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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1990s (2)


De Klerk invited the Dutch South Africa groups for lunch during his visit to the Netherlands in October 1990. The Dutch South African Association (NZAV) was the only to accept; KZA, Kairos and AABN declined. Instead, they organized a protest meeting with Zarina Maharaj, the wife of the imprisoned ANC official Mac Maharaj.
Conny Braam's book on 'Operation Vula' was not to appear until two years later; nobody knew the story of how Maharaj, the leader of the ANC's secret plan to smuggle top ANC people into the country, had got his disguise done in the Netherlands.

Zarina Maharaj addressing a meeting of AABN, KZA and Kairos on the occasion of De Klerk's visit , October 1990: 'Free Mac Maharaj!!'

De Klerk was in no hurry to release political prisoners. He was bent on power-sharing, not a majority government. Apartheid, for that matter, had not been a crime, it had just 'proved unworkable'. Meanwhile, De Klerk tried to push forward the Zulu leader Buthelezi and his Inkatha movement as opponents of the ANC.
In 1990 violent clashes between Buthelezi's followers and those of the ANC spiralled out of control, resulting in bloodbaths in townships and commuter trains.
Doubt was cast on De Klerk's good faith in the fledgling negotiations, as he did nothing to stop the violence; the police and military took part in it, and soon rumours abounded that Inkatha was being secretly supported and the security forces were instigating the violence.

Violence in South Africa, with its potentially disrupting effect, became an important theme for the Dutch anti-apartheid movement in the early 1990s. Kairos took part in initiatives taken by the South African Council of Churches and the South African Bishops' Conference together with the World Council of Churches, to set up an international violence monitoring system. The AABN supported a South African black police union and cooperated with Dutch police unions in fact finding and violence observation missions to South Africa in 1991, 1993 and 1994.

Unfamiliar terrain

Yet the end of apartheid was looming, and the solidarity movement had to strike out on somewhat uncomfortable new paths. KZA, for example, had for most of its existence found its natural opponents in government and business. The new partners of those tipped as the future rulers of South Africa, the ANC, were found exactly in these two spheres. The liberation movement was rapidly becoming socially acceptable, and tried to win the confidence of foreign investors in a post-apartheid South Africa.

ANC leaders in South Africa called for attention to black small business owners. Black enterpreneurs needed a boost. KZA started attempts to build up contacts with unions, cooperatives and economists in South Africa and to promote exchange between Dutch and South African companies. They succeeded to some extent in the case of small and medium-sized businesses, but the major Dutch employers' organisation, VNO, was hardly enchanted with the troublemakers that had been such a pain to its members. It was not until 1994 that more productive contacts were being established, after the ice had been broken in Rotterdam's World Trade Centre at a large meeting co-organized by KZA.

More new areas of attention

The apartheid past obviously remained a decisive factor in much of which was going on, yet South Africa was on its way to becoming a much more 'normal' country, with 'normal' problems. And so Dutch anti-apartheid organisations moved to address some new issues that deserved their attention.

There was a growing concern within the ANC and South African trade unions about the environment; KZA and AABN in particular took this up as a theme. In 1992 the AABN organized a conference on environmental issues attended by several South African environmental groups.

Sexual violence and homosexuality were other relatively new themes. In May 1991 AABN staff founded Ma Thoko, a support group for the South African gay and lesbian movement. In the years that followed Ma Thoko invited South African gay and lesbian activists to the Netherlands and organized an exhibition called 'Out in Africa: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa'.

In a rather different area, initiatives were being developed to stimulate house-building in South Africa; the lack of decent housing resulting from many decades of apartheid was going to be a major issue for the first ANC government.

At the same time, existing campaigns continued. The Radio Freedom support group and Jan Nico Scholten's parliamentarians' organisation, rechristened AWEPA (Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa), with anti-apartheid veteran Karel Roskam, went into the role of Western and South African media in this period of transition. Kairos continued to highlight human rights, paying, among other issues, attention to working conditions in the South African agricultural sector, now that a resumption of wine and fruit imports looked imminent after the lifting of sanctions. Meanwhile, anti-apartheid groups worked for the upholding of sanctions as best they could, in order to help strengthen the position of the ANC and its allies in the negotiations. The other side, the National Party apartheid government, was still in control.

A brand new, if short-lived initiative was developed in 1992 within AABN circles: 'Vula Travel', which made it possible for adventurous tourists to cast a first glance at a different South Africa, not of the Kruger wildlife reserve, but of the townships.