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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1960s (3)


 In November 1965 a white minority regime led by Ian Smith declared the 'independence' of the British colony Southern Rhodesia, one of South Africa's neighbours. In accordance with mandatory UN Security Council resolutions, the Netherlands banned all trade by Dutch companies with the white rebels. But in defiance of UN resolutions the Dutch Consulate-General in the Rhodesian capital Salisbury (now Harare) remained open, "in the interest of Dutch immigrants".

Ian Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence drew the attention of Dutch activists to yet another African country. In 1969, students of journalism in Utrecht, looking for a socially-committed subject for a school project, founded a 'Rhodesia Committee' and wrote a brochure. "We did nothing concrete, of course not! It was more like solidarity as a way of life," said one of the former students in retrospect. The Rhodesia Committee soon began cooperating with the Comité Zuid-Afrika (CZA) and became part of an emerging network of Southern Africa solidarity organisations.

'Active dialogue' with Nazi sympathizer

In September 1966 South Africa's apartheid Prime Minister Verwoerd was murdered. The Reverend Buskes, by then honorary president of the CZA, heaved a sigh of relief: "Thank God, not by a black man". But the Prime Minister was succeeded by Balthazar Johannes ('John') Vorster, an even greater fanatic and extremist in the eyes of Buskes.

Vorster had been detained by the Smuts government in World War II for being a member of the Nazi-collaborationist Ossewa Brandwag movement. Verwoerd had appointed him Minister of Justice in 1962. In Buskes's words, South Africa owed to him "some of its most inhuman legislation". Vorster had for instance been responsible for extending the number of days detainees could be held in solitary confinement without charge or trial from 12 (1962), through 90 (1963) and 180 (1965) to an unlimited period with prior judicial consent (1966). To top it all, the requirement of judicial consent was even abolished in 1976.

While the situation in South Africa grew more grim by the day, another new government of Christian Democrats and right-wing liberals reigned in the Netherlands, of which no further humanitarian effort for the victims of apartheid was to be expected. The De Jong government (1967-1971) preferred an "active dialogue" with the South African minority regime, on the premise that apartheid should be abolished "along gradual lines". General interest in the issue seemed to be fading anyway. When the government sent a trade delegation to South Africa in 1968, it hardly caused any political ripples anymore.

Portugal, our NATO ally

Meanwhile, Portugal's colonial policies in Africa were being less and less appreciated in the Netherlands, and denounced also by successive Dutch cabinets. Yet when it came to this issue, too, the Netherlands preferred dialogue with its NATO ally Portugal to sanctions and other 'extreme' measures as suggested by UN resolutions (in 1963 the Netherlands had only voted in favour of a selective, non-mandatory arms embargo on Portugal).

 Angola, 1960s: regroupment camp set up by the Portuguese colonial army to 'protect' Angolans. Many of such camps turned into hotbeds of nationalist resistance due to the army's brutal conduct

As criticism of the restraint shown by the government grew, also in the Lower House of parliament, the government began to allocate some modest financial support to humanitarian and educational UN projects aimed at the liberation movements in the Portuguese African colonies.

Joseph Luns, the influential Roman-Catholic Foreign Minister from 1956-1971, turned a deaf ear to protests against Portugal's terror in Africa. His main concern was the strategic position of Portugal as a NATO ally in Southern Europe; besides, Luns did nothing to hide his admiration for the authoritarian Portuguese dictator Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar, who, in Luns's words in 1968, "has ruled the country with such great wisdom over the last forty years".

Growing activity, increasing effectiveness

Towards the end of the 1960s, changes in the political and cultural climate in the Netherlands became more rapidly evident outside the walls of parliament than inside. "Luns-time is over" was a popular slogan. Among the activists against apartheid and colonialism, those who displayed the greatest affinity to the spirit of the times got an edge.

While CZA-affiliated DAF Nederland continued its work as a persevering fundraiser without any spectacular activities, the CZA itself wasn't able to keep up the fight much longer. It was not before 1970-1971 that a small number of new organisations emerged, destined to set the scene during the remainder of the apartheid years. Alongside the new groups the Angola Committee continued its work, relaunching in 1976 under the name of Komitee Zuidelijk Afrika (Holland Committee on Southern Africa).

 Part of the growing significance of the Southern Africa solidarity organisations could be attributed to new methods of campaigning. At the same time, activists learned to operate in more strategic ways partly due to their contacts with liberation movements such as Frelimo in Mozambique. The Angola Committee, with its leftist and activist image, never had any chance of winning the heart of Joseph Luns, the implacable Foreign Minister. In 1969, the Eduardo Mondlane Foundation, named after the murdered leader of the Mozambican resistance, was founded on Frelimo's 'instruction'. In contrast to the committee itself, to which it remained connected, the neutral EMS was able to raise funds from the government, development organisation Novib, and the churches.

Sietse Bosgra on the shift of strategy:
"...our attitude towards Dutch society was getting more constructive due to our talks with Frelimo. Until that time we had acted in 'protestish' ways, always trying to play the establishment nasty tricks..."

"...Frelimo taught us - it sometimes amounted to an instruction - to assess with more optimism the chances to get things done for them in the Netherlands. We had to get over quite a few emotional scruples to be able to learn to see the Labour Party, let alone the Christian parties, as our allies..."

"...eventually we had to try to loosen up the attitude of the Dutch government..."

"...we were quite impressed by the fact that Frelimo had severed its ties with a West German solidarity group that had refused to pursue broader links within civil society..."