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The Netherlands against Apartheid - 1990s (3)

Which future for anti-apartheid?

A question that came up after Mandela's release was what future lay ahead of the anti-apartheid organisations themselves. To the Shipping Research Bureau, the specialist daughter of KZA and Kairos, the answer was clear: our job done, we close shop. The bureau had already wound up its work for a coal boycott against South Africa, which it had done alongside the oil embargo work for a number of years. Despite the fact that oil sanctions had become all the rage in the early 1990s (now against Iraq, Haïti, Yugoslavia) exactly amongst those powers that had been loath to impose them on South Africa, the bureau announced its closure after the UN lifted the South African oil embargo in late 1993. UN measures on South Africa had been lifted one by one, with the strategic oil and arms embargoes holding out longest.

After the South African elections of 1994, the AABN also considered it time to say goodbye: " action group that is redundant ought to disband itself. Twenty-three years of AABN, that'll do!" In March 1995, the AABN's successor, IZA (Institute for Southern Africa), signed a letter of intent with two of its former rivals/allies, KZA and Eduardo Mondlane Foundation. The groups eventually merged in 1997 into NiZA (Netherlands institute for Southern Africa), whose rich collection of anti-apartheid archives was transferred to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam in 2008.

Until the merger, KZA continued along its chosen post-apartheid path. Kairos went its own independent way as an information and documentation centre and continued to support reconstruction projects in South Africa until the untimely end in 2002, when it stopped not for want of a cause but for lack of money. Of the other committees and groups, DAF Netherlands and SuZA had been dissolved in 1991. BOA did not survive for long as an anti-racist organisation and stopped working in 1992. The work of LOTA (Local Authorities Against Apartheid, later the Municipal Platform Southern Africa) was taken over by the Association of Netherlands Municipalities.

April 1994: victory

 The negotiators had set the date for the first democratic elections in South Africa, 27 April 1994, which would mark the official end of apartheid. Dutch anti-apartheid activists braced themselves for a final large support campaign. 
In February 1994 this campaign brought Nelson Mandela in person to the Dutch broadcasting studios in Hilversum, for a live TV broadcast ('Give South Africa a Fair Chance') with national celebrities including footballer Ruud Gullit, Labour leader Wim Kok and several popular artists. Actually, the Dutch campaign slogan was: 'Geef Mandela een Stem', which carries the double meaning of 'Give Mandela a Voice' and 'Give Mandela the Vote', but the broadcasting company did not allow the full-evening programme to be an expression of direct support to just one of the parties. The money collected went to 'independent' organisations in South Africa; the activists took care, however, that all of these did lean towards the ANC.

The month before the South African elections, an exhibition named 'The Netherlands against Apartheid' was opened in Amsterdam. The exhibition was later moved to South Africa, enabling South Africans to marvel at the feats of the Dutch anti-apartheid movement, which the AABN magazine had once jokingly described as "that impressive conglomerate of committees large and small, anti-apartheid villages, and Jan Nico Scholten".

The ANC scored 63 per cent in the elections, and Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa. It was a victory the Dutch anti-apartheid movement, in all its variety, had hoped and worked for over several decades.

Mandela himself, live on Dutch TV in February 1994, courteously said, "Well, the Netherlands, its government and this people, have supported us very strongly during the most difficult stage of our struggle, and I have come here to thank the government and the people of this country for that support."

Whoever is not obliged to speak as a future head of state is free to strike a slightly different tone, as witnessed by the simple words former archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke on Dutch TV in early 2004: "The anti-apartheid movement in the Netherlands was one of the world's most powerful!"