London Boycott Committee called a protest demonstration in London which saw thousands marching from Hyde Park to SA House. The CAO sent out its own press releases condemning the massacre and the banning of the ANC to press agencies worldwide as well as to international leaders.

In the aftermath of the Sharpeville tragedy the CAO continued to engage in activities to support the struggle in South Africa. June 1960 saw it organise a packed meeting to mark South African Freedom Day. In September alongside the AAM and MCF, and the African Bureau and Christian Action it organised and took part in a meeting of 700 in Caxton Hall to present the newly created ‘South Africa United Front’, which included the ANC, PAC, SAIC, SWANC, with speakers including Tambo, and Dadoo further calls were made to boycott SA produce.20 Again in 1964 the CAO now renamed the Council of African Organisations participated with the AAM, ANC and the Committee of Afro-Asian and Caribbean Organisations to co-ordinate a hunger strike against apartheid. This was part of a worldwide campaign for the release of political prisoners in South Africa. However it was the AAM that would emerge as the spearhead for anti-apartheid activity from the 1960s.

In referring to the CAO and its early influence upon the Boycott Movement that evolved into the AAM, I wished to demonstrate that there was concern and active commitment from Africans and people of African descent living in Britain over the internal affairs of South Africa. This early commitment predated what would emerge as the mass movement of the anti-apartheid coalition of forces in Britain, of which the AAM would emerge as the most effective-organisationally-champion .
The subsequent ‘invisibility’ of black membership of the AAM and the lack of black officers within its main structures did not mean that black British concern was not there. Nor that the AAM did not recognise this apparent disjuncture and did not seek to remedy this state of affairs. Writing about Anti-Apartheid activism in the late 1970s one historian in reference to the apparent apathetic nature of black support commented that:

In the UK, the resident blacks are essentially immigrants, outsiders in the social system. This group has no immediate revolutionary expectation….the African liberation leadership while revolutionary is necessarily more concerned with African than with English society. There is little sense of unity of common cause between the two groups.21

This comment fails to acknowledge the long historic tradition of the active engagement and interaction between continental Africans, African-Americans and African-Caribbeans and other members of the former British colonies while residing in Britain.22 Among the politically conscious in the black community the unfolding events in South Africa engendered a unique empathetic understanding of the struggle against the Apartheid regime, an understanding often not shared by the majority white population. A cursory glance at the contemporary West Indian papers of the day in particular The Caribbean Times and The West Indian Gazette is evident of this.23 Sensitivity to what was felt to be unfair treatment and the attempt to draw parallels with South Africa, can be seen in the reaction to the Government’s immigration policy of upholding the deportation of illegal immigrants in one editorial in the West Indian World:

…….our feeling of security has been shattered….before we walked the streets of this country as free citizens, entitled to the protection of the law, like anyone else. It never occurred to any of us that we will be stopped by an official policeman….like the blacks of South Africa….[and]...have to produce the British version of the pass-the passport.24

Even before the significant migrations of West Indians to Britain in the post war era, black intellectuals and political activists met in London to discuss the treatment of colonial peoples within the British Empire, they expressed their concern over the deteriorating conditions of Africans, Asians and Coloured in South Africa. Though this may not have translated into political action with concrete gains, the interest was sufficiently strong for invitations to be sent to invite speakers from South Africa during the series of Pan-African Congresses that started in 1900 and continued throughout the twentieth century. There were written declarations of support for Southern Africans struggling under discriminatory laws and the rest of Africa still under colonialism that showed an acute understanding of the interconnectivity of the politics of race and racism across national boundaries. Declarations of intent and protest to HMG often followed.

The Pan-African congresses brought together Africans and African-Caribbean and Asian representatives. Sol Plaatje attended the Pan-African Conferences in Paris and London in 1919 and 1921. At the 1945 conference in London under a session chaired by WEB Du Bois, Peter Abrahams and Marko Hlubi both members of the ANC spoke while Professor DDT Jabavu sent greetings from himself and the President of the ANC at the time Dr A.B. Xuma. Jabavu and his wife tried to obtain passports to attend but were denied these by the authorities. This 5th Pan-African Congress moved a resolution regarding South Africa, it stated that in:

Representing millions of Africans and peoples of African descent throughout the world, condemns with all its power the policy towards Africans and other non-Europeans carried out by the Union of SA which, although representing itself abroad as a democracy with a system of parliamentary government, manifests essentially the same characteristics as Fascism….this Congress demands for the non-European citizens of South Africa the immediate practical application of…..fundamental democratic rights…it pledges itself to work unceasingly with and on behalf of its non-European brothers in South African until they achieve the status of freedom and human dignity. This Congress regards the struggle of our brothers in South Africa as an integral part of the common struggle for national liberation throughout Africa. 25

In the mid 1950s, Sir Learie Constantine more commonly known as one of the greatest of West-Indian test cricketers, wrote in detail about the racial politics of the day in Britain, America, the West Indies or Africa.26 He notes:

I am afraid it is hard for anyone of my colour to write dispassionately about what is happening in South Africa today….I will begin by listing some factual reports from recent South African affairs and making no comment upon them.27

However later he allows himself the following polemic:

Coloured nations gaining power and knowledge elsewhere will not for ever sit idly by watching the progressive degradation without end that coloured people in Africa now suffer. They will intervene, first (as now) by protest, certainly later by action. For there is something that all coloured nations share-a dislike of white Government. It could be a dangerous common factor one day….the only final solution in South Africa, to be reached necessarily by progressive steps, is a condition of exact equality between all colours. They must be equal in law, in labour, in pay, in opportunity, in political control, in education and in respect. Even in mutual respect. If white people really believed themselves superior to black ones, they would not fear such a state, since then their own vaunted mental superiority would keep them socially and economically at the top. The fact is that they know that their claimed superiority will not stand the test of equal opportunity and cannot be sustained save by bayonets…..I see no eventual objection to a South African Parliament mainly composed of coloured members representing the coloured majority among the population. There is no need to deny the whites representation of their own colour, as they deny the blacks. I see no reason against a Negro Prime Minister there. If Democracy means the rule of the people by the people, then South Africa has no other future-but the result can either be achieved by tragedy and violence or by wisdom and law.28

However despite the early work of the COA, and the emergence of the AAM black faces were notable in their absence from AAM sponsored public events at least until the Cricket and Rugby tours of the nineteen seventies and later on for the significant turnout of black people at the anti-Botha demonstrations in 1984 when he came to Britain. How does one account for the apparent irony of the British AAM fighting to support the struggle to end racism in South Africa while the domestic black community fighting their own battles of race discrimination in British society and had a deep empathy with the anti-apartheid struggle, were noticeable by their low turnout to AAM sponsored events? As current research is still unfolding, the complexities of black activist involvement with anti-racist groups and their politics of anti-racism still needs to be examined thoroughly. As the author continues to examine black involvement in anti-apartheid activism through interviews with the relevant participants, and examine the available archives and materials certain considerations are emerging.

Firstly, it is clear when that the apparent low black turnout at AAM sponsored events during the nineteen seventies and eighties-with a few exceptions-was not in itself an indication of apathy on the part of members of the Black community. There has always been an interest and concern about the fate of Africans in South Africa among the black community in Britain. They felt a visceral sympathy with peoples that from their vantage point seemed to be experiencing a not too dissimilar-albeit with its own peculiarities-form of racism. While ‘Kith and Kin’ is a term often used for the empathy white Britons may feel for their compatriots settled elsewhere in the world, Blacks in Britain despite the long trajectory of separation from the African continent and the cultural, linguistic and religious differences, felt a distinct empathy with people of colour fighting racism and repression elsewhere.29

Representing those who became politically conscious of the interconnections of race across national boundaries, one politician describes it thus:

…emotionally….we always felt that whatever gains we made as black people elsewhere in Africa, or indeed in the wider diaspora in terms of our freedom, in terms of our economic advancement, in terms of our political emancipation, it all counted for nothing so long as the apartheid regime was in place in SA. Because the suffering of black people in SA, and the fact that for so long the Apartheid regime got away with it, with the active collision and connivance of governments in the West, that reduced our humanity. That’s why "Brent-South today, Soweto tomorrow…….. It was to remind everybody there who at that moment of triumph for black people and for white people who cared about the creation of a multi-racial democracy in Britain, was a reminder to them that that counted for absolutely nothing as long as SA remained under the heel of the apartheid regime.30

Furthermore one must recognise the depth of the domestic struggles against racism in Britain unfolding from the second half of the nineteen seventies. Black youth in particular could identify Ruth Mompati’s comments, and make comparison with their own experience in the urban landscape of Britain. Mompati’s observation relating to life under apartheid:

In South Africa you do not join politics, politics joins you…because your surroundings is oppressive, people are suppressed, oppressed, brutalised and this is all in the time you grow up angry-at every turn.31

Many young blacks by the 1980s did not make academic distinctions between the racism of apartheid in South Africa and the racial battles they were facing in the cities of Britain. Linton Kwesi Johnson comments:

….. black people, felt very emotional about South Africa. That was one of the things that most black people felt strongly about. And for people involved, activists involved in the black movement in this country, there was a sense that no matter what, how much progress we make in our own struggles here, as long as the apartheid system existed in SA black people could not see themselves anywhere in the world as being really free.32

Johnson is symbolic of those black youth that came of age politically during the late 1970s and the 1980s through their struggles against racial discrimination and clashes with the police. His poetry skilful articulates the experiences of those on the front-line of this struggle. Referring to the issue of South Africa he notes:

The issue of South Africa did not politicise me in the 1980s I was politicised already. I was as a youngster involved in the Black Panther Movement [in Britain]. The Black Panther Movement was an organization founded in the late 1960s. And lasted until the early 1970s, it was an organization fighting for black rights in this country. In the Black Parents Movement were immersed in anti-colonial politics so therefore we were involved and had solidarity with all the anti-colonial struggles going on, including the anti-colonial struggle in South Africa and the struggle against Apartheid. We supported the anti-colonial struggle in Angola for independence against the Portuguese, Mozambique, Guinea and other places. So the question of South Africa and Apartheid was always there as one of the main issues that black people were focusing on or people politically involved were focusing upon at that time.33

Similarly Professor Stuart Hall symbolises those black activists and intellectuals who were not only grappling with the domestic anti-racist politics of the 1970s and 1980s but also had an eye with the wider international struggles against racial injustice. Hall comments:

South Africa was central to our political concerns from the 1960s. [Especially] from Soweto onwards. South Africa became a long running problem from the late 60s onwards… there were people that made those connections, there were people who were alive to the Southern Africa situation and who were activists…. people who were black intellectuals and political activists … For people like me it is partly about race and partly about politics. Partly about the oppression about people anywhere, part of one’s general sympathy with oppressed peoples struggling for their freedom and liberty.34

One historian has argued that though one should not over exaggerate the parallels that may have been made between the clashes that occurred between black youth and white policeman during the latter part of the 1970s and during the 1980s in South Africa and Britain, nevertheless:
In the eighties activists in the front line have shown a…..identification with the black struggle in South Africa…..the connections between black oppression in South Africa and inner-city Britain should not be romanticised-the rule of apartheid is a different order of oppression altogether than the racism within a democracy, albeit an increasingly authoritarian democracy. Nevertheless….it cannot fail to be noticed that the government in Britain which has carried out policies to the detriment of inner-city areas is the same government which colludes with apartheid in southern Africa. These connections have produced a participation in traditional forms of political actions amongst sections of the black community which otherwise operate wholly outside the reference points of the left…[for example] ..the huge contingent on the demonstration against Botha’s visit to Britain, which was mobilised by the Mangrove Community Association.35

Lee Jasper an activist at the time later to become a leading light in the National Black Caucus notes:
Obviously the struggles that young black people were going through in the UK in the early 1980s, resonated with the struggles that were going on in the South African townships..we began to see pictures of black young people in tremendous struggles with South African police services, and that resonated with imagery that we’d already seen in the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, it resonated with our own experience of policing in largely poor black working class areas of Liverpool, Manchester, Handsworth, Brixton. And it seemed to have a universal metaphor for black experience; it was one that viscerally affected lots of black people in the country. Because it somehow transported us back to a time when legalised racial oppression was the daily lot of many more people in the world….so all of those [images]transformed the political consciousness about the world wide struggle against racism and racial oppression and apartheid within the minds of the UK black community to a tremendous extent.36

If the concern was a great as has been indicated above where were black activists directing their energies in reference to anti-apartheid activity if not directly through membership of the AAM? How and why did they choose to express their anti-apartheid solidarity in the way that they did? What were the perceived obstacles to joining the AAM? And what attempts were made by the AAM-who valued the support of empathetic allies in a largely hostile political environment-to redress the low level of black participation in the AAM?

Trying to answer these questions takes us into discussion about the nature and function of the AAM its priorities and objectives from the 1960s through to Nelson Mandela’s release. Moreover one cannot overlook the tremendous battles against racism and inequality that the black community have had to face from the time they set foot into post-war Britain.37

Professor Hall has noted that:

….What was happening on the ground was so overwhelming, happening at such a rapid pace, and intensified so much. Absolutely preoccupying people in their lived situations., it affected jobs, it affected where they could walk down the streets, it affected whether their kids would be recognised in schools, it affected whether you could drive a car and not be stopped by the police. People were bedded down in those daily struggles, they could also see that it connected with what was happening in race in Africa, and in what was happening with race in the US. But what they could do something about was right there in front of them….it is not a surprise that the overwhelming political energy went into the building of resistance at a local level, rather than the building of anti-apartheid politics.38

Considering the battle that many faced over housing, employment, unfair treatment over the education of their children, racially motivated crimes, conflict with the police, sections of the justice system, and the general hostility from the political establishment down to the man on the street engendered by the politically charged public debates on race and immigration, it is amazing that many still found time to involve themselves in anti-apartheid activities, although noticeably more so from the second half of the 1980s.

Also in trying to account for why blacks did not engage more visibly in AAM events during the 1970s and 1980s parallels can be drawn with the overall lack of political participation of ethnic minorities across the board in the British political arena during the years of their assimilation and consolidation of their communities while grappling with the shocks of their ‘shattered illusions’ regarding the lived reality of life in Britain.39 Though acknowledging the interest that was there, but trying to account for an obvious short fall of quantifiable interest at least in the AAM itself during the late 1970s and mid 1980s, Professor Stuart Hall has commented:

….the reason why it was so is because black people felt excluded from political organisations generally and they did not make distinctions necessarily with those involved in SA because they were largely run by South Africans and by sympathetic liberals and radical white people in exile….one of their preoccupations was that these sorts of people in the organisations that they ran, did not really make common cause with them, so why should they make common cause with the others?...there is a structural problem…it is similar to the problem between blacks and the Labour party. The great majority of blacks voted Labour. Were they involved in the Labour Party? No! They wouldn’t go to meetings, they wouldn’t pay up because when you said to the labour party "are you going to help us stop the police knocking our kids around in the streets of Brixton." They did not want to know. So they felt about many of these organisations that although they were apparently supporting causes that they would identify with generally speaking, they couldn’t get organisationally involved because that was the moment of building black organisation.40

However one veteran staff member41 of the AAM explains that the reason why the AAM did not engage more fully with the racial politics of black Britain was due to the fact that the key thinkers within the organisation felt that the Movement would become ‘distracted’ with British black politics, which would be counterproductive in the overall objective of the AAM to fight Apartheid and heighten awareness of its evils in Britain while exerting pressure on the British government and galvanizing the general public. Some individuals argued that British blacks and Africans in South Africa had nothing in common and did not share an affinity. For them the racism of South Africa and Britain were too dissimilar. Moreover it was apparent that the younger black activists had a leaning towards the PAC and its ideology regarding the participation of whites in the struggle, while it was acknowledged that the AAM was more biased towards the ANC’s with its more inclusive interpretation of the struggle for all South Africans-black and white, Asian, or so-called ‘coloured.’

However even though the AAM did not manage to make as deep a connection with the black community as it would have liked there were many instances before the setting up of the Black and Ethnic minority committee where the AAM worked with the Black community, and it was the involvement of the black community that tipped the balance at Lord’s during the 1970s. The West Indian Standing Conference became heavily involved during this time and rallied prominent blacks to the anti-apartheid cause.42

Similarly a former executive secretary of the AMM disagrees with any suggestion that the black community may have been apolitical regarding the African liberation struggle, although it is acknowledged that:

To many in the AAM, black domestic politics seemed volatile and could even possibly threaten the raison d’être of the AAM if they became too involved in its anti-racist struggles. While Black radicals for their part were critical of the AAM’s handling of their allies.43

It became necessary for the AAM to have a broad church of support however this often meant that the allies of the AAM presented an area of conflict with black activists. These allies were often the same individuals in conflict with black activists over domestic racial concerns. For example members holding prominent positions in the Labour Party were often strong anti-apartheid advocates while fundamentally opposed to the moves of radical black Labour activists to form a black section within the Labour Party. Therefore the power structure of the AAM may have been dominated by individuals that black activists felt were their enemies in the realm of domestic British politics.

Even after the Black and Ethnic Minority committee a sub-committee of the AAM became established precisely to form a bridge between the main body of the organisation and those black activists that wished to give their support there was still discontent that the AAM did not concern itself too deeply in the emerging anti-racist politics of Britain during the eighties. However a member of the Black and Ethnic Committee of the AAM comments that:

The AAM strategy was not about doing anything with the black people in the country [UK], it was to get the Government to change its attitude, it was to put pressure on the Government to stop supporting the regime, that was the whole focus of the AAM.

For another office holder within the BEM:

[It seemed]… certain members more interested with fighting racism abroad than at home. However much it was a pragmatic and functional decision/view, it was decided to let those that wanted to divorce the ‘racisms’ in GB & SA do so. This would not stop West-Indians from carrying on the fight here [in the UK] outside of the AAM if needs be….one could not address racism in SA without addressing it in GB. The bottom line being, the European races in SA were supported by their kith & kin in Europe. Therefore one could not attack racism there without attacking the source here. The racism here may not have been as overt as in South Africa but it was still just as deadly. It was not necessary that of men in jack boots but those of those in suits and ties. The ordinary man in the street was the recipient like those in South Africa (who kept voting in the Nationalists in with increasing number of votes) of the benefits of racism……[Although ] not all elements within the AAM thought the racisms should be separated. Unfortunately those who did were the ones that had the dominant influence within the organization. The attitude seemed to be that if one wanted an anti-racist organization one should go elsewhere. For them AAM nothing to do with anti-racism in discussion of these issues the movement not as democratic as it could have been in considering views.

From the above it seems that the nature of anti-racist politics in Britain posed a potential conflict of interest between AAM priorities and black activist objectives. Black radicals wanted more action against racism in Britain, while the AAM’s focus lay with South and Southern Africa. Many within the AAM argued that the AAM had to be narrow in its focus to meet its objectives.

By the mid to late 1980s after significant anti-racist landmarks were achieved black activists began to focus more on South Africa and were more noticeable in their presence at demonstrations. In the aftermath of the urban revolts and visible governmental and local authority commitment to improving inequalities many felt emboldened to become more actively involved at various levels within the political firmament of the society especially after the introduction of four members into the Houses of Parliament of African-Caribbean and Asian descent. The level of black community involvement in the AAM through the work of the Black and Ethnic Minority Committee and other organisations should be assessed within the context of their wider struggles against racism and its manifestations in their lived realities of urban Britain. These struggles also shaped their perspectives on how to counter and combat racial inequities at home and abroad as well as affecting their relations with white allies.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Black and Ethnic Minority Committee: The Beginning

As noted above the Anti-Apartheid Movement was an outgrowth of the Boycott Movement formed in 1959, its formation was a response to the call by Albert Luthuli, the President of the African National Congress, for sanctions against South Africa. From the early 1960s to the 1980s the AAM established itself as the premier Anti-Apartheid organization operating in Britain. Despite its early African influences as discussed above it developed and became largely staffed by South African exiles and émigrés who brought a unique perspective to the racial problems of Apartheid. They were able to sustain contact with members of the African National Congress. The ANC’s external operation was conveniently headquartered in London and therefore provided an alternative perspective to Pretoria’s propaganda regarding Apartheid.

The first office used by the AAM were within Lord Pitt’s premises, therefore collaboration with sympathetic individuals of African-Caribbean heritage was evident from the beginning. From early on the Movement showed an interest to incorporate substantial numbers of black participants in the structure of the Movement as well as campaigning for support in the black community, however it was acknowledged by the late 1970s that:

The AAM is still faced with the difficult task of mobilising in the black community in Britain. Some developments have taken place but there is much more to be done in this area.
A few months later the Annual report again noted that:

It is not possible to report any major development in support from the black community in Britain. Although relations exist with a range of organisations and they regularly support various AAM initiatives, it remains the case that the AAM’s work does not make a significant impression in either the West Indian or Asian communities….However there has been some significant increase in support form anti-racist organisations. At a local there is usually close liaison between AA groups and local Anti-Nazi League or similar groups….this area of the AAM’s work is one which requires much closer attention in the future.

The AAM’s AGM in 1979 had discussed the need to:

secure greater support from the black community in Britain…for a number of years the AAM has regarded this as an area which needs special attention

Mention was made of encouraging developments such as local groups making special effort to involve the black groups in campaigning, and the increased interest from all quarters in the ‘Free Mandela’ campaign. The black newspaper West Indian World was also singled out for its feature and expanded coverage of Southern Africa including a front page appeal for support for AAM’s Free Mandela campaigns. As well as West Indian World the Black Londoner’s program featured material from AAM on the main points of the campaign in support of the patriotic front and publicised the demonstrations and other activities in London.

However the report notes that thus far:

the most important development" was the commitment of the ANC and black organizations to campaign to stop the Barbarians tour.


On this and other campaigns the AAM continued to receive valuable support from Caribbean Labour Solidarity …[However]….it remains the case that the AAM’s work does not make a significant or lasting impression on either the West Indian or Asian community and despite the encouraging developments of the last year there is a need for more work in this area, especially at the local level.

By the early 1980s it was noted that:
Members of the black community in Britain were increasingly involved in the campaigns of the AAM as well as taking their own initiatives in solidarity with the liberation struggles in Southern Africa

One initiative was the Mohammed Ali sports development association that organised a programme of acts for the international year of mobilisation for sanctions against South Africa. This aimed to involve young black sportsmen and women in the sports boycott. The AAM was invited to participate at the launch in Brixton. Black newspapers in particular the West Indian world and Caribbean times became notable for carrying extensive reports on numerous aspects of the campaigning work of the movement.

These papers called on readers to boycott Rowntree-Mackintosh products to coincide with the AAM’s week of action. And the Black Londoners radio programme frequently carried interviews with representatives of the liberation Movement as well as anti-apartheid spokespersons.
Sport became a crucial area of campaigning to engage the interests of the black community. The Black British Standing Conference against Apartheid sport founded at the initiative of the Mohammed Ali sports development association spoke vigorously against the private tour of West Indian cricketers to SA, as did other British based Caribbean organisations such as the West Indian Standing Conference. The Standing Conference against Apartheid sport contributed to the success of the international conference on sanctions against Apartheid sport by ensuring the participation of black British sportsmen and women.

Activists from the AAM staffed a ‘Free Mandela’ stall at the Notting Hill carnival originally started to promote the positive aspects of West Indian popular arts. At subsequent carnivals signatures were collected and campaigning material distributed.

Black councillors were also active in promoting ‘Apartheid-free Zones’ in their local authorities. It was noted in the annual AAM report that black newspapers such as West Indian World, The Caribbean Times and the ‘Black Londoners’ radio program were noticeable in their constant support and publicity given to the AAM and itscampaigns. It was noted that this was in sharp contrast to most of Fleet street and the broadcasting media. The Channel 4 program ‘Black on Black’ was particularly singled out for praise for its coverage of events in southern Africa and solidarity campaigns.

The visit of Jesse Jackson in January of 1985 to Trafalgar Square generated a substantial crowd of people where 25-30% were black. The AAM noted that Jackson’s engagements gave:
…an important boost to Anti-Apartheid work among the black community."

Jackson addressed a well-attended service in Notting Hill and spoke to seventy black councillors and community leaders. The meeting was organized at short notice by Ben Bousquet of the AAM Executive committee. Jackson’s programme involved meetings with a wide range of organisations and activities in the black community. This stimulated an increased solidarity within the community. The Boycott campaign was taken up by local black organizations such as the Black Parents Movement in Haringey and community groups in Brixton.

The following year the annual report of the AAM noted the ‘Carols for liberation’ event held in Trafalgar Square which was sponsored by four black newspapers in London; The Africa Times, The Asian Times and Caribbean Times and The Voice. The Methodist inner city churches group were also involved. The London community Gospel choir SWAPO singers and ANC choir lead the singing.

However it was the visit of PW Botha to meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the face of heavy criticism, that caused the black community to come out in force during the AAM sponsored demonstrations. The AAM continued to strengthen its links with black groups such as the Black British Standing Conference against Apartheid sport, the West Indian standing committee, and the African Liberation committee. Moreover encouraged by significant black presence at the anti-Botha demonstrations the AAM decided to capitalise on black anger and discontent over British policy of engagement with the Pretoria regime. The decision was made to strengthen and deepen contact with black organisations nationally and locally. The executive committee of the AAM therefore set up a working party to examine the possibilities of encouraging more members of the black community to become involved within the structures of the AAM and by extension encourage greater numbers of the black community to join its membership. The working party would also examine the perceived obstacles to black participation.

The AAM annual report notes that the formation and functioning of a working party represented a watershed in the Movement’s development.

The working party was convened by the Movement’s vice chairperson Dan Thea, and brought together representatives of local groups from several parts of the country with activists in the black community. The working party then submitted its report in November 1987 at the Annual General Meeting. The report recommended that the Movement give priority to its work in the black community and establish a standing committee to develop it while committing resources that would make it possible to give practical effect to the importance attached to this area of work The 1987 AGM adopted the report of the working party on recruiting members and support within the black and ethnic community. For the AAM it:

…Signified an important development in the Movement’s efforts to step up its work in these areas and to address the concerns that exist, both about the issues at stake in Southern Africa and about the AAM as an organisation.

The AGM also committed to record that it:

Applauded the contribution made by black and ethnic minority groups to the work of the movement….noted the successes achieved by anti-apartheid activists working with local black communities especially in St Paul’s area of Bristol, Brixton, Edinburgh, Glasgow….recognised that these groups have shown the way in some key areas of our work..
[and ]Resolved to widen our appeal to and encourage work within the black and ethnic minority communities."

It was agreed that the clear intention of the Movement in establishing the BEM committee was to advance solidarity work amongst the Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities. This report therefore led to the formal establishment of the Black and Ethnic Minorities Committee. Furthermore the report was used as a basis of discussion in a number of local Anti-Apartheid groups.

The report frankly discussed the negative perceptions within the black community of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. According to the report the Movement was perceived as:
…distant from the black community…all too often seeking to speak for the liberation movement of South Africa and Namibia.

Antipathy was particularly strong among the black youth who desired to see the movement involved in more active, radical campaigning-type work. The report noted:

… [they ]have a view that the AAM exclusively identifies with "only one" of the South African movements, is opposed to other organisations which may seem more militant, and ostracises any one who may be seen to support such organisations."

Moreover it was noted that:

The AAM is often seen as a white middle-class set up, and may even be seen as standing between Black people and their kith and kin living under apartheid, tends to hinder the involvement of such people in the activities of the Movement. There can be resentment at having to give solidarity via an ‘intermediary’-the movement.

In view of this perception the working party counselled that:

This view should not be ignored; rather it requires appropriate response by the Movement to explain and defend its policies, and to expunge any impression that the Movement is not so much interested in solidarity with the liberation struggle in Namibia and South Africa as seeking to have a longer-term, post-independence political influence in these countries.

Perhaps more damagingly for the AAM the working party reported that the general consensus among black activities was that the organisation was that:

The AAM..[seemed]disinterested…uninvolved…and even unsympathetic to the anti-racist struggles in Britain, whilst shouting at the top of its voice how anti-racist it is in far-off South Africa and Namibia.

To dispel this image the working party instructed that the Movement should actively be seen to be anti-racist in "theory and practice" and particularly supportive of anti-racist struggles in Britain.

The working party noted that it saw the:

….the Movement is part of the anti-racist struggle worldwide, and not just in Namibia and South Africa. We do not accept the fear expressed by some that this perspective would at all inhibit or reduce the AAM’s capacity to work for the elimination of the apartheid system. On the contrary, the Movements moral and material strength would be enhanced by the public and firm acceptance of this approach.

In answer to the prevailing assumption on the part of members of the AAM that the black community should find a natural home and affinity within the AAM, it was noted that it was unrealistic for the Movement to expect that the special affinity and empathy that Black people in Britain felt for black Southern Africans should also be equally shown to the AAM. There support could not be taken for granted in this respect. In the working party’s view:
this affinity is [primarily] reserved for the oppressed people and their liberation movements.
Interestingly it was noted that:

…the committee did not consider that it should expend too much time evaluating the perceptions or in assessing the extent to which they are true. We judged them to be sufficiently accurate for the AGM to have adopted the resolution which led to the establishment of the working party.
It seems the working party’s task in documenting the disgruntlement and criticisms of those that kept the AAM at arms length was to provide a window through which operatives within the AAM could begin to understand why more black people had not engaged in supporting the organisation in a consistent way. The BEM would attempt to bridge this gap. After the adoption of the resolutions put forth by the working party, and the establishment of the BEM as a sub-committee in its own right within the structure of the AAM, it prepared a document called ‘Call to Action’ which outlined the perspectives of the liberation struggle in South Africa and Namibia and the role of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. It stressed the need for solidarity action in the black and ethnic minority community. Nearly 20,000 copies were distributed at the Notting Hill Carnival of that year and they were so well received that the National Committee decided that:

…in view of the importance of the Movement working in this area the brochure should be made available free to local groups, despite the high costs of production.

The committee proceeded to discuss means of involving black and ethnic minority organisations in the Mandela campaigns and an appeal for support was signed by Bernie Grant MP, the Chair-Dan Thea and Vice-Chair-Suresh Kamath of the committee. Support for the Mandela’s Marchers from black community organisations was provided in Leeds, Walsall, Birmingham, Coventry and Nottingham. The Black and Ethnic Minority Committee’s official launch occurred on 25 May 1989 in the evening at Soho’s Wag Club. It attracted over 250 people from a range of organisations. Bernie Grant MP addressed the crowd, and representatives from SWAPO and ANC were present, including a FRELIMO militant who gave a defiant speech. Collections for SWAPO’s election appeal amounted to £600 which was raised with a pledge from The National Black Caucus of £100.

The AAM’s vice-chair-Dan Thea appealed to the black community to continue to boycott South African goods and get involved in anti-apartheid campaigns. In August that year the AAM leafleting at the Notting Hill carnival took a further step, spearheaded by the BEM in collaboration with the London Anti-Apartheid committee, Women’s committee and Church Action on Namibia, plans were made to design and staff a float at the Notting Hill Carnival bringing the anti-apartheid message more overtly to the thousands of revellers that gathered over the weekend event. The float was designed to promote support for SWAPO.

The BEM in 1990 held a Black Solidarity seminar on 3rd March in Brixton. It aimed to present the latest information and analyse the progress of the liberation struggles in southern Africa. Moreover it sought to create a forum where suggestions could be made to aid the effectiveness of future solidarity work in aid of the southern African liberation struggles. A further purpose of the seminar was to attract and include black activists not normally involved AAM activities and campaigns. This seminar signified the committee’s commitment to mobilise members of the black communities in the overall drive for solidarity support by the British people in the struggle for freedom and democracy by the victims of apartheid in South Africa.

Black activists involved in anti-apartheid work met to consider the theme ‘South Africa: Countdown to Freedom?’ Bernie Grant MP the keynote speaker gave a description of his recent trip to South Africa were he met Nelson Mandela on the day of his release. Sipho-Pityana coordinator of the Nelson Mandela Reception Committee provided a thought provoking assessment of the emerging new phase in the liberation struggles. Also present were representatives from the South African Trade Union and the ANC Women’s section. Members of black organisations from within Britain were also present. A full report of the day’s events was circulated to all participants, and distributed to Anti-Apartheid local groups who were encouraged to use the report and to invite speakers from the BEM committee.

In 1990 members of the BEM attended a meeting in July as part of a collective of representatives of the Black community hosted by the ANC to meet Nelson Mandela on his second visit to London. In his capacity as Deputy President of the ANC he urged them to play a full part in strengthening the AAM at what he considered a critical moment of their struggle. He then noted:
We are aware that you the activists and leaders present this morning represent a large and important constituency. Whilst in prison, we endeavoured to follow as closely as possible your own battles against racism and injustice…the thick prison walls...could not prevent us from learning about the contribution many of you have made to the anti-apartheid struggle…it is our wish, that at this critical moment in our struggle, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement should be strengthened. We call on you, dear sisters and brothers, to play your full part in this noble movement.….we are also conscious of the fact that in you we have fellow freedom fighters in the struggle to destroy apartheid….the support and solidarity of people like you, and millions throughout the World gives us enormous strength and encouragement. There is no doubt that it has made a significant contribution to ending Apartheid.

The BEM committee tried to raise the profile of its work through Anti-Apartheid News. Though it sought to appeal primarily to the politically conscious in the black community, progressive white readership was also considered. Under the heading of ‘Black Solidarity’ members of the BEM used the allotted space to discuss issues of race in Britain and South Africa, drawing parallels as well as providing analysis concerning the democratic future of South Africa. Through the personal account from one member of West Indian heritage, describing his visit to Namibia, readers could see how the region was beginning to open and be accessible to all tourists no matter their skin colour. The aim was to promote the work of the BEM, attract black readership interest and engagement, as well as giving the BEM’s own perspective on the debates concerning racism and anti-racism. For example one member under the heading ‘The last battle?’ opined:

In countries such as Britain and the USA, where the practice of racial discrimination has been formally outlawed, black people continue to suffer disproportionately from humiliation and oppression. What then are the prospects for SA blacks? The ending of apartheid in its legal forms will mark the end of white colonialism in Africa. Black people in SA will then have the same old struggle as the rest of us. [they must]make liberation a reality for the majority, [and] struggle against class oppression (fuelled by the forces of international capital), struggle against external and internalised racism.. [and] struggle to ensure that entry into the corridors of power is everybody’s birthright.

Under another heading, ‘A shared legacy of racism’ the author concurs with Bernie Grant that the position of black people in Britain and Africans in South Africa is very different. In South Africa the black majority were enslaved by a minority government in their own country. In the UK there is a minority of Blacks and Asians who do not suffer the indignity of legalised racist policies.
Yet there are similarities as regards the effects of discrimination. The writer notes that in surveying the black population and its overall position in British society a disproportionate number inhabit:
Poor, run-down areas, high-rise tower blocks on unpopular council estates, the ghettoes no one else wanted…a health system which in the 1940s actively encouraged colonial immigrants to come and work for the ‘Mother Country’, yet now in the 90s still exhibits a reluctance to cater for the health needs of those people. Sickle Cell Anaemia and Thalassima are not routinely tested for. In mental health, racist generalisations label black people as having schizophrenic tendencies, ‘sectioning’ is used against black people with resulting deportations. A reputation of ‘under-achievement’ and a legacy of suspicion remains after immigrant children were channelled into ‘Educationally subnormal’ schools’ several decades later black students are now better represented in terms of exam grades, and progression into higher education. But it brings them little benefit when it comes to gaining employment. Black graduates have been found to be far less successful than their white counterparts in getting jobs. Employment agencies connive with racist employers to impede non-white applicants.

The writer continues to note the desultory fortunes of blacks in the penal system in comparison to their white counterparts and the poor relations between the community and the police. Race discrimination at the bar was finally outlawed in 1990:

This is the reality in Britain where black people have been restricted not by laws, but by practice.
The writer raises the question as to whether gaining the franchise and being in the majority in South Africa will ensure black Africans have control over their circumstances. In making analogy with women who numerically form a majority in most countries but still do not enjoy the "power and control" of their male counterparts, the writer infers that the numerical strength of the black population would not mean they would automatically gain the equality on par with Europeans as they wish. For instance:

The Race Relations Act in Britain sought to provide a framework to enable ethnic groups to have equality of opportunity. But the damage and disadvantage of the past have restricted progress-commitment from the people who have the power is not there. In South Africa, where the disparities in the conditions and quality of life are extreme, the legacy of apartheid will live on long after the last law has been relinquished. The struggle must go on.

The BEM-by now renamed the Black Solidarity Committee organised a ‘Education for Liberation Conference’ billed as a conference on the role of the UK Black community in helping to transform education in Southern Africa. Speakers included prominent black educationalists and representatives from the ANC, and FLS.

In noting that Apartheid had robbed the educational opportunities from generations of black people in South Africa-whether through poor quality education or no education due to political instability the organisers noted that:

The aim of this workshop is to examine ways in which some of the remedies found or being sought by the black community in UK could be applied to the situation in Southern Africa. Solutions would revolve around adult education such as technical colleges, vocational courses, distance learning, the mass media, voter education, youth work and positive action programmes…..[and] to provide an acceptable framework for direct links in terms of mutual benefit.

It was further noted that there was little provision in southern African for black students with special educational needs. The workshops aimed to focus on provisions that would be relevant for the southern African context whether materials or equipment and identify British as well as other international organisations that might wish to assist adults and children. The radical ideological thinking behind the conference could be seen through the conceptualisation of a ‘curriculum for liberation.’ It was noted that:

Black people all over the world have been oppressed by the contents and language of curriculums as well as the political and economic structures of education systems….the aim of this workshop is to identify the key issues in designing curriculum and teaching materials that reflect the rich cultural heritage of black people. It will examine education under neo colonialism and ways in which such education legacies can be challenged or reversed. The workshop will also focus on ways in which teaching in Britain can include the Southern African experience from a black perspective.

On the 19th June 1992 a speaking tour was organised by the BEM. Two ANC speakers were invited-Lawrence Bayana from the Soweto Youth Association and Kgopotso Sindelo from ANC woman’s league, encouraged by Southall Black sisters. The tour was part of a national black led initiative involving a number of organisations. Similarly the National Union of Students Black student’s conference in Manchester asked a BEM member to speak about its work and the anti-apartheid activities in light of Mandela’s release.

Concluding Remarks

The Black and Ethnic Minority Committee grew out of a Working Party set up in fulfilment of an AGM resolution. It aimed to raise the profile of black activists, and strengthen the campaigning links between the AAM and black and ethnic minority communities in the struggle against apartheid. The BEM committee should be seen in the context of the times. The 1987 general election produced for the first time in British parliamentary history four black members of parliament; Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng, and Diane Abbot. With this watershed the time seemed ripe for an advance by black activists sharing sympathies with pressure groups such as the AAM. A key operative within the AAM at the time has noted that:

Activists fighting racism in diverse ways wanted there to be an effective campaign against apartheid-the worst manifestation of institutionalised racism in modern times. The AAM provided it, and when we came in the late 1980s to focus on the campaign to free Nelson Mandela, support from black activists came pouring in.

In 1990 the report to the AGM of the AAM commented:

No where has the release of Nelson Mandela and other achievements of the liberation struggle been welcomed more warmly than in the Black community and by ethnic minority groups in Britain.

Sietse Bosgra: Dutch Ant-Apartheid Organizations

The anti apartheid organisations 206  11.000 woorden

            The Netherlands were an exception in Western Europe because the anti-apartheid organizations were very strong.  They were capable to determine the agenda of the anti-apartheid struggle and to involve a large part of Dutch society on their side. The Netherlands was the only country were government three times nearly collapsed over its South Africa policy . It was a divided institution that in the end proved very effective.

The Dutch anti-apartheid organizations

 The “Comité Zuid-Afrika” (CZA) 1957-1971

In 1957 the first Dutch anti-apartheid organization was founded, the “Comité Zuid-Afrika” (CZA).[1] Founder was the clergyman J.J.Buskes, who had visited South Africa in 1955 to investigate the race relations. His findings were embodied in a book “South Africa’s apartheids policy: unacceptable”.[2] The aim of CZA was to collect money by means of an art auction for the accused of the Treason Trial in South Africa. When in 1958 that goal was accomplished and 4.500 euro was collected the CZA fell silent/disappeared.

On the initiative of Karel Roskam the CZA was relaunched in March 1960, just a few weeks before the Sharpeville massacre. Roskam had visited South Africa in 1958/59 for his thesis on apartheid. Like Buskes he had a protestant background, both were members of the Dutch Labour Party. Buskes became chairman of the CZA, Roskam its secretary.

Karel Roskam gave afterwards a good description of the board of CZA: “decent (keurige) ladies and gentlemen”. “We wanted a truly (waarlijk) national committee, where (waarin) all public currents were represented, with the exception of the Communist Party, as was usual in those days”. Roskam also indicated the serious limitations of this structure: “Soon it became clear that a broad committee like CZA had great difficulties to agree to the means (strijdmiddelen), such as sanctions, where the ANC president Albert Luthuli had asked for/ called for/appealed for. About violence as an acceptable means to resist in South Africa we even did not discuss.” F11

The CZA started to publish a regular “Information Bulletin, which  at its high-point had 1.000 subscribers. It only asked for donations to cover the cost of its “Information Bulletin” and never collected money for the movements in Africa. It had hardly any contact with the liberation movements. For the CZA the ANC was the movement of Albert Luthuli, a moderate and peaceful Christian. The first activity of the CZA was to appeal to MP’s and professors to nominate Luthuli for the Nobel Prize for Peace. F11

Just as other anti-apartheid organizations at that time the CZA only aimed at softening of the suffering of the black majority through a dialogue with the white rulers. The organisation hoped to change the policy of the Dutch and South African government by sending them protest telegrams or polite and formal letters. In later years the CZA asked the Dutch government repeatedly to end the supply of weapons to South Africa, to stop the subsidizing of emigration and break off the Cultural Agreement with South Africa. But the decision makers of both the Dutch and South African government showed little interest in the opinions of the CZA. Requests for a meeting with government ministers or the South African ambassador were time after time (keer op keer) turned down.

In 1964 CZA organized during one month a symbolic boycott of South African products. There were picket lines organized in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. But still all organizations connected with the communist party CPN were excluded from the campaign.  The Dutch Labour Party and social-democratic trade union NVV were the principal supporters of CZA.
CZA and Defense and Aid Fund Netherlands (DAFN) 1965-1971

After the arrest in 1963 of 156 opponents of apartheid, amongst them Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu and Slovo, the International Defense and Fund (IDAF) was founded to support the accused, with branches in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Netherlands

          When in 1965 the conservative Dutch minister of foreign affairs Luns suddenly donated 45.000 euro to IDAF, not only the South African government protested, but also many conservatives in The Netherlands.  CZA decided to show that there was broad support from the Dutch public for this donation by campaigning for another 45.000 euro. Forbthis purpose Defense and Aid Fund Netherlands (DAFN) was founded. With the support of a committee of progressive writers and artists an art sale was organized that was televised. The aimed amount was amply (ruimschoots) reached. F24 After IDAF was declared an illegal organization by the South African government the donation of the Dutch government was finally not sent to IDAF, but to the U.N. Trust Fund for South Africa B150. And also the money collected by DAFN went to this Trust Fund.

This was the first and the last time for DAFN to seek large scale publicity. Throughout its existence DAFN remained relatively unknown in the Netherlands. Board member Bert Musschenga: “Fundraising was our primary aim. DAFN wanted to avoid that potential donors would be frightened (schrik aanjagen) by controversial political activities. ‘Low profile’ was always characteristic for all activities of  DAFN.” F23

In 1968 the shortage of manpower became so serious that CZA and DAFN decided to form one organization, operating with one board but under two different names. At this meeting Karel Roskam finally convinced the board to declare in the press release that “CZA accepts that violence as part of the liberation struggle is justified”. For the representative of the conservative political party VVD in the board, Vonhoff, this was the ground to withdraw. But this decision to support violence had no consequences, The government information service AOD concluded in 1970 that CZA/DAFN “has no dealings/contacts (zich inlaten met) with all kinds of subversive elements or guerilla movements or supports them financially, like (zoals) for instance the World Council of Churches”.

At the end of the 1960’s the Dutch interest in the developments in Southern Africa increased, but CZA became more and more passive. On 23 August 1971 CZA-DAFN concluded that it had failed in its assignment (taak): “There is money in the Netherlands, and we CZA-DAFN do not succeed in fetching/recovering it (het eruit te halen). There is a large market for a good action group, but we do not succeed in mobilizing and organizing enough people. What we miss is the fanatism for motivated campaigns (om gemotiveerd actie te voeren), the men power and the capability to attract new people, an organiser, a full-time unpaid campaigner, new ideas... Many people and groups outside CZA/DAF can’t wait to join in our work, but as a consequence of different circumstances from the past and the present they are not integrated in the present team... Of these pressing newcomers nothing is for sure, but in each case they are strongly motivated, fanatical/enthusiast (fanatiek) and they have much manpower. So the solution is obvious.”

A few months after this meeting CZA was dissolved (werd ontbonden) to make room/way (plaatsmaken) for the more radical Anti-Apartheids Beweging Nederland (AABN). DAFN continued as an independent organization. But partly as a consequence of the long passivity of CZA in 1970/71 two other Dutch Anti-Apartheid organizations were founded, the Working Group Kairos (Christians against Apartheid) en the Boycott Outspan Actie (BOA). In addition there was still a fifth solidarity organization with the Portuguese colonies in Southern Africa, the Angola Comité. They would all play an important role in the Dutch struggle against apartheid.

Defense and Aid Fund Netherlands (DAFN) 1971-1991

The Dutch branch of IDAF was to continue its activities for another twenty years until IDAF closed in 1991. During its existence DAFN collected in total 4 million euro, which made it the largest contributor amongst the different national IDAF-committees. In  addition the Dutch government contributed 2 million, the Dutch churches half a million.[3]
           Most of the money from the public was collected through a system of “gezinsadoptie” (family adoption). Persons or groups of persons would contribute for a long period each month a fixed amount of money for one or more families in South Africa.[4]

In the early 1980’s the work of DAFN was stagnant (stagneerde) as a result of a confect with IDAF. Both the Dutch and the Swiss branch considered leaving IDAF because of its bad management and lack of transparency. The Swiss left, but when IDAF was restructured in 1984 DAFN changed its conditional membership again into a full membership. F29/30 After this enforced (noodgedwongen) years of silence DAFN entered into a long term co-operation on South African political prisoners with Kairos (“Christians against Apartheid”)  “Through Kairos it could find/get connection (aansluiting) again with the other Dutch anti-apartheid organizations.”  F30 In 1987 it moved into the Kairos office.

DAFN had lost something of its timidity of the first period of its existence and started to act more in public. In 1979  it campaigned in co-operation with VARA-television to collect toys and money for the Zimbabwean refugee children in Mozambique. DAFN organized a fundraising campaign amongst university staff for scholarships for former political prisoners (1986), a campaign to send protest postcards to P.W.Botha against the imprisonment of children (1987). In co-operation with VARA-television a documentary film was produced and 150.000 euro was collected for children in South Africa. In 1990 200 Dutch judges send a letter to their colleagues in South Africa, appealing to them to use their function to demolish apartheid.

The Anti-Apartheid Beweging Nederland (AABN) 1971-1975

The “motivated and fanatical newcomers” that tried in vain to reactivate CZA were students from both Amsterdam universities. The group had organized a demonstration in front of the South African embassy against the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Republic, they organized an exhibition on fascism in South Africa in the Anna Frank House, they disturbed a match against a visiting South African Springbok polo team with smoke and paint bombs.

The initiator and key-man was Berend Schuitema, a white and fanatical anti-apartheid South African student in exile. He was already since spring 1970 in contact with CZA. One of the most important points of discussion the new activists and between the old guard was the need for “harsh campaigns” (“harde acties”) and the fear of the CZA board that this would alienate its members. Finally on 13/11/71 the Anti-ApartheidsBeweging Nederland (AABN) replaced the CZA. “Schuitema founded the AABN and Schuitema was the AABN”, say the people who in that period worked with him.

The AABN meant a total break/rupture with the old CZA, where all political currents except the communists were represented in the board. For the AABN apartheid was an integral part (integraal onderdeel) of the capitalist system, and this system should be combated (bestreden), both in the Netherlands and in the third world.[5] In internal discussion papers the AABN presented itself as a “solidarity movement on the basis of an anti-capitalist struggle”. The AABN “ has to be reconstructed with the support of those organizations that participate in the class struggle of the workers movement, that means who strive after a socialist society.” The movement stated that it wanted to cooperate with the trade unions, the left wing of the Labour Party and the Communist Party.

The AABN declared its solidarity with the ANC and SACTU, with SWAPO , ZANU and ZAPU. At the first meeting in Amsterdam (21-12-72) with the ANC-representative in London, Reg September, it was agreed to meet in future twice a year. At this discussion Schuitema seemed not to be too happy with the close ties that many in the AABN board had with the Dutch communist party CPN:  “These bonds with the CPN are somewhat strange: the party shows little interest in Southern Africa.” The AABN was also disappointed that the newspaper “De Waarheid” of the party “shows in general little interest in Southern Africa, more in Vietnam”. [6]

As the aim of the AABN was a total boycott of South Africa it started listing and investigating the companies which continued to have close links with apartheid South Africa. In 1972 it started a long-term campaign against Philips because this Dutch firm was involved in breaking the arms embargo. In 1974 the focus was on Estel/Hoogovens because this company wanted to participate in a steel project in South Africa. The campaign was successful: at a protest meeting with 1.000 participants, among them many workers of Hoogovens, a resolution was adopted against the planned involvement in South Africa. Hoogovens dropped the plans.

At the request of ANC-London AABN and DAFN organized in September 1975 another art action for the benefit of the political prisoners in South Africa.[7] At this occasion ANC president Tambo spoke for an audience of a thousand people. Moreover Tambo had for the first time a meeting with the Dutch government.

But during these years most energy of the AABN went not to South Africa but to the liberation struggle in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. It was successful in proving that the Dutch tobacco industry imported one third of its tobacco from Rhodesia, in defiance of the mandatory UN trade embargo against that country. In order to find evidence Berend Schuitema at night searched the dust/refusal bins (vuilnisbakken) of the trading firms, that were waiting on the sideway to be empted by the dust collectors. He was severely hurt when some warders/guards, who had been waiting for him, attacked him. This incident marks (tekent) the perseverance and total dedication of Schuitema.

In cooperation with the trade union NVV workers in the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam were approached to stop the contraband trade with Rhodesia. The AABN was In cooperation with journalists of the Dutch daily “de Volkskrant” and the “Daily Mirror” and the “Sunday Times” in Britain Schuitema was able to expose Joba/Zephyr, an international trading network with Rhodesia with branches in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and France. The sensational exposures led to the prosecution of Zephir-Amsterdam and to strengthening of the Dutch boycott legislation.  In November 1974 AABN organized in Amsterdam an international seminar on the Rhodesia boycott.
         The AABN also supported SWAPO. A visit to the Netherlands by SWAPO’s secretary of labour Solomon Mifima led to large publicity and fundraising campaign for SWAPO by the large Dutch Industrial Union.[8] In June 1975 at the congress of the trade union an amount of 100.000 euro was symbolically handed over to Mr. Mifima.

During that summer Berend Schuitema and the South African poet in exile Breyten Breytenbach had secretly visited South Africa. Both were part of a new underground white resistance organization Okhela.[9]  Breytenbach and about 75 other persons were detained, Berend Schuitema could safely escape back to the Netherlands. But some of his colleagues in the AABN did not welcome him as a hero who had been courageous to set up underground activities in South Africa. Instead they wanted to oust him from the organization.

It became a conflict between two key persons in the AABN, Berend Schuitema and his former girl friend Connie Braam, who worked at the AABN as an administrative secretary.[10] Without informing the executive committee of the AABN she went to consult ANC-London about the activities of Berend. When she returned  she accused him of anti-communist activities. The result of the crisis was that the executive of the AABN stepped down and that Berend and many others left the movement with Schuitema. Amongst them was the AABN-chairman Rev. Piet van Andel.

ANC-London sent a high delegation of Duma Nokwe and Johnny Maketini[11] to Amsterdam in order to stop the conflict and close the ranks. A ‘general plenary assembly’ was organized where also all volunteers were welcome. Berend was not invited for the meeting that would decide about his fate, and which he remembers as “the night of the long knives”. Connie Braam concluded in her book: the message was clear: “The ranks in the ANC were closed”. The ANC delegation informed Berend about the decision. The AABN got a new board and a new constitution

These developments in the AABN confronted the KZA with a difficult problem. They relations with Berend Schuitema had always been excellent, and now Schuitema and his team approached the KZA with the proposal to join the organization and support its work. This was an attractive proposal for KZA as it was a very motivated and capable team that would be very useful for the coming campaigns.[12] But for the KZA the underlying causes of the conflict in the AABN was unclear, and they feared a bad relation with the AABN and with the ANC-London office. So the proposal was turned down/rejected/declined.

[1] The archives of CZA are kept at the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA) in Amsterdam

[2] Buskes, J.J., Zuid-Afrika’s apartheidsbeleid: Onaanvaardbaar, Den Haag 1955

[3] The Dutch government contributed additional funds to IDAF through the European Communities and the UN Trust Fund for South Africa. B277

[4] When DAFN dissolved in 1991 many of these family adoption groups wanted to continue. For that reason DAFN arranged that the Komitee Zuidelijk Afrika (KZA) took over this responsibility from DAFN.

[5] The AABN magazine “Zuidelijk Afrika Nieuws”  no 97

[6] Minutes executive AABN 24-4-72

[7] . AABN was still connected with DAFN as both had inherited from CZA/DAFN a common magazine. The first year DAFN had some pages in the AABN publication but this cooperation stopped in 1976. 

[8] Industriebond NVV

[9] Okhela intended to organize South African whites, who were opposed to apartheid  but who did not want to join the South African Communist Party (SACP). Like the ANC Okhela saw its future in the armed struggle. The background of the conflict were probably conflicting opinions in the ANC leadership. ANC-president Tambo and Johnny Makatini encouraged the plans. According to Schuitema he met Tambo in Dar es Salaam before the secret trip to South Africa, and “Tambo told us that he had invested great faith in the Okhela initiative and that its existence should be kept strictly confidential.” After his escape from South Africa Schuitema went to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka. “After the consultation Tambo sent me on my way back to Amsterdam with specific instructions to ‘keep tight lipped’ and continue my work in the AABN.” Probably the SCAP members saw Okhela as a threat to their position in the movement. During the conflict in the AABN Tambo was by coincidence in Amsterdam at a conference in support of the South African political prisoners. As he wanted to speak to Schuitema in private he left his hotel very early in the morning while the other members of the ANC delegation were still asleep. (interview with Herman van der Schaar, Amsterdam October 2005)

[10] Connie Braam’s version of the conflict can be found in her book “De bokkeslachter”, 1993, Meulenhoff, Amsterdam. Berend Schuitema reacted in his “Amsterdam Footnotes”, East London February 1995 (not published)

[11] “Although the eight members of the ANC in London that were thrown out of the movement were his close and moreover like-minded friends, Makatini was until that moment kept outside of harm’s way.” De Bokkeslachter, pg 184 

[12] “The international sanctions campaign which was being spearheaded by the AABN suffered a serious setback and only fully recovered its pre-1975 momentum ten years later. “ Berend Schuitema in the Amsterdam Footnotes