Berend Schuitema with members of the Marshals Corps (Eastern Cape December 2008)
"Aan het goede kant"
ter verkrijging van de graad van doctor
aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam
op gezag van de Rector Magnificus
prof. dr. D.C. van den Boom
ten overstaan van een door het college voor promoties ingestelde commissie,
in het openbaar te verdedigen in de Agnietenkapel
op maandag 30 september 2013 te 14.00 uur
Roeland Willem Anton Muskens
geboren te Rotterdam
Review Interview: Radio 1, NOS, NTR, Kunststof. Interview Roeland Muskens, by Petra Possel (07-08-2014)
One Dutch word that is understood throughout the world – Apartheid led to civil protest in the 1960’s but in the course of time became a national-based mass movement which became gradually more militant. About this our guest wrote a book, “Aan het goede Kant”. Here is Roeland Muskens.
Petra Possel: Good evening. Mr. Muskens you wrote a book on the history of the Dutch Anti Apartheid Movement. Let me first ask you: were you yourself involved with the Anti Apartheid Movement? I recall some time ago when a billiards competition was held throughout Holland in which money was being collected for the ANC. You have written a massive book of 700 pages which will tax readers.
Roeland Muskens: That is true. The material was so fascinating that I could not stop writing!
Petra Possel: You cover a significant chapter in Dutch activism spanning a period from 1960 to 1990 intricately involved with South Africa and allied to the African National Congress. Three decades of a very significant period from the early 1960’s to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. But before we get into the discussion let us first talk about you. You are a nephew of Bishop Muskens. No!?
Roeland Muskens: um, um . . . .
Petra Possel: Yes, Bishop Muskens he is your uncle . . . . .
Roeland Muskens: Yes, but I knew him from a whole other angle. I met him at a conference of returning missionaries from Africa. And when he appeared people flustered, stick away any bread you may have with you.
Petra Possel: laughs . . . It does of course rhyme with your activism. The Catholic moral was that if you were very poor you were permitted to carry off a loaf of bread from a shop. So were you inspired by your activism in which you immersed yourself?
Roeland Muskens: Well, I would not normally befriend a Catholic Bishop, but uncle Tinnie (I called him uncle) was an exception. He stood on the “Goede Kant”.
Petra Possel: So he passes muster?
(Interlude, soccer report)
Petra Possel We continue with our talk with Roeland Muskens), we are talking about the campaign to free Roeland Muskens, the Boycott Outspan Action with its ghoulish poster of “don not squeeze a black South African” depicted by a white hand squeezing out an orange, we know about the actions against Shell, the attacks on the Makro businesses and the burning down of ISV establishments, etcetera. I have encapsulated the whole history of the Dutch Anti Apartheids movement in a few sentences, but Roeland Muskens worked on the subject for seven years and finally produced a 700 page book.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, it became a book weighing a full kilogram.
Petra Possel: You are a political scientist with a lot of practical experience in Latin American action groups. What brought you to write about South Africa?
Roeland Muskens: Well, it is actually quite simple. A number of people out of the Anti Apartheid Movement approached me to write the book. The reason for this was that I seemed well qualified, but more importantly had no nor direct involvement in the movement.
Petra Possel: So you were not involved at all in the movement itself?
Roeland Muskens: That is right; I was not involved at all. But like all people in the Netherlands I was fully aware of the Anti Apartheid Movement. I attended a few rallies and was also present at the mass meeting when Nelson Mandela came to Amsterdam for his first visit.
Petra Possel: So you were an activist. And did you also around with one of the typical canvas bags over your shoulders”? You were not involved in the movement itself. Was this a condition for your writing the book?
Roeland Muskens: Well, yes. The Anti Apartheid Movement was riddled by factions. So the problem was that groups were competing with one another sand could raise the issue that one was getting too much attention at the expense of others.
Petra Possel: who by name invited you to write the book?
Roeland Muskens: Sietse Bosgra.
Petra Possel: Sietse Bosgra.
Roeland Muskens: He was the central figure of the Anti Apartheid Movement. He started the Committee Zuidelijk Afrika (KZA) in the 1970s, a few years after the Dutch Anti Apartheid Movement itself. This KZA must not be confused with the Comite Zuid Afrika (CZA), which existed from shortly before the Sharpeville massacre.
Petra Possel: It is interesting that in the post war years many Dutch were still aligned to the Afrikaners in the post Boer War Tradition. Then from the time of the CZA / AABN there comes a total inversion in a very short time. How and, why is this so?
Roeland Muskens: Well, it is a kith and kin, or blood relationship. The Boers were at first Dutch settlers who trekked inland. The Dutch Reformed connection was also a powerful bond. Sharpeville was a tipping point and also should the Christian communities. This was as result of stringent pass laws administration. Blacks were allowed into the white areas if they were directly invited to work for whites. (Muskens goes into more details about the run up to and actual shootings at Sharpeville and aftermath.)
Petra Possel: So out of this came a surge of activism, but the political parties remained more or less neutral. And then of course there were the financial interests; something similar to the sanctions imposed by the EU and US on Russia at that time was not possible against South Africa.
Roeland Muskens: If one thinks about it took the anti apartheid movement internationally thirty years of agitation without success, but in the case of Russia it happens almost overnight.
Petra Possel: In your book you make mention of the many organizations that made up the broader anti apartheid movement. . . . . .
Roeland Muskens: . . . . . . . you had the CZA, the KZA, the AABN, Kairos, Boycott Outspan Action, and later the Azania Committee. Then from mid 1980’s the radical wing of autonomous/anarchist groups which controlled the anti apartheid media space.
Petra Possel: Why is it that there were so many groups while the issue of racial discrimination was so obvious?
Roeland Muskens: The easy answer to this is that in the Netherlands this always happens. Each small town has two soccer clubs. There were also ideological differences. The AABN identified with the Dutch Communist Party, CPN. Here we think of Connie Braam . . . . . .
Petra Possel: . . . . . . . . . And Berend Schuitema, a strong charismatic figure. They were the two central figures. And the other group that had no links with the CPN was the KZA.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, the KZA was first the Angola Committee, and when Angola was freed it focused on Southern Africa in the broader sense. The KZA went fishing in AABN waters which caused a lot of friction. Any attempt to b erring about some sort of fusion or collaboration were tried, but consistently failed.
Petra Possel: Yes, I surmised so from your book.
Roeland Muskens: None of the central figures were easy people. I spoke to all concerned and found them all amicable and highly motivated people.
Petra Possel: One of the people who you did not speak to was Berend Schuitema. He still lives and is in South Africa.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, he was the initiator of the AABN. He was a South African exile with huge convening power and charisma. When he spoke people hung at his lips. He led the AABN for six years. I did not speak to him unfortunately. In 1974 there was a clash and Berend Schuitema left Amsterdam.
Petra Possel: This clash and here we come again on the topic of clashing factions, and also a lot of distrust. It was suggested by Breyten Breytenbach, that Berend Schuitema was a traitor who had him arrested. Was this ever proved?
Roeland Muskens: No, there was never any proof of this. What happened is that Breytenbach got Schuitema involved in setting up a “white wing” of the ANC.
Petra Possel: so in fact to broaden the resistance to include active whiter members in South Africa.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, part of the ANC was in favour, but part was vehemently opposed. Under pressure of the latter the AABN kicked Berend Schuitema out of the movement.
Petra Possel: In your book did you find any proof of Berend Schuitema being a spy.
Roeland Muskens: No.
Petra Possel: What happened to him?
Roeland Muskens: It was a heavy blow for him. Lost everything and wondered around in Europe for a few years. After what he suffered one could say that he suffered a post traumatic stress. For a while he found himself with the IRA. This makes sense because it was anti British which are what the Irish also were. He also rubbed shoulders with other radical movements in Europe.
Petra Possel: Could you say that he started drifting? Why did you not visit him?
Roeland Muskens: Well, for the reason that he went drifting. I also read a lot about him and a lot of what he had written himself and I felt that there was not much that I could use.
Petra Possel: You could also think that he became a victim to the vicious internecine fighting? It was a time when people beat one another’s brains out because of the polarization.
Roeland Muskens: It was enormously polarized, indeed. There were many conflicts but which the groups managed to keep to themselves.
Petra Possel: I also spoke to Sietse Bosgra, the man who handed over the archive to you. He said that when he read your book he was amazed to realize how strong and pernicious the role of communists was within the AABN. He said he always suspected this, but your book confirms this. This helps him to make a reconstruction of the entire period. They wanted a regime change in the Netherlands and were also prepared to block any Dutch funding for the ANC. The ANC got all its funding from the Soviet Union and that is how they wished it to stay. This was scandalous; the idea that if Western governments started funding the ANC that it would thereby results in undermining Moscow’s influence over the ANC.
Roeland Muskens: That checks, but in my researches I could not directly prove this. It is true that in the offices of the AABN it was almost totally packed with communists. Earlier this was not the case as on the board of the AABN there were normally one or two communists. But there was nothing confirming a formal connection between the AABN and the CPN.
Petra Possel: Sietse Bosgra wrote a critique on your book which confirms what I have told you. To him it seemed as if the AABN were expecting a Russian invasion at any time.
Petra Possel: Let us look at something else. Nelson Mandela was an icon, a symbol of peaceful change.
Roeland Muskens: until the end of the 1970s nothing much was known about Mandela. The ANC wished to signal the role of Mandela and in the Netherlands this gained most traction.
Petra Possel: Eventually he was freed. Let us go to the first visit of Mandela to Amsterdam. You were also there, at the Leidse Plein? (Some clips on Madiba’s speech and the very loud cheering around the Leidse Plein).
Petra Possel: we are speaking with Roeland Muskens who wrote a very thick book on the history of the Dutch Anti Apartheid Movement. He described all the fights, splits and frictions in the movement but in the end all came together to welcome Mandela to Amsterdam. The announcement was made by the Mayor of Amsterdam, Ed van Tijn.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, a committee was put together including mainly Amsterdam municipal officials and members of the various anti apartheid committees. Squabbling broke out among members of the movements and van Tijn had to intervene.
Petra Possel: Yes, I remember this. Connie Braam flew in against one another in a fight and they had to be separated. Van Tijn emphasized that he would do the introductions and chair Mandela’s meeting and if the movement members were not satisfied with this they could bugger off. Nelson Mandela was a poor speaker. Could you give an explanation why the Anti Apartheid Movement hit it off with the Dutch public?
Roeland Muskens: in my view the Anti Apartheid Movement offered the Dutch another chance for having either collaborated with the Nazis, or who did little. In the final analysis there was no economic or other interest which was common between South Africa and the Netherlands.
Petra Possel: About the radicalization of the movement in its later year years. We are speaking of the fires started at Makro establishments, etc. Clip from a spokesperson from an anarchist movement, RARA: “for years we have had agitation by the Anti Apartheid Movement for called for Dutch firms to leave South Africa. There was no result. By setting fires to these firms they will have costs to calculate and come to the conclusion that they can best get out of South Africa”. What was the impact of this on public opinion and on the established movements?
Roeland Muskens: The movements, the KZA as well as the AABN considered these actions a threat to established public opinion supporting them.
Petra Possel: It is remarkable that these actions were not branded as “terrorist”.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, that also surprised me. There was instead considerable goodwill and tolerance of these radical actions. These radicals could build on the enormous work that went ahead of the many the established organizations. The AABN was marginal at the time and not involved with the Shell Oil boycott. This anarchist upsurge outflanked the AABN which was impotent and floundering. (In the words of Petra “op z’n kont lag”), but the incident gave it a spinning machine for media coverage.
Petra Possel: So basically the radical movements overtook the institutionalised movement. As you said, “we got sand in our eyes”. What is interesting is how events in South Africa played out in the Netherlands. For example, the Klaas de Jonge case which in the shortest possible time got a whole talking machine going.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, the Klaas de Jonge gave the AABN a welcome respite and it was able to milk the event to the hilt. Klaas de Jonge became known as the last “true Dutch hero”.
Petra Possel: During your PhD promotion a member of the public stood up and questioned you about the torture and murders in SWAPO camps. In a letter to a newspaper he accused you of sidelining the question.
Roeland Muskens: Yes, I did read up on this but this was not in South Africa, but affected Namibia. The AABN tried to smother the issue. It was only the religious KAIROS that brought up the matter. “Torture is torture”
Petra Possel: And did you deal with Winnie Mandela and the murder of Stompie Sepei?
Roeland Muskens: In a liberation movement there are always things that go wrong.
Petra Possel: Yes, that I can understand. But your book title is “Aan het Goede Kant”. So this means that both sides be seen in the same light.