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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1980s (2)

Varieties of anti-apartheid

Over the 1980s the major anti-apartheid committees, all with their own target groups and ways of working, gradually gained the status of 'established anti-apartheid movement'. However, also less established groups were becoming active now.

In early 1984 activists dumped part of the precious book collection of the Dutch South African Association (NZAV) into an Amsterdam canal. The NZAV, founded in 1881, was viewed as being strongly associated with the pro-apartheid lobby. From 1985 onwards more and more radical groups, such as RaRa ('Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action'), entered the scene; they assaulted companies they saw as allies of apartheid and didn't even flinch, for instance, from burning down Shell petrol stations.

Besides the mainstream groups which, when it came to South Africa, were largely oriented towards the ANC, a much smaller pro-PAC current had been active since the 1970s. The Azania Committee supported the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), the liberation movement that had broken away from the ANC in 1959 on the grounds that the ANC did not want to be a movement for blacks only.

On a local level, such as in the Rotterdam-based working group 'Rotterdam against Apartheid', there was a degree of cooperation between the two currents. On a national level, ties of cooperation - or in some respects rather a division of tasks - existed between the major 'mainstream' committees AABN, BOA, Kairos and KZA.

As a sequel to the debates in parliament and in the UN on the oil embargo, an international anti-apartheid initiative among parliamentarians was launched in the early 1980s. The Dutch parliamentarian Jan Nico Scholten founded the Association of West-European Parliamentarians for Action against Apartheid (AWEPAA), a network of MPs from the whole of Western Europe including the European Parliament, of which he became president. Sanctions became one of the principal parts of the AWEPAA programme.

Humanitarian and military aid to apartheid victims

In the debate on the oil boycott, the Van Agt government also promised to make "a significant additional effort" in terms of the aid given to South Africa's neighbouring 'Frontline' states. Ever since 1975 the Netherlands had been giving aid of a strictly 'humanitarian' nature to the ANC. Yet the anti-apartheid movement noticed some hypocrisy in the government's policy. Supplying means of transport and communication to the ANC was not considered: just imagine that the liberation movement used them for military purposes... The apartheid regime, by contrast, got this type of goods notwithstanding the existing arms embargo - 'for civil purposes'.

From 1981 some restrictions were lifted, but in a formal sense aid was still not being given 'to the ANC' but to 'refugees in ANC-administered camps' in the Frontline States instead. At the request of the ANC, the money was channelled through KZA, which bought the necessary goods after consulting the liberation movement.

In June 1985 a diplomatic row erupted when the South Africans abducted the Dutchman Klaas de Jonge, who had been detained but had spectacularly escaped from his guards, from the Dutch embassy in Pretoria, where he had sought refuge. De Jonge was one among a number of Dutchmen who refused to make a distinction between 'humanitarian' and 'military' aid any longer. He had helped the ANC as an arms smuggler.

It was not that arms smuggling for the ANC was looked upon favourably by the Dutch government, but the fact that the South African police, by dragging De Jonge out of the embassy premises, had "seriously infringed" on the diplomatic immunity of the embassy, offered the government a chance to adopt a principled attitude towards South Africa. It was the kind of determination the opposition and the anti-apartheid movement scarcely noticed elsewhere in the government's policies.

Neighbouring states in the frontline

Just as Zimbabwean freedom fighters and political refugees had found refuge in other countries in the region before 1980, many South Africans now lived in countries such as Swaziland, Zambia, Angola and Tanzania. And like the Ian Smith government before 1980, the South African apartheid regime didn't shrink from exerting its violence also outside its national boundaries.

Young people had fled to training camps in the Frontline States after Soweto (1976); ANC combatants planned their guerrilla attacks from there; and SWAPO, in its struggle to liberate Namibia from the South African occupation, also operated from bases beyond the Namibian borders.

But South Africa's aggression and destabilisation were not just aimed at ANC or SWAPO exiles. South Africa also supported rebel movements that fought against the governments of the former Portuguese colonies: MNR (Renamo) in Mozambique, Unita in Angola.

From 1981 to 1988 South Africa even waged an all-out war inside Angola, against the Angolans and the Cubans who had come to their rescue. In 1981, there were joint protest manifestations in the Netherlands against the raid by all Dutch anti-apartheid groups and a host of other organisations.

South Africa's aggression became a key theme for the committees in 1982-1983. In the KZA/Kairos oil boycott campaign a major line of argument had been all along that South Africa wouldn't have been able to carry out its policy of aggression were it not for imported fuel. The AABN had always focused strongly on the arms embargo, and regularly published reports on the issue together with COSAWR, the organisation of exiled South African conscientious objectors, and with the FNV trade union federation. It was in these reports that the involvement of the Dutch electronics manufacturer Philips in arms exports to South Africa was revealed. In late 1983 the AABN, as part of a large joint fundraising campaign of the major anti-apartheid committees ('Together against South African aggression'), organized a large public hearing, with eyewitnesses and experts. The message was clear: 'Apartheid is war'.

Assistance to ANC school and radio station

A special bond existed with the exiled ANC community somewhat further from South Africa, in Tanzania. A campaign that had started in 1977 had enabled the ANC to open its first hospital in Mazimbu, the ANC-Holland Solidarity Hospital, in 1984. The most extensive solidarity campaigns, especially by the AABN, were those for SOMAFCO, the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, named after the executed South African freedom fighter. Several organisations collected funds for the construction of the school in the years between 1979 and 1982. Containers full of collected educational materials were shipped to Mazimbu, and Dutch teachers went to Tanzania to give lessons to ANC exiles.

Another initiative originating from within the AABN was specifically aimed at supporting the underground radio station of the ANC, Radio Freedom, which transmitted from several countries in Southern Africa. Staff of many Dutch broadcasting corporations, working together in the organisation Omroep voor Radio Freedom ('Broadcasters for Radio Freedom') raised money to equip mobile studios; South Africans followed courses in the Netherlands; and Dutch radio people travelled to Africa to train colleagues. The campaign continued for years. Money was also collected for a dummy studio in Mazimbu in Tanzania.