Nordic Contribution to the Struggle against Apartheid

Its evolution and significance



Senior fellow
United Nations Institute for Training and Research, New York

[This is an elaboration of a lecture delivered at a seminar of the Scandinavian Institute for African Studies, Uppsala, on February l9, l986.]

Mr. Chairman,

I have been privileged - in my work in the United Nations Secretariat as the official in charge of action against apartheid for over two decades, and even as I continue to work against apartheid since retirement last year - to enjoy the friendship and co-operation of Nordic governments, organizations and institutions, as well as many individuals in the Nordic countries. I appreciate this opportunity to share some thoughts on the evolution of Nordic policies towards southern Africa, as seen from the United Nations and by one who had grown up in a colonial country, India, and whose outlook has been shaped by its national movement against colonialism and racism.

I believe that the Nordic countries have made a great contribution in support of the struggle for liberation in southern Africa and that they can and will make an even greater contribution in the future.

I also believe that the struggle for freedom in South Africa has had a great influence on the evolution of Nordic attitudes towards Africa, racism and international affairs - and indeed a deeper impact on Nordic personality than is generally recognized.

I have been impressed with the evolution of understanding and support by Nordic countries for the aspirations of Africa and I have been privileged to have made a small contribution in that process.

I hope that you will appreciate if my account is, therefore, rather personal.

The significance of Nordic contribution

I wish to emphasize at the outset my belief that the Nordic contribution to the international efforts for the elimination of apartheid and for the independence of colonial nations in southern Africa has been of great significance in several respects.

First, in the context of the struggle against all manifestations of racism.

South Africa has been described as a microcosm of the world with people of varied racial and national origins. The national liberation movement in South Africa has consistently espoused non-racialism and resisted racial hostility in the face of inhuman racist oppression and violence. While the apartheid regime holds that different racial groups cannot live together in harmony as equals, the liberation movement has been ever more firmly uniting people of all racial origins, including those of European ancestry, in a common struggle for a democratic State.

The main issue in the confrontation in South Africa is, therefore, of universal significance.

The fact that the Nordic countries, at the other end of the globe and seemingly the purest of the so-called "white" nations, opposed apartheid and joined African, Asian, Caribbean and other nations in support of the South African liberation movement helped reinforce our faith in human solidarity.

There has always been a grave danger that the resentment of the oppressed black people in South Africa would translate into indiscriminate violence, organized or spontaneous, against the whites. Terrorism was never too difficult in a society where the daily humiliations of the majority arouse intense bitterness, where black cooks and nannies serve in almost all white homes and where arms are plentiful.

The leaders of the national liberation movement deserve enormous credit for the fact that killings of innocent white men, women and children did not take place, except for a few isolated instances which they could not possibly control when they were confined by brutal repression. (I have in mind, for instance, a few incidents in 1962-63 which the regime used to fan hysteria among the whites and escalate repression against members of the liberation movement). The support received by the oppressed people from governments, organizations and individuals in the West helped reinforce the courageous efforts of the leaders of the liberation struggle to avert a racial conflict and channel the people`s anger into an organized movement for the destruction of apartheid.

Second, in the context of the "cold war."

The struggle in South Africa has been prolonged and very difficult not only because of the bitter legacy of racism in the country but also because of external factors - such as the eagerness of many corporations and financial interests to profit from racism, the "kith and kin" attitudes in the West and, above all, the short-sighted strategic calculations of some governments.

The attitudes generated by the "cold war" and McCarthyism in the United States have been most unfortunate. Some agencies of the United States Government appear to have concluded even in the 1940's that the national liberation movement in South Africa was so greatly influenced or "infiltrated" by Communists that it should be opposed and undermined rather than befriended and supported. That assessment has tended to distort United States policy ever since.

The sharp division in the United Nations in 1961-62 on sanctions against South Africa - with all the Western countries opposing sanctions and some even assisting the racist regime in its enormous military build-up to resist the winds of change blowing from a resurgent Africa - could have led to dangerous polarization in world opinion. The regard which the governments and peoples of Nordic States - three of which are members of NATO - began to show for the African National Congress of South Africa and its leaders at the time, which resulted in ever-increasing support since then, was, therefore, most heartening.

I believe the turning of southern Africa into an arena of the cold war with all its ugly consequences and the intervention of external forces, with one or more Western Powers colluding openly or covertly with the apartheid regime, was a greater danger than most observers in the West have recognized.

The action of Norway in opposing any NATO involvement in southern Africa was, therefore, extremely important - and I must acknowledge the principled position of Ordvar Nordli, Thorvald Stoltenberg and others in this respect.

The clandestine support by CIA to the South African invasion of Angola in 1975, and the arrival of Cuban and other troops in that country at the request of MPLA, could have led to a very serious international crisis. Opinion in Africa and in the West was initially confused and divided. It was only due to the statesmanship of some leaders in Africa and the West that such a crisis was averted. The courageous and clear-sighted position of Olof Palme at that critical time, as on several other occasions, deserves respect and recognition.

Since the advent of the Reagan administration in the United States, with its essentially cold war approach to southern Africa, the Nordic States, along with some others in the West, have helped counter moves to turn the issues in that region into East-West controversies, though perhaps they could have exerted greater influence.

The Nordic countries have their differences but happily these differences have been minor in relation to southern Africa. Sweden and Finland are non-aligned, while Denmark, Iceland and Norway are members of NATO. But the policy of no Nordic State toward southern Africa has been determined by the alliance relationships.

In fact, East-West conflict in southern Africa is bound to heighten tension in Europe to the detriment of the interests of the Nordic countries. They have, therefore, a vital interest in resisting, along with non-aligned States, any injection of the cold war into southern Africa to complicate the just struggle of the people for freedom and independence.

Third, as regards assistance.

The Nordic contribution against apartheid was, at first, mainly in the provision of humanitarian and educational assistance to the victims of that inhuman system. In the United Nations, we deliberately minimized the political significance of such assistance, partly in order not to provoke retaliation by the Pretoria regime and partly because we did not wish to allow the major Western Powers to provide some humanitarian assistance and pretend that they were on the right side.

I have myself always believed, however, that assistance to political prisoners and their families in South Africa was vital for sustaining the morale of the oppressed people engaged in a prolonged and difficult struggle for freedom. The assistance - more than half of it from the Nordic countries - has played an indispensable role in enabling the liberation movement to recover from the reverses of 1963-64 and take the offensive with greater strength. It has also set an important precedent for international assistance to other oppressed peoples.

If Nordic assistance was confined to humanitarian and educational purposes, it would have been of limited significance, and might perhaps even have degenerated into paternalism. But the concern for political prisoners and over repression led to greater understanding of the struggles for freedom in southern Africa and to economic, social and other assistance directly to the liberation movements by the end of the decade.

It is invidious to argue whether sanctions against the apartheid regime or assistance to the people struggling against apartheid is more important. They are two sides of the same coin.

The liberation movement has often said that sanctions were the best form of assistance to their struggle. Even small countries with modest economic involvement in apartheid should disengage from apartheid since every small step has a moral and psychological value. It is also essential to prevent the growth of interests with a stake in apartheid in order to facilitate further action against apartheid.

But the fact remains that only the major Powers can exert effective pressure on the apartheid regime through sanctions, while even small countries can provide substantial assistance to meet the modest needs of the liberation movement. Assistance, moreover, can be of crucial importance at certain stages of the struggle.

Finally, the successive measures taken by the Nordic States in response to United Nations resolutions, however slow and limited, were generally in advance of action by other Western countries. The Nordic example helped the United Nations and anti-apartheid groups in pressing for action by those countries.

The recent measures by Nordic States, and their decision to promote similar action by other States, are highly encouraging.

Looking at the record of international solidarity with the liberation struggle in South Africa, we find that the African and Non-aligned States provide crucial political support and some material assistance of various kinds. Their financial contributions are modest because of their poverty, but the hidden costs borne by the host countries of refugees are very large. The frontline States have even risked their independence and suffered enormously for their support to the liberation struggle in South Africa.

The Socialist States have given large-scale assistance of various kinds - from scholarships to arms - though their financial assistance is also limited because of their foreign exchange problems.

The Nordic and other Western countries have been the principal source of humanitarian, educational and financial assistance. The total contribution of Nordic countries for assistance to the oppressed people of South Africa and Namibia is now in the order of $ 50 million a year, including direct grants of well over $10 million to the liberation movements.

Thus the liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia receive assistance from all regions of the world and from governments of varied ideological persuasions. I need hardly emphasize the importance and wider significance of this.

I do not in any way wish to give the impression that the Nordic countries have done enough. They did little by way of sanctions against South Africa between 1963 when they recognized the need for increasing pressure against the apartheid regime and 1976 when, after the Soweto massacre, Norway and Sweden decided to prohibit new investments in South Africa. They did little on trade sanctions or airline boycott until 1984. Even now Nordic sanctions are partial. But in all the countries the main barriers have been crossed and further advances are possible.

Nordic attitudes until 1960

The problem of racial discrimination in South Africa was first brought up in the United Nations at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946 in the form of a complaint by India that the Union of South Africa had imposed discriminatory measures against the people of Indian origin in violation of bilateral agreements.

South Africa challenged the competence of the United Nations to consider the Indian complaint and pressed for a request to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion. It was Sweden, newly admitted to the United Nations, which took the initiative at that time to move a formal proposal to refer the issue to the International Court. The Nordic countries continued for several years to advocate such a course.

In 1947 Norway even called on India to suspend its trade embargo against South Africa as a preliminary to talks between the two countries. In 1952, all the Nordic delegations (Finland was not yet a member of the United Nations) expressed reservations on a clause in the resolution calling on South Africa to suspend the implementation of the Group Areas Act which enforced residential segregation at the cost of enormous suffering to the black people.

In 1952, the General Assembly began consideration of the wider problem of apartheid at the request of Asian-African States. Again the Nordic States suggested requesting the International Court for an advisory opinion on the competence of the United Nations to consider the matter. They did not support the Asian-African resolution for a commission to study the racial situation in South Africa.

Denmark moved an alternative resolution with a pious declaration on racial discrimination in general. The Asian and African delegations abstained on that resolution. Both resolutions were adopted with many abstentions.

The original Danish proposal had contained a clause declaring that the methods of Member States for giving effect to their pledges under the Charter may vary with circumstances such as the social structure of the States concerned and the different stages of development of the various groups within the country. That dangerous clause was fortunately rejected in a separate vote and deleted. Years later, we could approvingly recall the adopted text which declared that "in a multi-racial society harmony and respect for human rights and freedoms and the peaceful development of a unified community are best assured when patterns of legislation and practice are directed towards ensuring equality before the law of all persons regardless of race, creed or colour and when economic, social, cultural and political participation is on a basis of equality."

The Nordic countries did not support the work of the United Nations Commission on the Racial Situation in South Africa which made annual reports to the General Assembly with an analysis of the situation as well as recommendations for a peaceful solution. Their negative votes or abstentions contributed to the disbandment of the Commission in 1955.

Thus initially the Nordic States were more concerned with legalisms and caution than with the substance of the issue, thereby opposing any meaningful action against apartheid and racism. In the 1950's they became more concerned with United Nations action on human rights and distanced themselves from the colonial Powers which continued to reject the competence of the United Nations to take action on apartheid, but tried to follow a "middle course" of appeals to the apartheid regime rather than condemnation of its policies.

Impact of the Sharpeville massacre

A major change in Nordic attitudes took place with the Sharpeville massacre of March 21, 1960.

The movement for the boycott of South Africa, launched in Britain in 1959, spread widely in Nordic countries. The trade union federations of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden called for a boycott of South African goods from April to August 1960. The Swedish co-operative societies pledged their support. The Norwegian dock workers refused to unload consignments of South African goods. Students and youth played an active role in protests against apartheid; student and youth groups were perhaps the main channels for the spread of the boycott movement from Britain to Nordic countries. Several public figures in Nordic countries trace their involvement in political life to the demonstrations after the Sharpeville massacre.

It is often suggested that there was greater public reaction in Nordic countries than in most other Western countries because Nordic countries had little economic relations with South Africa. I do not think that provides a full explanation of this important development in Nordic public life. Lack of vested interests might have led to the absence of public interest in the situation in South Africa. There were more public protests against apartheid in Great Britain, which had the largest economic stake in South Africa, than in any other Western country.

One reason for the Nordic reaction was the growing public awareness of racism in South Africa because of the efforts of people like the Reverend Gunnar Helander, a missionary in that country until he was prohibited re-entry in the early 1950's, and Per Wastberg, writer and journalist who visited South Africa in the late 1950's and was inspired by the freedom movement. Olof Palme became concerned over apartheid as a student leader and Anders Thunborg after a visit to South Africa in a sporting team in the early 1950's.

Perhaps more important was the fact that the Sharpeville massacre took place at a time when Nordic countries had developed a spirit of solidarity with the poorer countries as evidenced by their assistance programmes.

But while public opinion was aroused by the violence of apartheid in 1960 and public organizations took various actions, governmental action was limited to an arms embargo and assistance to refugees. The Nordic governments imposed embargoes against the export of arms to South Africa. Though these embargoes had little material effect, since they were not traditional suppliers of arms to South Africa, they helped focus attention on the policies of major Western Powers which announced that they would not supply arms for repression in South Africa but increased supplies of more sophisticated military equipment, ostensibly for defence.

Nordic governments also began humanitarian and educational assistance to refugees from South Africa. The International University Exchange Fund, set up on the initiative of Nordic student groups, received its first grant from the Swedish Government in 1962.

Public attention was soon diverted by the crisis in the Congo. The mission of the United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, to South Africa in January 1961 failed to persuade the Pretoria regime to change its policies. But his view that the most appropriate international action was to help neighbouring African countries to establish viable non-racial societies, and influence South African opinion by example, appears to have had a lasting effect on Nordic attitudes. Initially this only retarded action against the apartheid regime.

All Nordic countries abstained on General Assembly resolution 1761 (XVII) of November 6, 1962, calling on States to impose sanctions against South Africa.

The most significant development in this period was not in governmental action but in public concern and the fact that leaders of the South African liberation movement could reach the people in Nordic countries and establish personal contacts with many public leaders. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chief Albert J. Lutuli in December 1961 and the impressive popular welcome he received in Oslo had a great impact on Nordic public opinion.

The respect with which the leaders of the liberation struggle have always been received in Nordic countries and the attention with which their views were considered by many Nordic leaders were crucial in the development of Nordic policies since then.

Initiation of assistance programmes and acceptance of principle of sanctions

The United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid was established in 1963 and held its first meeting on April 2, 1963. I was appointed its Principal Secretary.

None of the Western countries accepted membership in the Special Committee - the first United Nations body to be boycotted by the West - and were reluctant to co-operate with it in any way.

Our first task was to draw world attention to the extremely grave situation in South Africa at the time - especially the enactment of draconian repressive laws, the detention of thousands of people and the widespread and brutal torture of detainees to obtain information on the underground activities of the liberation movement - and try to secure meaningful action in the United Nations. We had to try to overcome the Western boycott since Western support was essential for effective action.

I recall that the Nordic States were not helpful at all at first.

One of the first actions of the Special Committee was to send letters to all States requesting information on measures taken by them in pursuance of the 1962 General Assembly resolution. Those letters and our approaches to delegations helped obtain action by several governments. None of the Nordic States even replied to the letters, though we received replies from other Western countries (Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America).

But there was a change within a few months.

Because of public agitation in the Nordic countries, in particular the campaign by youth organizations for sanctions against South Africa, the governments decided to take some action.

Per Haekkerup, the Foreign Minister of Denmark, launched a Nordic initiative on South Africa in the General Assembly on September 25, 1963. He said that if persuasion was not sufficient to induce the South African Government to abandon its policy of apartheid, pressure must be gradually increased. The Security Council had appealed for an arms embargo in August and "other steps will undoubtedly have to follow."

At the same time, he argued, the policy of sanctions alone may well defeat its own ends and aggravate the tension in the area. It was necessary for the United Nations to make clear the alternative - "a truly democratic, multiracial society of free men, with equal rights for all individuals, irrespective of race" - and it must play a major role in the process of change of society. It must consider how, if necessary, it can, "in a transitional period, contribute to the maintenance of law and order and the protection of life and civil rights of all individuals."

His reference to increasing pressure on South Africa - in effect, a call for graduated sanctions - received little attention, while his proposals for a "positive policy" aroused apprehensions among Africans who had a very different attitude toward the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Congo and its involvement in moves for a political solution in that strife-torn country.

As a result of the Nordic initiative, a United Nations Group of Experts on South Africa was established "to examine methods of resolving the present situation in South Africa through full, peaceful and orderly application of human rights and fundamental freedoms to all inhabitants of the territory as a whole, regardless of race, colour or creed, and to consider what part the United Nations might play in the achievement of that end."

Mrs. Alva Myrdal of Sweden was Chairman of that Group and I was privileged to have served as its Secretary. I was not only greatly impressed by her intellect and tremendous energy, but inspired by her uncompromising opposition to any manifestation of racism.

The report of the Group of Experts - which was primarily the contribution of Mrs. Myrdal and Sir Hugh Foot - was an excellent document which, in large part, remains valid even today. It was welcomed by the leaders of the freedom movement in South Africa and by African and other States.

The Group concluded that "all efforts should be urgently directed to the formation of a National Convention fully representative of all the people of South Africa". It proposed that the South African Government be invited to send its representatives to take part in discussions under the auspices of the United Nations on the formation of the National Convention, and that all representative groups in South Africa be invited to communicate their views on the agenda for the Convention. It also emphasized the need for a renewed and urgent appeal for an immediate amnesty for opponents of apartheid.

It declared that if no satisfactory reply was received from the South African Government, by an early date to be fixed by the Security Council, the latter "in our view, would be left with no effective peaceful means for assisting to resolve the situation, except to apply economic sanctions". It, therefore, called for an urgent examination of the logistics of sanctions.

The Group also proposed the establishment of a United Nations South African Education and Training Programme.

The main problem in the Group was the issue of economic sanctions since the Swedish Government was not in favour of sanctions. Mrs. Myrdal approved the Group`s recommendation after serious reflection and with great courage.

The main recommendation of the Group for a national convention could not be endorsed by the Security Council because of the opposition of the Conservative Government in the United Kingdom. The Council set up an expert committee of the whole to undertake a technical and practical study "as to the feasibility, effectiveness and implications of measures which could, as appropriate, be taken by the Council under the Charter of the United Nations". The Committee was divided and its report of February 1965 has never been discussed by the Security Council.

The only practical result of the Group`s report in the United Nations was the establishment of the United Nations Educational and Training Programme for South Africans at the end of 1965.

But the work of the Group had great influence on the policy of Sweden and that of other Nordic countries.

At the session of the General Assembly in 1965, Denmark and Sweden voted in favour of a resolution, formulated by the Special Committee, which declared that "the situation in South Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security", that "action under Chapter VII of the Charter is essential in order to solve the problem of apartheid" and that "universally applied economic sanctions are the only means of achieving a peaceful solution." Finland, Iceland and Norway abstained.

The next year, following consultations, all the Nordic States voted for a similar resolution.

At that time, I helped initiate the practice of consultations between the Chairman of the Special Committee and Nordic delegations on draft resolutions on apartheid. This was helpful to the Special Committee, which had no Western members, to secure widest support for its proposals, and was highly appreciated by the Nordic delegations which were anxious to be seen on the right side of the discussion on apartheid.

Assistance to the oppressed people

Although the Nordic States were committed to sanctions by l966, they resisted any national sanctions for ten years on the grounds that unilateral measures, in the absence of mandatory sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, would be ineffective and serve no purpose, and were legally difficult.

On the other hand, they greatly increased assistance to the victims of apartheid and later to the liberation movements.

Assistance was perhaps the easier option in the domestic context, as it avoided enactment of legislation and confrontation with economic interests but it was generous and valuable.

It was in l963 that the United Nations first decided to promote international assistance to the political prisoners in South Africa and their families.

When I first suggested this to the officers of the Special Committee in August l963, I had expected opposition as there was no precedent for United Nations support to those struggling, in defiance of law and even by resort to sabotage, against the government of a Member State. But they approved the suggestion without hesitation and secured almost unanimous endorsement by the General Assembly.

After extensive consultations, the Special Committee sent an appeal to Member States in October l964 for contributions to the Defence and Aid Fund in London, headed by the Reverend Canon L. John Collins, and other voluntary non-governmental agencies engaged in assistance to victims of apartheid and refugees from South Africa. India had agreed at my request to make a contribution of $ 5,000 to the Defence and Aid Fund. I did not entertain much hope of a wide response from governments. I felt that United Nations endorsement of assistance to the prisoners and their families would help Canon Collins in his efforts to obtain funds from non-governmental sources.

I wrote a personal letter to Mrs. Myrdal suggesting a contribution by Sweden. Canon Collins also approached the Swedish Government.

We were most pleasantly surprised in January l965 when Sweden announced a contribution of $ 100,000 to the Defence and Aid Fund and $ 100,000 to the World Council of Churches. The Netherlands, Pakistan and Denmark followed in June, Greece in July and the Philippines in August.

In order to secure contributions from a larger number of governments - especially those which do not normally contribute to non-governmental agencies - the Special Committee proposed in 1965 the establishment of a United Nations Trust Fund for South Africa. At our request, Ambassador Sverker C. Astrom of Sweden seconded the resolution in the General Assembly which was moved by Nigeria. Since the establishment of the Trust Fund, the Swedish ambassador has always been Chairman of its Committee of Trustees, and Sweden has helped greatly in promoting the Fund.

Soon after the inception of the Trust Fund, we faced a serious crisis with the banning of the South African Defence and Aid Fund on March l8, l966. Ambassador Astrom and Mr. Palmlund met me soon after I arrived in Sweden a month later to attend a seminar. They were greatly concerned about the ban: Ambassador Astrom discussed the matter with Canon Collins in London a few days earlier. I enquired if the Swedish Government could possibly consider a confidential contribution to the Defence and Aid Fund to enable it to function until we could find ways to overcome the serious problems arising from the ban.

The next day, I called on Mrs. Lindstrom, then Minister, and she agreed without hesitation and a contribution was sent very soon. That prompt decision was most helpful in ensuring the survival of a most important activity in support of the freedom movement.

The Nordic countries have accounted for about 60 percent of the contributions to the Trust Fund.

The Nordic countries have also been the principal contributors to the United Nations Educational and Training Programme for South Africans, since its inception in l965.

In 1968, the Special Committee against Apartheid held a special session in Stockholm, in the Parliament building, with the participation of public leaders from all Nordic countries, and invited Oliver Tambo, then Acting President of the ANC, and the Reverend Canon L. John Collins, President of the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, to attend.

It indicated that one of the purposes of the session was to express appreciation to the Nordic countries. There was by then much common ground between the Special Committee and the Nordic countries which were described by the Chairman of the Committee as "allies".

The agenda of the session laid emphasis on assistance to the oppressed people of South Africa and the role of public opinion in the struggle against apartheid.

Anxious to obtain some concrete results from the session, I approached Sweden informally about the possibility of establishing a memorial for Chief Albert J. Lutuli, who had died a year earlier. Soon after, we learnt that the ANC was planning the establishment of a Lutuli Memorial Foundation and I enquired if Sweden could consider announcing a contribution.

The United Nations assistance funds at that time were strictly for humanitarian and educational purposes. The General Assembly had appealed for assistance to liberation movements but no Western government was yet prepared to make grants to the liberation movements, though the Socialist Parties gave modest contributions to the ANC. I felt that the proposed Foundation could be a channel for assistance for certain specific purposes as a first step toward direct assistance to the liberation movements.

At my suggestion, a private meeting was arranged in Stockholm on June l6, l968, on the eve of the special session of the Special Committee, at the home of Per Wastberg, to consult with Mr. Tambo and Canon Collins on all aspects of assistance. It was attended by:

During the discussion, Mr. Tambo explained that he visualized the Lutuli Memorial Foundation as nonpartisan, with objectives as broad as the contribution of Chief Lutuli.

At the closing session of the Special Committee, Ambassador Sverker C. Astrom announced on behalf of the Swedish Government that it would consider a contribution to the Foundation when it was established. Ambassador Marof went to Copenhagen from Stockholm and obtained a similar pledge from the Danish Government.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tambo, in his main address to the Special Committee, stressed the importance of direct assistance to the liberation movement "because in the final analysis, it is the liberation movement, the people of South Africa acting politically, that will destroy apartheid."

Mr. Tambo was a guest of the Social Democratic Party during his stay in Stockholm. He was received by Prime Minister Erlander and was invited to address the congress of the Social Democratic Party. He was able to take up the question of assistance to the liberation movement with the leaders of the ruling party.

Within a few months, Sweden, with Olof Palme as the new Prime Minister, decided to give direct grants to African liberation movements for economic and social projects. The assistance was initially given to the movements in the Portuguese territories which had to meet urgent needs in liberated areas. Unfortunately, because of some developments, the ANC did not benefit for several years.

I went to Addis Ababa on a personal visit in l970 to consult with the Secretary-General of the OAU, Diallo Telli, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mohamed Sahnoun, on means to promote assistance to liberation movements from other Western countries. I suggested that the OAU consider the establishment of a special fund - distinct from the Africa Liberation Fund - for non-military assistance to liberation movements so that governments which could not directly assist liberation movements could contribute.

The OAU Assistance Fund for the Struggle against Colonialism and Apartheid was set up soon after and endorsed by the Special Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. At my suggestion and with the encouragement of the OAU, Sweden moved a resolution in the General Assembly appealing for assistance to the oppressed people of South Africa "in their legitimate struggle against apartheid."

Ambassador Sahnoun felt that an international conference would be useful to promote assistance. Norway agreed to host the conference and the arrangements were discussed by Arne Arneson of Norway with Mohamed Sahnoun, Amilcar Cabral and others during the Summit Conference of the OAU in Rabat in l972. The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the proposal of the OAU and the International Conference of Experts for the Support of Victims of Colonialism and Apartheid in Southern Africa was held in Oslo from April 9 to l4, l973.

Mohamed Sahnoun played a key role as Political Secretary of the Conference. I was secretary of the Commission on assistance.

The Conference had a great impact because of the presence of the leaders of African liberation movements, the great respect with which they were treated, and the opportunity they had to meet Nordic leaders and organizations. The focus of attention was more on political action than on assistance and the main result of the Conference was in promoting recognition of the status of the liberation movements by the United Nations and the international community.

It led to no sanctions by the Nordic countries against South Africa, though the Conference stressed the importance of sanctions, but resulted in greater political and material support by Nordic governments to the African liberation movements.

Already substantial assistance was being given by Nordic countries directly to FRELIMO, PAIGC and MPLA in the Portuguese territories, but the assistance in the case of South Africa (and even Namibia) was almost wholly humanitarian and educational, channeled through the United Nations and non-governmental agencies.

I was concerned, along with several others, in finding means to secure assistance to the struggle against apartheid, rather than merely to the victims of that system.

Shortly before the Conference, there had been an upsurge of black workers in South Africa and Namibia. The "black consciousness movement" provided a framework for resurgence of political action by several segments of the population, and the ANC underground had recovered.

I had hoped that the liberation movements could set up a fund, with eminent trustees, to receive contributions from governments and organizations, and channel them confidentially to support resistance in South Africa and Namibia, as well as areas under Portuguese control in Angola and Mozambique. But the liberation movements did not act quickly on my suggestion. The International University Exchange Fund, which had been acting as a channel for assistance for education inside and outside the territories, was permitted to use part of the grants from the Nordic governments for political purposes.

The IUEF had to be dissolved some years later when it was found to have been infiltrated by the South African Security Branch and when financial and other irregularities came to light.

Fortunately, in the meantime, Sweden had begun grants to the ANC and SWAPO and other Nordic countries were moving in that direction.

The amount of humanitarian and educational assistance to South Africans and Namibians , as well as direct assistance to their liberation movements, increased year by year.

After the independence of the Portuguese territories, more funds could be allocated to South Africa and Namibia. The contributions of Norway greatly increased with the development of oil production and increase in revenues. The Norwegian Government decided in l977 to provide direct assistance to the South African liberation movements.

The Nordic contributions to South Africa and Namibia continued to increase even when there were changes of government or economic difficulties.

Resistance to sanctions until Soweto massacre

The great increase in Nordic assistance to southern Africa seems to have led, to some extent, to a weakening of public action against apartheid and pressure for national measures against the apartheid regime by way of sanctions.

There was little incentive for public collections for the liberation struggles when governments could be persuaded with little effort to increase their contributions. Many of the leaders of the boycott movement devoted their efforts to promoting assistance by governments or contacts between governments and liberation movements.

Whatever the reasons, there seems to have been a decline in public action against apartheid in the Nordic countries between l963 and l976.

Boycotts of South African goods by dockworkers stopped when employers began to take legal action against the unions. Boycotts by co-operatives and the public eroded. There were hardly any demonstrations against apartheid for many years except for protests against South African sports teams - in Oslo and Lund, for instance.

In our missions to the Nordic countries and in contacts with the Nordic delegations at the United Nations, we appealed for some sanctions, even very limited, but we were always told that national measures would be ineffective and difficult. The governments claimed that they discouraged investments in South Africa, but investments and trade began to grow in the absence of governmental action. We could get no action even on the sports boycott: the Nordic governments insisted that they had no control over their sports organizations and could not take any action.

I must confess that I did not feel that national sanctions by the Nordic countries alone would have much effect. I did not press them, for instance, to terminate their diplomatic and consular relations with South Africa. We avoided publicizing of Nordic relations with South Africa, for fear of enabling the apartheid regime and its main collaborators to discredit the international campaign against apartheid. I felt that the most useful role of Nordic countries would be in persuading other Western countries to move forward in action against apartheid. But there was little progress in that direction.

I must, however, make reference to two significant developments in this period.

The action of the Swedish Government in pressing ASEA to withdraw from involvement in the construction of the Cabora Bassa dam in Mozambique set a precedent.

In l973, the Norwegian Government decided, against the recommendation of the defence establishment, not to purchase the Cactus missile developed in France with South African financial assistance. This decision followed approaches by friendly African Governments. The Special Committee also made confidential representations.

Soweto massacre and the Nordic programme of action against South Africa

After the Soweto massacre of l976, Norway decided to prohibit new investments in South Africa.

Sweden took the initiative of moving a resolution in the General Assembly urging the Security Council to consider steps to achieve a cessation of further foreign investments. There was at first considerable resistance by African and Non-aligned States to this proposal but they were persuaded to support and even co-sponsor it.

The resolution was widened the next year to include financial loans and moved annually for several years.

The Swedish investment law was adopted in l979 prohibiting new investments in South Africa.

Meanwhile, the Special Committee organized in Lagos, in August l977, the World Conference for Action against Apartheid - under the sponsorship of the United Nations in co-operation with the OAU and the Federal Republic of Nigeria - in the hope of securing meaningful progress in action against apartheid. The world reaction to the Soweto massacre and the national upsurge which followed, the advent of the Carter administration in the United States and the strong commitment of the Nigerian Government, we hoped, would facilitate action by consensus.

The Chairman of the Special Committee, Ambassador Leslie O. Harriman of Nigeria, and I consulted Nordic governments on all preparations for the Conference. The Nordic governments were represented at a high level at the Conference. Ordvar Nordli, Prime Minister of Norway, and Olof Palme, then Leader of Opposition in Sweden, attended as special guests. (Sweden was represented by Ola Ullstein, leader of the Liberal Party, who was to become Prime Minister). The Nordic delegations helped in ensuring the success of the Conference and, I believe, gave serious consideration to its declaration.

Two and a half months after the Conference, the United Nations Security Council decided on a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa - in resolution 4l8 of November 4, l977. The Nordic countries were among the first to take legislative action to implement the embargo.

On March l0, l978, the Nordic Foreign Ministers decided on a joint programme of action against apartheid, which included the following:

  1. "Prohibition or discouragement of new investments in South Africa;
  2. "Negotiation with Nordic enterprises with a view to restricting their production in South Africa;
  3. "Recommendation that contacts with the apartheid regime in South Africa in the field of sport and culture be discontinued;
  4. "Increased Nordic support to refugees, liberation movements, victims of apartheid etc."

For the first time, there was a small breakthrough on sanctions as all Nordic countries undertook to take unilateral measures.

The measures agreed upon may be criticized again as easy options, since the main economic measure was on new investments. Nordic investments in South Africa were rather small and there had been no Nordic loans to South Africa.

In Norway, the action was hardly noticed as there was little investment in South Africa and the prohibition of new investments was through currency control. In Sweden, however, there was a public debate as some Swedish companies had sizeable investments and the prohibition of new investments was by legislation. This debate highlighted the important role of investments in reinforcing apartheid. The Special Committee warmly welcomed the action of Norway and Sweden, but it was unable to persuade other Western countries to take even such limited measures for several years.

The Nordic countries acceded to the request of the Special Committee to terminate visa-free privileges to South Africans and that helped greatly in promoting the sports and cultural boycott of South Africa.

The Soweto massacre and other developments also helped revive public action against apartheid in Nordic countries. The trade unions, solidarity organizations and others began to develop activities to educate the public on the struggle in South Africa and to press governments for further action.

When the South African regime used Danish ships and the Copenhagen airport to breach the arms embargo and Norwegian ships to obtain oil (perhaps deliberately to discredit the Nordic countries), when Danish electric companies began to import South African coal and when Swedish companies tried to bypass the investment law, there was wide public concern and debate.

I must also make special mention of the contribution of Olof Palme who, in opposition from 1976 to 1982, was able to pay greater attention to southern Africa. In Sweden. under his leadership, the Social Democratic Party pressed for the strengthening of the investment law and for other measures against the apartheid regime. He also played a leading role in the Socialist International in promoting greater action in support of the liberation struggles in southern Africa.

With the advent of the Reagan administration in the United States, we faced a great reverse for international action against apartheid. I was concerned not only that the United States would oppose such action and relax its own very limited measures against the South African regime, but also that it would press its Western allies to resist any further action.

The United Nations organized the International Conference on Sanctions against South Africa in Paris in May l98l, to press the campaign for sanctions. The Conference had been decided in l979. With the change in the United States administration, I was anxious that it should, above all, help consolidate the advances which had been achieved as regards support for sanctions among Western States.

The Conference had a greater impact than we had expected, mainly because of the coming to power of a Socialist Government in France a few days before it opened.

The Nordic countries played an active role in the Conference and it ended with a positive declaration adopted by consensus. But there was little governmental action by Nordic countries after the conference, except for the appointment of a commission in Sweden to make proposals for further action and the abortive Norwegian initiative on the oil embargo.

The Nordic countries were committed to sanctions against South Africa and support to the liberation movements, and were therefore basically opposed to the United States policy of "constructive engagement". But they were reluctant to criticize the United States and publicly dissociate themselves from its policy.

With the disastrous policy of the Reagan administration, supported in part by the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany, the crisis in the OAU and the reluctance of the smaller Western countries to take concerted action to stop the drift, the South African regime was able to pursue its "total strategy", bringing about a serious crisis in the entire region.

A new level of Nordic action since l984

By March l984, the South African regime was able to oblige Mozambique to sign the "Nkomati Accord" and all frontline States were under extreme pressure. It was proceeding to bring into force a new racist constitution, excluding the African majority, as a major step to consolidate apartheid. The United States welcomed these moves as a combination of "reform" in the country and a "peace process" in the region. Prime Minister P.W. Botha planned a visit to European capitals to break through the isolation. Apartheid was on the offensive.

But, in fact, a growing political and economic crisis was developing in South Africa even while many commentators abroad were predicting the virtual demise of the ANC. The move for a new racist constitution had provoked widest opposition from the black majority and led to the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) to resist it. The UDF was to grow into the largest mass movement in South Africa's history.

On April 2, l984, Olof Palme, then on a brief visit to New York, received General J.N. Garba, the newly-elected Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid, and myself. His assessment of the situation in southern Africa fully coincided with ours. He was aware that despite the weakening of the frontline States, resistance in South Africa was growing. He had recently spoken to Oliver Tambo who had briefed him on the growth of the movement inside South Africa. He told us that Sweden would not only assist the frontline States in their difficult time, but would provide all appropriate assistance to the UDF. This assistance was one of the factors which soon turned the tide and forced apartheid into the defensive.

The mass protest demonstrations during Botha's visit to Europe in May-June 1984 frustrated his hopes to regain respectability. The meeting of Nordic and frontline State Foreign Ministers in Stockholm in June, following the frontline State summit in Arusha in April, helped restore morale in the region. The overwhelming boycott of elections to the Coloured and Indian chambers of "Parliament" in South Africa in August was a major blow to the apartheid regime and United States policy.

A massive upsurge of national resistance began in South Africa on September 3, l984, when the new constitution was brought into force. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Desmond Tutu helped secure world attention to the situation in South Africa and also to encourage greater support by Norway to the struggle in that country.

In September l984, I was privileged to attend the Conference on Southern Africa, convened by the Socialist International and the Socialist Group of the European Parliament in co-operation with the frontline States, ANC and SWAPO. The analyses and comments of the African and European leaders and their discussions were most enlightening and the two communiques of the conference were very encouraging.

It occurred to me that an initiative by friendly Western States in the United Nations - in the light of those communiques and the conclusions of the Nordic and frontline States in June - was perhaps feasible and would be most helpful not only in countering the approach of the United States, but also in promoting action by Western countries. I had always felt that apartheid should be treated as international, rather than primarily an African, concern and that co-operation by governments of all regions was essential in persuading the major Western Powers, particularly the United States, to abandon their disastrous policies towards southern Africa.

I had in mind a resolution which would denounce the propaganda that the Botha regime was engaged in a reform and peace process; affirm the strategy of isolation of the apartheid regime and support to the liberation struggle; call for effective mandatory sanctions against South Africa; and urge national measures by all States, pending mandatory sanctions, so as to break the impasse.

My suggestion was welcomed by the Nordic delegations at the United Nations and by the Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid. General Garba and I went to the Nordic capitals where high-level consultations were arranged. All the governments were happy to be associated with African States on this initiative. A resolution on "concerted international action for the elimination of apartheid" was worked out in intensive consultations among Nordic and Non-aligned States and South African liberation movements (ANC and PAC) and received enthusiastic support from several Western governments. It was moved by the Swedish ambassador, Anders Ferm, with the co-sponsorship of several other Western delegations and Non-aligned States, and adopted by an overwhelming majority.

That initiative proved most timely. It helped initiate a process of national sanctions in the Western countries which developed on a much wider scale after the South African raid on Botswana in June l985 and the imposition of the State of Emergency in South Africa in July. Equally important, I believe, the Nordic countries felt an obligation not only to take action but to promote action by other Western countries.

In October l985, the Nordic Foreign Ministers adopted a new programme of action against South Africa. It was particularly significant in that it included agreement on some trade sanctions against South Africa.

I will not try to review the actions taken by Nordic countries since l984 - on the initiative of governments or Parliaments, or as a result of increased public activity in support of the liberation struggles in South Africa and Namibia - but would only stress that they not only represent a new level of commitment for African freedom but call for new thinking on the logical conclusion of the actions taken.

Since the Nordic countries now support the liberation struggles in South Africa and Namibia and are enforcing some sanctions against South Africa, they cannot logically continue to treat the apartheid regime as a legitimate government. Some of the differences they have had with African States on formulations in United Nations resolutions will need to vanish. Apartheid cannot be eliminated without eliminating the apartheid regime. The objective cannot be merely to demonstrate opposition to apartheid but to help actively in efforts to destroy that inhuman system and promote a non-racial democratic society in South Africa, as well as the genuine independence of Namibia.

With such an approach, the Nordic States will find that GATT is no insuperable obstacle to terminating all economic relations with South Africa. They will see the need to point to the disastrous consequences of the policies of the major Western Powers and make active efforts to secure total Western disengagement from apartheid.

They will then become fully identified with the African and non-aligned States in this crucial stage of the struggle for the emancipation of Africa, the total elimination of colonialism and the destruction of the most blatant system of racism.

Wider significance

I hope that this rather lengthy, yet sketchy, review has shown the great change in Nordic attitudes and actions towards southern Africa over the years and indicated the contribution by the UN in promoting that change. I have also tried to draw attention to the role of public opinion, and of members of Parliament, in promoting governmental action.

My own experience has been that the Nordic governments pay serious attention to United Nations resolutions which they vote for, especially if they had participated in formulating them. They have always responded positively to all new initiatives which were launched after full consultation with them. I hope that African and Non-aligned States will continue to consult them as friends on all new initiatives.

I have tried to stress the great advance in Nordic attitudes towards the South African freedom struggle. I believe that it is possible, by determined effort, to secure much greater co-operation from other Western States as well on action for the elimination of apartheid. Such an effort is particularly crucial at the present time.

I have often wondered whether the gap between the attitudes of Western and Non-aligned nations toward action against apartheid can ever be closed, because that has wider implications for the prospects of international co-operation.

Let me explain.

Forty years ago, in June l946, the Government of India imposed sanctions against South Africa. The action was taken by the British administration - before India`s independence - because of the strong public sentiment in the country.

South Africa accounted at the time for five percent of India's exports and one and a half percent of India's imports. The termination of this trade was a serious matter for one of the poorest countries of the world which was confronted with serious economic problems at the end of the war. But there has never been any opposition in India to those sanctions - or subsequent additional measures - because the national honour of the country was at stake and because of the international outlook nurtured by Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru.

A decade and a half later, newly-independent African States, Caribbean nations and others imposed sanctions against South Africa when the apartheid regime proved immune to all appeals. The sanctions involved considerable sacrifices, especially for former British colonies like Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanganyika. But there was full public support, because humiliation of people for their black skin was considered an affront to all of Africa and to all people of African origin.

But there has been tremendous resistance to sanctions against apartheid by Western countries, though South Africa accounts for less than one percent of the trade of those countries. They do not seem to recognize that apartheid is as much a problem of the whites as of the blacks.

Asian-African countries which led in action against apartheid even suffered from the hostility of Western States deeply involved in South Africa. Apartheid inevitably led to confrontation between them and the major Western Powers which not only opposed meaningful action against the apartheid regime but enabled it to become a menace to emerging African States while constantly increasing their stake in that inhuman system.

Sentiment in the world as regards human rights has not yet overcome the "kith and kin" spirit and the passions of inter-State conflicts which are often manipulated by governments into aggressive frenzy. Can we look forward to the day when human solidarity is universal?

The Nordic countries have come a long way. Perhaps it was not unfortunate that they have taken long - because easy decisions without public debate and education do not have deep and lasting effect. The growing concern over apartheid has, I believe, also contributed to the development of the global outlook of the Nordic countries and their closer relations with Africa and the Non-aligned world.

I would like to view the growing international solidarity against apartheid not merely as support to the just aspirations of the oppressed peoples of South Africa and Namibia, but as part of a wider movement towards a "one world." The Nordic countries have made a significant contribution by leading the way in the West: they can and must do much more.


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