Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1970s (2)

 Anti-Apartheid Movement

One of the South African exiles living in the Netherlands who got in touch with the Comité Zuid-Afrika (CZA) was university student Berend Schuitema. What he had in mind, however, was a much more radical form of action than might be expected of good old CZA. If the Comité wanted to raise a protest against a South African sportsman playing in a tennis match in the Netherlands, it did so by handing out flyers at the gate; Schuitema and his fellow students, by contrast, turned to paint and smoke bombs to disturb a match when a South African team made its appearance at a Dutch water polo tournament in 1971. The CZA understood it had played out its role. By the end of 1971 it handed on the torch to Schuitema's group, which went on under the name of Anti-Apartheids Beweging Nederland (AABN, Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement).

China vs. the Soviet Union

"The Angola Committee is betraying the people of Angola, Long live Unita." When it came to Southern Africa, as with so many issues, different groups adopted widely divergent positions within the left-wing spectrum. Maoist activists chalked the above slogan on an Amsterdam wall in 1971; in the same year they ran off with the cash of the AABN-affiliated Medisch Komitee Angola ('Medical Committee Angola', itself a competitor of the Angola Committee). The activists-thieves argued that the money belonged to the Unita movement, which was supported by China, rather than to the 'Moscow-oriented' Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

From 1974 onwards the Netherlands saw the emergence of the Azania Committee, the Namibia Working Group, the Zimbabwe Committee and a few other small groups, which all accused the Angola Committee and the AABN of selectively supporting certain liberation movements while consciously ignoring others.
These groups, which were to disappear quietly with the demise of the Maoist movement in the Netherlands, were oriented towards liberation movements supported by China, such as the PAC in South Africa - or, in 'Azania', as in these circles the mere name South Africa was regarded as a colonial invention. The only group to continue its work as an advocate for the PAC was the Azania Committee. None of the other anti-apartheid groups supported the PAC, on the argument that this movement - as opposed to the ANC - excluded non-blacks.

Southern Africa Working Conferences

Annual working conferences where hundreds of local activists came together to discuss strategies with the national Southern Africa committees were held as of 1970. These conferences - often with a public part for a larger audience, featuring speakers such as ANC leader O.R. Tambo - were organized in turns, or sometimes jointly, by the national committees, together with local groups.

New local 'Working Groups Southern Africa' and platforms such as 'Rotterdam against Apartheid' would be set up during these meetings. Some would feel drawn to a specific national committee, others would keep their independence and organize local campaigns in cooperation with the AABN, the Angola Committee, Boycott Outspan Aktie, Kairos or others as they saw fit.


Government holds on to 'dialogue'

Little change was meanwhile visible on the level of the government in The Hague. As part of a hoped-for 'dialogue' with the apartheid regime, another member of the cabinet, Transport and Communications Minister Bakker, travelled to South Africa in November 1970 to discuss economic relations.

Bakker had no intention to let himself be stopped: neither by the more than 14,500 signatures collected by the CZA and others, nor by fierce criticism from among progressive MPs, nor by a row provoked by Dutch navy men having been refused entry to restaurants in the Cape because of the colour of their skin. The government of Christian Democrats and right-wing liberals maintained its chosen line: denouncing apartheid on principle, but rejecting sanctions and promoting dialogue with white South Africa.

On Portugal, however, motions introduced in parliament in 1970 and 1971 obtained majority votes. One motion declared that it was most regrettable that the Netherlands had once again abstained from voting in the UN. The UN resolution had condemned NATO involvement in Portugal's ongoing colonial war. As a result, the Netherlands supported subsequent UN resolutions in 1971 and 1972. Like his predecessor Joseph Luns, however, Foreign Minister Norbert Schmelzer refused to raise the issue within NATO itself.

From Dutch daily Trouw, December 1971: 'Angola Committee: Put off delivery of aircraft to Portugal'. Nine Dutch Fokker aircraft were already being deployed in Portugal's colonial wars

Queen Juliana, who already in 1949 had said she would never set foot in South Africa as long as apartheid reigned, sticked to her anti-apartheid stance. In early 1971, South African newspapers wrote about "a wicked action" of the Dutch queen, who had donated a considerable sum to the new 'Programme to Combat Racism' of the World Council of Churches. The World Council used the money, among other purposes, to fund "terrorist organisations that have already been perpetrating atrocities in Africa and want to extend even further their reign of terror".