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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1970s (1)

Increasing repression, growing protest

Protests in South Africa against apartheid had been non-violent in character for decades. After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 the opponents of apartheid saw themselves forced to abandon their non-violent ways. The apartheid regime was now challenged in different ways, with armed groups attacking government buildings and power installations. Partly as a result, the repression grew even more brutal after 1960. Dutch protests against apartheid were affected as well.

A  number of new organisations entered the scene, the first of which was the Working Group Kairos, with had its origins traced back to 1965. The aim of Kairos (which was officially founded in 1970) was to mobilize support in church circles for the work of Dr. Beyers Naudé's Christian Institute. In defiance of the ideology of apartheid propagated by his own white Nederduits Gereformeerde (Dutch Reformed) church, Beyers Naudé preached reconciliation between all communities. He was a persistent critic of apartheid, and was widely respected also in the Netherlands.

Changing spirit of the times

A new era dawned in the Netherlands, with Provos, fair trade shops (Dutch: 'Third World shops'), Vietnam marches, student sit-ins and a new feminist movement. The moderate stance of the existing Comité Zuid-Afrika (CZA) was seen as being no longer in touch with recent developments in South Africa nor the changing spirit in Dutch society.
Protest against Transport Minister Bakker's South Africa visit at Dutch parliament, organized by the Comité Zuid-Afrika, november 1970

Although the CZA-affiliated Defence and Aid Fund Netherlands steadily continued to give support to political prisoners in South Africa, this kind of activity obviously remained somewhat hidden from the public eye. The work of DAFN therefore hardly appealed to the growing demand for more eye-catching forms of 'extraparliamentary action' against Dutch policies on Southern Africa, against the apartheid regime, and against companies regarded as apartheid's foreign allies.

Outspan blood oranges

Two South Africans living in the Netherlands were the driving forces behind the formation, in the early 1970s, of two organisations that were to develop into leading exponents of the Dutch anti-apartheid community. Both had first turned to the CZA. One went on to lay the foundation for the Anti-Apartheids Beweging Nederland (Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement, AABN), which in 1971 effectively took over the CZA (see below). The other, South African refugee Esau du Plessis, was dissatisfied with what he found in the CZA. Du Plessis was annoyed that this most decent of committees persistently refused to acknowledge that change could not be brought about in South Africa by non-violent action alone. In late 1970 he set up his own Boycott Outspan Action (BOA).

The BOA campaign featured the slogan "Don't squeeze a South African". The accompanying image in advertisements and on posters stirred some controversy but it grew to be one of the most well-known symbols of Dutch anti-apartheid. BOA ran a highly successful campaign: in less than ten years the popular Outspan brand was totally driven off the shelves. Outspan 'blood oranges' remained tainted until the end of apartheid.

Dutch coffee: Angolan blood

The BOA campaign had started in 1970; it received a boost from the Angola Comitee's equally successful coffee boycott campaign of 1971-1972. In the Portuguese colonies the struggle for liberation had grown ever more intense. Halting coffee imports from Angola was seen as an important way to support the liberation movements' fight against the Portuguese oppressors.
The Angola Committee put pressure on major Dutch coffee roasters and distributors such as Douwe Egberts and Albert Heijn to stop processing and selling coffee from Angola. Such was the power which the committee had developed that Albert Heijn and others promised to stop imports even before the campaign had been publicly launched.

Similar forms of action had been tested before by the fair trade shops movement. But the coffee boycott became the textbook example of how a small group of effectively and professionally operating activists is capable of achieving results with amazing speed. The committee worked together with about 5,000 members of 250 local Third World groups. Political parties, trade unions, churches and other organisations issued a flood of statements declaring their support for the boycott.

Albert Heijn hit back by resuming imports of Angola coffee beans after one year, coming up with the ill-chosen slogan "A free choice for free people". The company was forced to back down within six weeks. The association between Angola and 'blood coffee' had been forever established by a series of horrifying pictures the committee had laid hands on showing mangled bodies of black workers murdered at an Angolan coffee plantation.

Until its lifting after Portugal had agreed to Angola's independence in late 1974, the boycott was well observed by Dutch coffee roasters. Imports of Angola coffee beans into the Netherlands dropped to no more than a fraction of pre-boycott levels.