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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1970s (5)

Ramifications of 'Information Scandal'

In 1978 Vorster stepped down as South Africa's Prime Minister after the so-called 'Information Scandal'; he was made President, but resigned in 1979 after further details had emerged of the government scheme to secretly fund a propaganda offensive at home and abroad - with ramifications extending into the Netherlands, too.

The Nederlands Zuid-Afrikaanse Vereniging (NZAV, Dutch South African Association), founded in 1881, received money from the scheme. KLM, the Dutch national airline, played a prominent role in the distribution of veiled South African propaganda papers in Western Europe; it led to questions being asked in Dutch parliament. The Dutch Elsevier's Magazine editor Ferry Hoogendijk reportedly cashed in 300,000 guilders for an 'exclusive' interview with the major protagonist, Eschel Rhoodie of the South African Ministry of Information. KZA was quick to translate the Elsevier's interview into English and circulate it world-wide through its own weekly publication Facts & Reports.

Vorster was succeeded as Prime Minister by P.W. Botha, who hoped to be able to stabilize the apartheid system by introducing 'reforms'. At the same time, policies to rob the majority of the population of their South African citizenship by setting up 'homelands' - allegedly independent states, in fact acknowledged by no country except South Africa - were being pushed through, contributing to a further worsening of the situation.

Oil campaign stirred up

Since 1976 South Africa fell under the scope of KZA. The committee opted for joining the existing oil campaign launched by Kairos. In the years before, there had been talks to Shell on demands to withdraw from South Africa or, at least, stop investments in apartheid - Shell, however, bowed to neither. And there was a growing outcry over Shell's violations of the Rhodesian embargo - Shell, however, denied any involvement.
KZA action outside parliament at the time of the oil boycott debates, 1979. Left to right: Sietse Bosgra (KZA), Speaker Dick Dolman, Relus ter Beek MP (with moustache), Henk Waltmans MP

It was not just Kairos which was incensed. The Dutch Council of Churches felt "flat out deceived" in its talks with Shell. And when the cabinet refused to investigate Shell's clandestine activities, parliament set up a commission of its own; investigations started by the end of 1978.

Internationally the idea gained ground that it was high time to complement the arms embargo by an equally binding oil embargo. In the Netherlands the various strands merged into a large KZA/Kairos campaign, launched on Sharpeville Day, 21 March 1979, focusing on three central demands: that the Netherlands should make out a case for the embargo internationally; that the Netherlands itself should impose a legal ban on exports of oil to South Africa; and that Shell should leave South Africa, because, with a wink to the Shell advertising slogan of the day, "Shell helps apartheid spread terror in South Africa".

Dozens of political parties and organisations from all walks of life supported the campaign, hundreds of local groups were actively involved. Former Prime Minister Den Uyl was one of the speakers at a massive manifestation in Utrecht in October 1979. In November the campaign logo, the bleeding 'Shell' shell, emerged in the political heart of the country in The Hague, on the day an oil embargo motion was on the agenda of the Lower House of parliament.

Sports boycott - Debate on Paralympics

South Africa was increasingly antagonizing the international sporting community. It barred black and coloured sports people from abroad from entering the country. The other way round, white South African sports people and teams could be assured of a none too hospitable reception outside South Africa. Ever since 1964, the Olympic Games had been forbidden territory to South Africa. Now a growing number of international sports organisations and countries, particularly in the Third World and the East Bloc, proceeded to exclude South Africans from their matches and tournaments; and the UN also called for South Africa's isolation.

In the Netherlands - a Western country - it was a rather common thought that sports and politics should not be mixed up. But it was precisely the black and non-racial sports organisations in South Africa which strongly recommended that the international community should impose a boycott on official South African sports as long as apartheid ruled the country. The reason was that there was no such thing as "normal sport in an abnormal society", as quoted by Labour MP Relus ter Beek from SACOS, the non-racial South African Council on Sport, in a debate in Dutch parliament in 1979.

A motion by Ter Beek which declared South African participation in the Paralympic Games of 1980 in Arnhem to be 'undesirable' attracted widespread support. This was the first time - the debate on the oil boycott was yet to follow - that a parliamentary majority voted in favour of a policy aimed at isolating South Africa.

Ter Beek motion, introduction and conclusion: South African participation in Paralympics undesirable; government should fine-tune its policy to reflect this