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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1980s (6)

Local authorities against apartheid

In the 1980s, Dutch anti-apartheid magazines reported on local information, protest and fundraising actions for Southern Africa on an almost monthly basis. In a new development local governments, often under grassroots pressure, were now taking on a role of their own. The new city diplomacy was seen as making inroads into foreign policy, a domain the central government saw as its own; yet the municipalities persisted.

There had been experiences of municipal involvement in Third World development and aid, and a number of municipal councils had declared their cities 'nuclear-free zones'. Among the questions now coming up was whether Rotterdam and Amsterdam could, and were willing to, act against the use of their port facilities in breaking sanctions against South Africa. Municipal 'sanctions policies' often didn't get beyond words, however. The fear that less scrupled harbours abroad would take over the trade tended to prevail over the anti-apartheid stance - or, in a favourite expression of the time, 'the merchant had the upper hand over the preacher'.

At the same time the national government took action indeed when municipal councils took decisions to stop awarding contracts to companies with links to South Africa. The town of Hilversum took the lead in 1987, by severing all ties with Shell; The Hague immediately annulled the council's decision.

In spite of this opposition, the stream of municipal initiatives was not to be stopped - whether it was about renaming the Paul Kruger Bridge in Utrecht to Soweto Bridge, establishing relations with South African civic organisations that provided an alternative to the administrative structures of apartheid, or giving financial assistance to all kinds of organisations in Southern Africa.

Amsterdam officially declared itself 'anti-apartheid city' and in January 1989 offered to accommodate an ANC office (until that date, the ANC representative in Brussels had covered the Netherlands as well). Dozens of municipalities combined forces in 1988 to form LOTA (Lagere Overheden Tegen Apartheid, or Local Authorities Against Apartheid); from 1993 to 1999 the organisation went on to operate under the name of Gemeentelijk Platform Zuidelijk Afrika (Municipal Platform Southern Africa).

Klaas de Jonge free - His work goes on

In an exchange involving, among others, a South African commando who had been caught in Angola in 1985 while trying to blow up oil storage tanks, Klaas de Jonge was at last allowed to leave the former Dutch embassy building in Pretoria in September 1987. The arms runner for the ANC was received in state by the anti-apartheid movement in his home country. Belgian-Dutch Hélène Passtoors, who had been arrested together with De Jonge, was not released until 1989, after many actions in Belgium, Holland and elsewhere.

De Jonge and Passtoors were not the only ones involved in arms smuggling in Southern Africa, however. One of the pillars of KZA was the 'Liberation Fund', set up in 1977 and used to collect funds from private persons, churches and development organisations in and outside the Netherlands, from governments abroad and from the European Community - all for the liberation movements. Under the Liberation Fund a 'Cooperantes Programme' was born after requests from Zimbabwe for teachers to be stationed in the newly liberated country; it was the first step towards development aid.

Reiny and Klaas van Twillert, KZA cooperantes in Zimbabwe, were never caught; it was only years later that they decided to tell the story of how they had helped the ANC transport weapons between Zimbabwe and Botswana. There were dozens of cooperantes, more of whom were involved besides their normal jobs as teachers. Who exactly and how many of them, Reiny and Klaas still don't know, and "we were not supposed to know".

Shell plagued by new actions

After a few years, the large Shell campaign of KZA and Kairos of around 1980 had given way to other issues which became new spearheads of the countrywide anti-apartheid movement. The annual anti-apartheid protest at sharehol-der meetings went on, however. Tired of all the negative publicity Shell had made sure that as of 1981 its own tankers were no longer being used to supply South Africa. This increa-sed the difficulties of monitoring the oil flow to the apartheid country to the Dutch embargo researchers of the Shipping Research Bureau.

In 1984, the company must have been hardly pleased to see the major conservative Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf tell its readers in bold headlines: SHELL SCANDAL - Company said to have broken South African oil embargo. Media interest in the South African links of the Dutch-British oil giant continued; this time the source was a leaked confidential South African report.

"That is what we call the 'Uncle Tom' syndrome: attempting to make the unacceptable acceptable, through the payment of higher salaries." (Sean McBride, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the shareholders' meeting in The Hague, May 1983, after the board of directors had stated Shell treated black workers in South Africa well)

The basis for a revived Shell campaign was laid in May 1985 in Frankfurt in West Germany, at a Sanctions Workshop of the World Council of Churches together with church and anti-apartheid organisations. The campaign was launched on Sharpeville Day, 21 March 1986. This time, it took on a much more international character, in particular after trade unions in the United States threw in their lot. Although actions by municipalities were blocked by central government, churches and other institutions did terminate heating oil contracts; religious orders sold their shares; politicians, clergymen, even Shell employees put their name to advertisements calling for Shell to stop supporting apartheid; Royal Dutch/Shell Group president Lodewijk van Wachem missed out on a honorary doctorate from the Technical University Delft - in short: Shell's name became tainted.

The campaigners also brought into action the tried and tested method of promoting a consumer boycott, with a new twist. Motorists were still being confronted with the familiar picket lines at petrol stations, but now they were provided with an 'Alternative Tanking Guide' featuring a list of 'apartheid-free petrol stations'. To some extent this served to take the edge of Shell's complaint, 'Why are you only tough on us?', as the Tanking Guide listed all the oil companies that maintained links with apartheid South Africa, besides a few where motorists could fill up their tanks with 'clean' fuel.

At its height the campaign spanned some fifteen countries all over the world. KZA printed Shell campaign posters in ten different languages. At the same time RaRa and other violent groups not related to the mainstream anti-apartheid movement attacked Shell petrol stations, in the Netherlands as well as abroad. While denouncing RaRa's actions, the anti-apartheid movement sought cooperation with a newly-formed committee 'Shell uit Zuid-Afrika' (Shell Out of South Africa, SuZA), which tried to take the middle line between the ways of the hardliners and those of the 'old' committees that had become somewhat obsolete in the eyes of some. In 1989, SuZA staged a cheerful 'blockade spectacle' fencing off the Shell laboratory in Amsterdam.

Dutch racism

In these years the anti-apartheid movement initiated a spate of activities; actions flowered in all corners of society. The themes of apartheid in South Africa and racism in the Netherlands were now linked up as well, for instance in a seminar in early 1986 co-sponsored by the AABN and a group called Black People in Holland against Apartheid (BPHAA). At an anti-Shell demonstration in Amsterdam in 1987 - held on Sharpeville Day, declared 'International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination' by the UN - slogans against Shell were combined with slogans against racism; the demonstration had been called for by, among other organisations, BPHAA and several Surinamese, Moroccan, Turkish, Cape Verdian and other immigrant organisations. The major anti-apartheid committee BOA (Boycott Outspan Action) in particular called attention to the racism prevailing in the Netherlands itself, which more than generally realized tended to determine ways of looking at developments in Africa.