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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1980s (7)

Anti-apartheid action spreading ever wider

Throughout 1987, the 75th anniversary of the ANC was used as an opportunity for manifestations and campaigns. The celebrations set off with a quite extraordinary event by Dutch anti-apartheid standards: the publication of a joint January issue of the AABN magazine Zuidelijk Afrika Nieuws and Amandla, the magazine of BOA, Kairos and KZA. Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday in 1988 was also celebrated; AABN volunteer Dineke Posthumus travelled to Winnie Mandela in Soweto carrying 150,000 congratulatory messages that had been collected in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the campaign for the ANC's Radio Freedom continued full force, with national and local activities across the country. In November 1989, for example, the 'Radio Freedom All Stars' led by South African jazz saxophonist Sean Bergin, who had left his country of birth for a long artistic exile and lived in the Netherlands since 1976, played in the Congresgebouw in The Hague. It was a familiar venue for anti-apartheid activists, who just a few months earlier, on their customary visit to the annual shareholders' meeting, had heard Dr. Beyers Naudé lash the Shell board on their complicity with apartheid.

Penalty in the Utrecht Galgewaard stadium. Shooting of a TV spot for the Radio Freedom support campaign, with popular Dutch comedian Freek de Jonge (l) and Dutch star footballer Ruud Gullit (r)

Amsterdam 'cultural capital of South Africa'

An undisputed milestone in the series of large AABN cultural conferences was the CASA ('Culture in Another South Africa') festival of December 1987. Once again artists from within South Africa and their exiled colleagues got the opportunity to meet in Amsterdam. In a speech at the conference, the ANC's Barbara Masekela awarded the city with the honorary title of "cultural capital of South Africa".

Around 250 South African artists seized the opportunity to discuss freely and openly the future of culture in a democratic, non-racial South Africa. Rather than being thought of as an anti-apartheid manifestation aimed at a Dutch public, this was just what the festival was meant for. But Dutch participants were addressed as well, with theatre plays, concerts and more.

Largest manifestation

The climax of anti-apartheid action in these years was a large national demonstration organized by Breed Overleg Tegen Apartheid (BOTA, 'Broad Consultation Against Apartheid') on 11 June 1988. The Amsterdam Museumplein accommodated over 50,000 protesters, who heard the South African Reverend Allan Boesak accuse the Dutch government of "political vandalism". The event took place on the same day that Mandela's 70th birthday was celebrated with a 'Free Mandela' pop concert in London's Wembley Stadium, followed by more than a billion TV viewers world-wide.

All segments of the Southern Africa movement were represented in BOTA, in addition to a range of other organisations including major ones such as the FNV trade union federation and the Council of Churches. To get the latter on board, sanctions demands had had to be toned down somewhat, as not everyone favoured the idea of a total boycott of South Africa. Agreement was reached, however, on demands for the cutting of air links and a boycott of South African coal.

Namibia: wait and see

The Netherlands recognized the legitimacy of 'Decree No. 1' of the Council for Namibia, the legal administering authority for Namibia set up by the United Nations. The so-called Decree No. 1 for the protection of the Natural Resources of Namibia (1974) made any exploitation of Namibian natural resources without consent of the Council illegal. Dutch government representatives reassuringly declared that no Namibian uranium was being enriched at the Urenco/Ultracentrifuge Nederland plant in Almelo. The facts proved them wrong, as was shown by Dutch anti-apartheid organisations in 1978. In the 1980s the issue dragged on both in and outside parliament, and in 1986 the Council for Namibia summoned Urenco to court in the Netherlands (the case was dropped when Namibia became independent).

The Netherlands meanwhile clung to a cautious wait-and-see attitude on Namibia. The Lubbers government disputed the UN's recognition of SWAPO as the sole and authentic representative of the people of Namibia, rejected armed struggle as fundamentally wrong, and defended its conservative course by subscribing to the viewpoint of the major Western powers, the US in particular, that the Namibian issue could only be solved 'in a wider context' - referring, in plain language, to the presence in Angola of Cubans who were helping the Angolans in their war against the South African invaders.

Tide turns against South Africa - Namibia independent

The tables were turning in 1987-1988. White South Africa, thinking itself invincible, tasted military defeat and was forced to agree to negotiations if it wanted to retrieve its troops from Angola unscathed. Now the Angolans and Cubans were setting the terms, making their agreement subject to Namibia getting its independence.

Although South Africa, with its hold on the Namibian media and power structure, still had ample opportunities to sabotage SWAPO (and took advantage of them indeed), independence was looming. It was a signal for the European solidarity movement to start a joint support campaign. For a number of years there had been coordinated annual fundraising campaigns by KZA and AABN, in which local support groups also took part. Now, Namibia was put at the centre of the 1989 campaign, which went under the optimistic motto of 'Namibia Now, South Africa Tomorrow'. The same year, reports filtered through of the torturing of alleged collaborators in SWAPO camps, leading to hefty debates between the various organisations, as well as to a number of newspapers striking a rather triumphalist tone in their comments:

"The churches, KZA and Kairos are currently licking their wounds, inflicted by their errors of judgement, resulting from a one-sided approach based on a simple black-and-white world view and their uncritical parroting the words of heroes in the struggle." - NRC Handelsblad

Around that time one heroine of the struggle, Winnie Mandela, the wife of the imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela, got involved in a scandal by equally nasty reports of boys having been beaten up in her entourage, one of whom was even killed.

In the midst of the controversy a planned campaign by a brand new 'Broad Consultation on Namibia' was put on ice, after Novib announced its withdrawal. For all that, the prestige built up by the ANC, SWAPO and the solidarity movement was not seriously harmed.
In November 1989 elections were held in Namibia under the auspices of the United Nations. AWEPAA, Jan Nico Scholten's parliamentarians' organisation, and its affiliate, the Amsterdam-based African European Institute, sent a team of election observers from the Netherlands (similar missions were sent in later years to Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and South Africa). SWAPO won a smashing victory with 57 per cent of the votes.