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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1970s (4)

16 June 1976: Soweto shocks the world

A cabinet crisis on the controversial sale of atomic reactor vessels to South Africa had been prevented by the lack of resolve of the progressive Den Uyl government - as it turned out, the apartheid government gave preference to a French supplier. But three weeks later Prime Minister Den Uyl must have felt relieved anyway that no Dutch export licence had been granted.

On 16 June 1976 the apartheid police opened fire on youngsters in Soweto protesting against the compulsory use of Afrikaans in South African schools. 13-year-old Hector Pieterson went down in history as the first victim of police bullets in Soweto that day, thanks to a photo that went round the world. Hundreds of others lost their lives in the subsequent riots. Just as after Sharpeville in 1960, the world's eyes were again opened to the brutality of apartheid. In the Netherlands thousands of people immediately took to the streets; other large manifestations followed. Public opinion after Soweto

To Dutch anti-apartheid activists, the world became a different place after Soweto. All sorts of Dutch organisations became interested in the issue of South Africa; almost overnight, finding local and national allies for campaigns and activities became a lot easier. The impact of developments in South Africa was being felt in all quarters of Dutch society.


The Protestant Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam had already severed cordial ties with its sister university in South Africa in 1974. A rift between the Dutch and South African Reformed churches came about in 1977. Dutch artists started to donate work to raise funds for the ANC; a cultural boycott of white South Africa had been called for by South African artists on a meeting on 'Art against Apartheid', organized by the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AABN) one month prior to Soweto.

DAF Netherlands concluded that no additional publicity was needed to step up its fundraising activities after an event like Soweto: South Africa itself, by its policies, brought in most donors. At the same time, emigration to the apartheid state was on the wane due to the information campaigns of the various anti-apartheid organisations.

 International protest was further fuelled in 1977 by the death in suspicious circumstances of Steve Biko, the detained leader of the South African Black Consciousness Movement. An action of local residents in Amsterdam led the municipality to approve the official renaming of a square in the city's 'Transvaal' district, with its streets named after Afrikaner heroes from the Boer War, to Steve Biko Square.

Turning point for government too

It was the savage repression in the wake of the Soweto students' uprising which at last made Minister Van der Stoel to give up his preference for 'critical dialogue': "I am starting to see that coercive measures are the only remaining way to prevent a catastrophe in South Africa." In the UN the Netherlands supported the imposition of a mandatory arms embargo on South Africa in 1977. And unlike many other Western countries it also voted in favour of resolutions aimed at halting new foreign investments and at the imposition of an oil embargo. Emigration was no longer subsidized, state subsidies for exports to South Africa were discontinued, and the Cultural Treaty of 1951 was frozen.nd the Namibian SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma, were cordially received by Prime Minister Den Uyl and others. When a new government of Christian Democrats and right-wing liberals took up office in late 1977, it, just as its successors in later years, largely continued the course set by the progressive Den Uyl government.

Portugal's colonies independent - Angola Comité becomes KZA

The successful liberation struggle in the Portuguese colonies boosted the morale of the resistance movement in South Africa. All African colonies had become independent after the Portuguese 'Carnation Revolution' of April 1974, which had marked the end of the authoritarian Portuguese government.


The Angola Committee changed its course, from support to the struggle against Portuguese colonialism to support to the just-liberated Portuguese former colonies; the Eduardo Mondlane Foundation was to be the vehicle through which this support was partly channelled.

The committee had already started to see the liberation of the whole of Southern Africa as the central issue, and accordingly renamed itself Komitee Zuidelijk Afrika (KZA, or Holland Commitee on Southern Africa) in December 1976. Together with BOA and Kairos, KZA set up a new monthly campaigning magazine, Amandla, which started appearing in January 1977; the Flemish branch of BOA and the Belgian AKZA committee later participated as well. The AABN preferred to keep some distance and continued to publish its own periodical (Anti-Apartheids Nieuws, later Zuidelijk Afrika Nieuws, still later De Anti-Apartheidskrant).

Namibia and SWAPO

The League of Nations had given South Africa a mandate to administer the former German colony Namibia (South-West Africa) in 1920. After World War II, however, South Africa did no longer take any notice of the United Nations, the League's successor. It effectively considered 'South-West Africa' part of its own territory. In the 1960s the South West African People's Organisation of Namibia (SWAPO) took up arms against the South African occupiers; SWAPO was acknowledged in 1968 by the Organisation of African Unity and in 1973 by the United Nations as the 'sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people'. In solidarity campaigns mounted in the Netherlands over the 1970s SWAPO was increasingly bracketed together with the ANC and the liberation of South Africa.

KZA telex defeats aircraft manufacturer

Specific actions were launched on the issue of Namibia, too. The AABN jointly with the progressive industrial workers' union Industriebond NVV organized a conference on Namibia's independence struggle in June 1975, and later that year invited a delegation of SWAPO's women's department to the Netherlands. The Rotterdam-based Namibia Working Group, affiliated to the Azania Committee, published a 'Namibia Bulletin' (not oriented towards SWAPO). The Namibian David de Beer joined Kairos, where he started a 'Kairos Namibia Briefing', "circulated among church officials and others in the Netherlands concerned about the liberation of Namibia". By playing it smart, KZA succeeded in blocking the sale by Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker of a passenger aircraft to the South-West African airline Suidwes Lugdiens in 1977.


In 1976, still under its old name of Angola Committee, KZA, together with Kairos, the Association of Fair Trade Shops and Lutheran, Dutch Reformed and other youth organisations, had launched a support and information campaign entitled 'Free Namibia - Support SWAPO', in reaction to a call by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation.  The campaign received a new impetus in 1978 when South African plans started to materialize to grant 'independence' to Namibia - without SWAPO, and without any prospect of an end to the South African presence. Now the biggest Dutch development organisation, Novib, which had supported SWAPO financially since 1976, also joined the campaign.