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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1980s (3)

'Significant effort' for Frontline States

Under pressure from the progressive wing of the governing Christian Democratic party (CDA), the Van Agt government promised to focus to a greater degree on the Frontline States and the black resistance and take a more independent stance towards the small group of Western countries that blocked economic sanctions.
A new cooperative body of the Frontline States, the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC, founded 1980), got considerable funding from the Netherlands. As it happened, Dutch industry generously profited from these funds, just as it did from bilateral aid programmes aimed at individual countries such as Mozambique.

At the same time, the government triumphantly cited the fact that most of the Frontline States had abstained during the vote on the oil embargo in the United Nations in late 1980: they don't want a boycott after all! The Dutch government preferred to overlook that these countries were much too dependent on South Africa to be able to speak out. When, in later years, SADCC countries started to declare themselves openly in favour of Western economic pressure on South Africa, the Dutch government was less willing to lend an ear.

Considerable sums were also spent on reconstruction aid to Zimbabwe, which had become independent in 1980. The fact that here, too, good money was to be made for Dutch companies certainly played a part. When in the mid-1980s reports came out on massacres perpetrated by the Zimbabwean military in Matabeleland, this led to frowns from several parties in parliament, though not from the CDA/VVD government.

The parliamentary Scholten Commission, which had started work in 1978, closed its investigations into violations of Rhodesian sanctions in 1982, concluding that the Dutch State had done nothing to block illegal oil deliveries.

Oil fatigue - Success on Krugerrands

In a chaotic Shell shareholders' meeting in The Hague in May 1982, a 'Bruinboek' (Brown Book), thus called after the retiring Shell chief executive, Dirk de Bruyne, was handed to the company's Board of Commissioners by Novib, Pax Christi, Kairos and KZA.
The organisations claimed that De Bruyne and a number of others, had they lived in England and not in a lax country like the Netherlands, would surely have had to answer to the judge for their personal involvement in violations of the Rhodesian embargo. The anti-apartheid committees had got more than 200 jurists to subscribe to the conclusion of the Bruinboek.

"A few months later, the queen awarded De Bruyne with an order": thus the dryly-worded conclusion of a story on Rhodesia and Shell in a later publication by KZA. Certainly, the work on the oil embargo continued, in particular the internationally-oriented work of the Shipping Research Bureau, which kept on its investigations and published regular reports. It seemed less convenient, however, for a countrywide campaign to maintain the focus on one company, with very little results to show for the efforts put into it. KZA felt it was high time to mount a new campaign which, like the Angola coffee campaign of the 1970s, would bring immediate, resounding success.

So, in the fall of 1984 a campaign was launched against the sale of South African gold coins ('Krugerrands') by Dutch banks. Following tried and tested campaigning methods, local groups were given a major role in pressing local bank branches. Trade unions and works councils in the banking industry endorsed the campaign. Countless organisations and individuals threatened to withdraw their money from their banks. By February 1985, even the biggest national banks had come round; the trade in Krugerrands came to a complete stop.

The goal, of course, was relatively simple to reach; another contributing factor, however, was the widened revulsion against apartheid, which was further aroused by developments within Southern Africa. In 1985-1986 another campaign followed against imports of South African fruit: 'Don't reap the fruits of apartheid'.

Human rights and economic issues

Besides economic sanctions, human rights remained another focal point in anti-apartheid actions and information work, especially for Kairos and the AABN.
Kairos continued to propagate the aims of the Christian Institute, which had been banned by the South African government in 1975. From its inception the group had also been campaigning for the release of political prisoners, and against the implementation of death sentences and forced removals of blacks. Thus, human rights, next to Shell and oil, were at the heart of Kairos's work. There was a strong focus on achieving a change of mindset within the Dutch churches. The persistent idea of 'kinship' with Dutch Reformed white Afrikaners remained an obstacle to a wholehearted rejection of apartheid in parts of the Dutch churches.

The Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement (AABN) had from the start showed its origins as a group of critical students of economics by a regular flow of publications and actions on the South African interests of Dutch companies and on banks supporting the apartheid regime with loans, by constant revelations on the smuggling of goods into Rhodesia and the delivery of military goods in contravention of the arms embargo, and by campaigns in support of the oppressed trade union movement in South Africa.

In addition, in the sphere of human rights, actions for political prisoners had become a pillar for the AABN already in the 1970s. In the 1980s campaigns continued against the many death sentences on ANC militants and for the release of political prisoners - the 'Sharpeville 6', the 'Moroka 3', or Nelson Mandela from Robben Island, to name a few. Often the various committees cooperated with one another in this area.