“Youth Activism & Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid” published

We are pleased to announce that our book Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid is published, by Routledge, today. From April 1986 until just after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990, supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group maintained a continuous protest, day and night, outside the South African Embassy in central London. This book tells the story of the Non-Stop Picket and the experiences and motivations of the (mostly) young people from London and across the world who were inspired to build a direct action-based anti-apartheid solidarity movement in Britain. This book is simultaneously a history of a particular moment in British anti-apartheid activism; a study in the spatiality of solidarity and contentious protest; and a study of the place of young people in those social movements and in the urban landscape of London in the 1980s. Our book offers new insights to the study of social movements and young people’s lives. It theorises solidarity and the processes of adolescent development as social practices to provide a theoretically-informed, argument-led analysis of how young activists build and practice solidarity. A full outline of the book can be found here.

In the annals of late 20th century protest in Britain, the Non-Stop Picket stands out as one of the truly inspirational protests.  To think that people maintained a picket of the embassy night and day through freezing winters and pouring rain, for nearly four years, that’s truly extraordinary and heroic.  I feel in total awe of the people who were there around the clock, 24/7.  They made sure that the anti-apartheid struggle and in particular the demand for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, was kept constantly in the public eye.  It was an incredibly effective form of protest by a relatively small, but highly motivated, passionate, idealistic people.” (Peter Tatchell, 19 December 2013)

This book draws on interviews with former participants in the Non-Stop Picket and a range of archival material from that time. In the end, we interviewed 85 people who had been regular participants in the Non-Stop Picket. They were involved for varying lengths of time and with different levels of intensity and commitment. We also interviewed eight people who were close supporters of the picket – not necessarily people who spent a lot of time there, but high-profile politicians and public figures who attended periodically and could be relied on for vocal support at key times. They include some of the solicitors who helped defend arrested picketers in court. Although it had not been part of our initial plan, we managed to track down and interview eight retired police officers, of various ranks, who had been involved in policing City Group’s protests in the mid-1980s.

Image generated by GPL Ghostscript (device=pnmraw)

When City Group ceased to operate at the end of apartheid, some of the remaining members of the Group made plans to preserve the Group’s archive with a view to publishing their story. That publication never happened, but we benefited from the decision to preserve a record of their anti-apartheid campaigning. We were lucky enough to be granted privileged access to this privately held archive. In addition to the Group’s correspondence, minutes of their meetings, membership records, and publicity material, there were witness statements from court cases, banners, and hundreds of photographs.

We believe Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid will be of interest to geographers, historians and a wide range of other social scientists concerned with the historical geography of the international anti-apartheid movement, social movement studies, contemporary British history, and young people’s activism and geopolitical agency.

The book is currently only published in hardback and retails for £105 (academic publishers tend to target the institutional library market first). However, if you order it through the Routledge website, you can use the discount code FLR40 to obtain a 20% discount. A more affordable paperback edition will be published next year (at which point, the price of the e-book will reduce too). In the meantime, if you are in a position to order or request a copy for your school, university, or local community library, we would really appreciate your help in bringing the book to a wider audience.

If you are interested in reviewing the book for a newspaper, magazine, blog, or academic journal, review copies can be ordered here (at the publisher’s discretion).

We would like to thank everyone how shared their memories and archives with us, and helped support and encourage our research and writing in multiple other ways.

We hope you enjoy the book and look forward to hearing your feedback on it.

 

 

 

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A brief history of the Non-Stop Picket

From 1986 – 1990 the supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group [City Group] maintained a Non-Stop Picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. City Group was formed by Norma Kitson (an exiled ANC member), her children, friends and supporters (including, crucially, members of the Revolutionary Communist Group) in 1982. City Group’s unconditional solidarity with all liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia (not just the ANC and SWAPO, but also the Pan-Africanist Congress and AZAPO amongst others) and its principled linking of the struggle against apartheid with anti-racism in Britain led to group’s eventual expulsion from the national Anti-Apartheid Movement. City Group deployed diverse tactics, including direct action, to express its solidarity with those opposed to apartheid. Its support for those sidelined by the exiled leadership of the ANC was valued by activists in South Africa. The Picket played a key role as a ‘convergence space’ through which transnational activist discourses and practices addressing the politics of race were articulated. As such, an analysis of its political culture is important and overdue.

The Picket was a highly visible protest against apartheid. Through its constant presence, the Picket developed a distinctive appearance, culture and sense of community. Bright hand-sewn banners (often in black, green and gold, the colours of the ANC) provided a backdrop to the Picket, declaring its raison d’etre and picketers carried placards which declared their solidarity and commented on topical events and campaigns in South Africa. Members of the picket would leaflet and petition passers-by, whilst others made impromptu speeches on a megaphone or sang South African freedom songs. Larger themed rallies were held on Friday evenings, and on Thursdays the Picket’s numbers swelled as supporters danced to the music of a group of street musicians, the Horns of Jericho. The culture of the Picket not only conveyed its political message of solidarity, but helped individual participants define their personal identities.

Norma Kitson, June 1987 (Source: Gavin Brown)

Positioned on the pavement directly outside South Africa House, the picket was strategically placed to draw attention to apartheid and bring pressure to bear on the regime’s representatives and allies in the UK. The Embassy repeatedly brought pressure on the British Government to ban the protest, and for nearly two months in 1987 (6th May – 2nd July), the Picket was removed from outside the Embassy by the Metropolitan Police (following an action in which three City Group activists threw several gallons of red paint over the entrance to the Embassy). During this period, the Picket relocated to the steps of nearby St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and activists repeatedly risked arrest to break the police ban on their protest and defend the right to protest outside the Embassy. The police used an arcane Victorian bylaw, “Commissioner’s Directions”, which allowed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to curtail public gatherings within a mile of Parliament, to allow MPs free movement to go about their business, to ban the Picket during this period. Eventually, the ban was broken when four MPs protested outside the Embassy alongside other picketers and the police were unable to justify the ban any longer. In total 173 people were arrested during City Group’s campaign to break the police ban and defend the right to protest. All charges were eventually thrown out of court.

City Group’s activism was not restricted to Trafalgar Square: picketers took direct action against apartheid across the UK and toured the country mobilising solidarity. These extended campaigns of direct action away from the Non- Stop Picket included ‘trolley protests’ against the sale of South African goods in supermarkets across London, where activists filled trolleys with South African produce, took them to the checkout and then refused to pay for them. At their most effective, these protests could tie up the majority of checkouts in a targeted supermarket simultaneously. In a similar vein, City Group organised frequent occupations of the South African Airways (SAA) offices in Oxford Circus through their “No Rights? No Flights!” campaign. These offices were frequently closed through successive occupations several times in a day. As the security staff at the SAA offices increasingly recognised protestors, activists needed to utilise more and more imaginative disguises to enable their initial access to the premises – during one women-only protest on South African Women’s Day in 1988 a large party of women, varying in age from their mid-teens to their seventies, occupied the SAA offices dressed as nuns and a class of convent girls. Finally, City Group activists took direct action at sporting venues around the UK, including pitch invasions at various athletics tracks and cricket grounds, in protest at sportsmen and women who had broken the sports boycott of South Africa.

The geography of the Non-Stop Picket extended beyond its location and its relationship with the struggle in South Africa. The combination of the Picket’s central location and its expression of solidarity through confrontation with the representatives of apartheid attracted a broad and diverse group of (mostly) young activists from the UK and beyond. The Picket provided ‘uncommon ground’ through which friendship networks developed that crossed boundaries of nationality, ethnicity and social difference. At times, the Picket became something of a haven for young street homeless people living in the West End, although their involvement was often shortlived and marked by the reassertion of social hierarchies by more settled and privileged members of the Picket. The social and political life of the Picket had a particular emotional geography through which individuals overcame social isolation, transformed their sense of self, and enjoyed being ‘unruly’ in public space. These entangled personal and political motivations are crucial to a holistic analysis of the Non-Stop Picket and transnational solidarity activism more broadly.

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“Youth Activism and Solidarity” now out in paperback

We are pleased to announce that our book Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid is now published in paperback. From April 1986 until just after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990, supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group maintained a continuous protest, day and night, outside the South African Embassy in central London. This book tells the story of the Non-Stop Picket and the experiences and motivations of the (mostly) young people from London and across the world who were inspired to build a direct action-based anti-apartheid solidarity movement in Britain. This book is simultaneously a history of a particular moment in British anti-apartheid activism; a study in the spatiality of solidarity and contentious protest; and a study of the place of young people in those social movements and in the urban landscape of London in the 1980s. Our book offers new insights to the study of social movements and young people’s lives. It theorises solidarity and the processes of adolescent development as social practices to provide a theoretically-informed, argument-led analysis of how young activists build and practice solidarity. A full outline of the book can be found here.

In the annals of late 20th century protest in Britain, the Non-Stop Picket stands out as one of the truly inspirational protests.  To think that people maintained a picket of the embassy night and day through freezing winters and pouring rain, for nearly four years, that’s truly extraordinary and heroic.  I feel in total awe of the people who were there around the clock, 24/7.  They made sure that the anti-apartheid struggle and in particular the demand for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, was kept constantly in the public eye.  It was an incredibly effective form of protest by a relatively small, but highly motivated, passionate, idealistic people.” (Peter Tatchell, 19 December 2013)

This book draws on interviews with former participants in the Non-Stop Picket and a range of archival material from that time. In the end, we interviewed 85 people who had been regular participants in the Non-Stop Picket. They were involved for varying lengths of time and with different levels of intensity and commitment. We also interviewed eight people who were close supporters of the picket – not necessarily people who spent a lot of time there, but high-profile politicians and public figures who attended periodically and could be relied on for vocal support at key times. They include some of the solicitors who helped defend arrested picketers in court. Although it had not been part of our initial plan, we managed to track down and interview eight retired police officers, of various ranks, who had been involved in policing City Group’s protests in the mid-1980s.

Youth Actvism pb2

When City Group ceased to operate at the end of apartheid, some of the remaining members of the Group made plans to preserve the Group’s archive with a view to publishing their story. That publication never happened, but we benefited from the decision to preserve a record of their anti-apartheid campaigning. We were lucky enough to be granted privileged access to this privately held archive. In addition to the Group’s correspondence, minutes of their meetings, membership records, and publicity material, there were witness statements from court cases, banners, and hundreds of photographs. Those papers are now being prepared for deposit in the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute, so that they are publicly available to other researchers.

We believe Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid will be of interest to geographers, historians and a wide range of other social scientists concerned with the historical geography of the international anti-apartheid movement, social movement studies, contemporary British history, and young people’s activism and geopolitical agency.

If you order it through the Routledge website, you can use the discount code FLR40 to obtain a 20% discount. If you are in a position to order or request a copy for your school, university, or local community library, we would really appreciate your help in bringing the book to a wider audience.

If you are interested in reviewing the book for a newspaper, magazine, blog, or academic journal, review copies can be ordered here (at the publisher’s discretion).

We would like to thank everyone who shared their memories and archives with us, and helped support and encourage our research and writing in multiple other ways.

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Non-Stop Picket in the ‘Official’ Mandela Exhibition

On 8 February 2019 a new ‘official’ exhibition about Mandela’s life in London’s Waterloo. The exhibition has been organised by one of Mandela’s grandsons and pitches itself in the following terms:

Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition is the major new global exhibition that explores the life of the world’s most famous freedom fighter and political leader. His epic story is told in a series of experiential galleries from his rural childhood home through years of turbulent struggle against the apartheid regime, to his eventual vindication and final years as South Africa’s first democratically elected.  His journey to becoming the ‘Father of South Africa’, and a globally loved and respected figure is explored in new, personal and revealing ways. With exclusive stories from Madiba himself, his family and those that knew him best, visitors will see Nelson Mandela in a new light.

A century on from his birth, what does ‘Nelson Mandela’ mean today, in a world where inequality and injustice are still rife? Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition asks these difficult questions and examines his legacy. Mandela’s values and commitment to making the world a better place are just as vital now as they were during his lifetime. This is a story we can all learn from and be inspired by.

We understand that a small number of items relating to the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London have been included in the exhibition, thanks to the intervention of Christabel Gurney and the AAM Archives Committee. These include the leaflet produced in 1986 to publicize the launch of the Non-Stop Picket, which had the release of Mandela as its central demand.

leaflet for launch of nsp (19 april 1986)

Leaflet promoting the launch of the Non-Stop Picket (City Group, 1986)

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“Youth Activism and Solidarity” out in paperback in March

The paperback edition of Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid will finally be published in March 2019. Watch this space for details of a launch event in London for the new paperback edition.

Image generated by GPL Ghostscript (device=pnmraw)

Image generated by GPL Ghostscript (device=pnmraw)

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Andy Higginbottom critiques the British Council’s Mandela exhibition

An article in today’s The Conversation critiques the “Mandela and Me” exhibition at the British Council in London as corporate whitewashing for its principal sponsor, Anglo American. The article is by Andy Higginbottom an Associate Professor of International Politics, Human Rights and Social Justice at Kingston University in London. Today Andy is involved in the Marikana Solidarity Collective. In the 1980s, he was a leading member of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group.

Anglo American, a major player in mining globally, was the largest corporation in South African during apartheid. As Andy Higginbottom argues,

This corporate connection influences the narrative that is spun at the exhibition. For example, it completely ignores Anglo’s own role as a founder and principal beneficiary of both British colonial rule and later the apartheid regime.

This erasure is all the more stark because the exhibition takes place at the British Council’s London headquarters, just off Trafalgar Square – the site of so many anti-apartheid demonstrations, including the Non-Stop Picket for Nelson Mandela from 1986 to 1990.

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War on Want: Evolution of Struggle series

War on Want are organizing a series of events over the coming months to explore the legacies of the anti-apartheid struggle. We noticed (thanks to Bob Shepherd for drawing it to our attention) that the poster for the Leeds event next April contains a photo of Norma Kitson. Check out the Evolution of Struggle website for details of these events.

NAVIGATING-REPRESSION

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Nelson Mandela: The Centenary Exhibition (impact and refections)

On 17 July 2018, to celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, a free exhibition opens at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre, in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The exhibition mostly charts Mandela’s life and his political legacy, but it also includes one cabinet recording the history of British anti-apartheid campaigning. That cabinet is due to include the flier for the launch of the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy that demanded Mandela’s release.

leaflet for launch of nsp (19 april 1986)

Leaflet promoting the launch of the Non-Stop Picket (City Group, 1986)

The inclusion of this flier from the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group in the exhibition is significant and welcomed. The display of British anti-apartheid memorabilia was curated with the assistance of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee. They included it despite the fact that City Group was ‘disaffiliated’ from the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1985, and hence was outside the ‘official’ anti-apartheid movement at the time it organised the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy.

This is not the first time that the AAM Archives Committee has  chosen to remember the campaigning of City Group and the Non-Stop Picket, but it is perhaps the most significant. In 2014, when they launched their digital archive, we recorded how they had incorporated a variety of material about City Group and the Kitson family. More recently, Christabel Gurney from the AAM Archives Committee helped ensure that City Group and the Kitsons were remembered in the Islington Against Apartheid exhibition, and David Kenvyn spoke at the seminar to discuss Youth Activism and Solidarity at the University of Glasgow. We thank them for their generosity in putting aside past tactical and political differences to remember the Non-Stop Picket as a significant episode in British anti-apartheid history. But, we are also uneasy that those difference tend to get erased in the process too.

We have no doubt that the inclusion of City Group, the Kitson family and the Non-Stop Picket into the history of British anti-apartheid campaigning is a direct result of our work to record and tell those histories. When we launched the Non-Stop Against Apartheid blog in 2011 there were very few mentions of City Group or the Non-Stop Picket in the history of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Roger Fieldhouse, in his (2005) official history of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement discussed the tensions between City Group and the AAM at length and, whilst going to some lengths to explain and understand why the leadership of the AAM felt they had to exclude City Group, did ultimately reflect that it might have been unjust and unnecessary. But that was about it. Since we started this blog and the wider research project that underpinned it, that has changed. Material from this blog has been reposted on the SA History Online website; in a community history exhibition in Alexandra township; in a South African politics textbook; and has touched the lives of the families and friends of South Africans that the group campaigned for, such as the Sharpeville Six and the Upington 14. We are pleased that City Group’s contribution to anti-apartheid solidarity campaigning is now being remembered, but we still believe that it is important for historians of the anti-apartheid struggle to understand and remember the ways in which some sections of the ANC, the SACP, and their allies in international solidarity groups attempted to discredit and sideline anti-apartheid activists from other political traditions, as well as dissident voices within their own organisations. The struggle against apartheid was complex and multifaceted. To understand it, we need to engage with that complexity and not simplify or sanitize it too much.

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“Youth Activism and Solidarity” review for youth workers

We were really pleased to see this review of Youth Activism and Solidarity published in ‘Rapport: the journal for playworkers, community and youth workers in Unite‘. It is great to see the book reaching beyond academic audience and being engaged with by youth work practitioners who value young people’s political engagements.

Rapport book review

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