Political, informal education against apartheid

The City of London Anti-Apartheid Group worked hard to ensure that its members and supporters were well-informed about the functioning of apartheid, the history of resistance to it, and current events in South Africa as they were unfolding.  Through its weekly meetings, regular ‘pavement universities’ on the Non-Stop Picket outside the South African  Embassy and informal dialogue, the group engaged in popular political education about apartheid.

Leaflet for the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group's Dayschool (December 1986)

One such event took place on Sunday 7 December 1986, when City Group held a dayschool at the Polytechnic of Central London on Marylebone Road.  As the leaflet advertising this dayschool shows, the topics covered a range of themes linking the struggle against apartheid in South Africa with anti-racist activism in Britain.  There were sessions on the experiences of political prisoners in South Africa, the history of the armed struggle against apartheid, the political economy of British investment in apartheid, and the role of the Mozambique as a post-colonial country on South Africa’s frontline.  Each of these educative workshops was led and presented by a leading member of City Group – David Kitson spoke on the armed struggle and David Reed discussed economics, for example.

The role of this dayschool (and similar events) was not, of course, solely educational.  The strap line for the event was “Are you against apartheid? Join the action now!”  The dayschool was intended to enthuse and activate City Group’s supporters, to mobilize new supporters into anti-apartheid activity, and to sustain the commitment of existing activists.  This was achieved through a series of short ‘motivational’ speeches (by Carol Brickley, Steven and Norma Kitson) and performances by City Group Singers. Alongside the educational workshops at the dayschool, there were skills-based sessions designed to teach South African liberation songs to potential members of City Group Singers, and educate picketers about their legal rights when dealing with the police.  There were also more practical workshops (mostly led by younger activists) designed to bring together specific interest groups – youth and students; trade unionists; women, lesbians and gays; and, black and anti-racist organisations – to develop plans for future campaigning.

Although events like the December 1986 dayschool were important in allowing anti-apartheid activists to educate themselves and their supporters about the realities of apartheid in South Africa, they were not always popular with some of the young people who sustained the Non-Stop Picket.  These workshops could aid activists in their campaigning work, making them better informed, and arming them with stronger arguments in their discussions with members of the public, but they were sometimes seen as ‘boring’ by younger activists.  For those activists who engaged with these events, the workshops and their affective motivational components served to reinvigorate their activities.  For others, these dayschools and meetings were perceived to ‘get in the way’ and distract from the action of doing anti-apartheid activism.  To reach and educate them, City Group deployed other tactics – from informal discussions on the Picket, to the production of the internal weekly newsletter Picketers’ News which was instigated in May 1988.

If you were involved in City Group, how did you find these educational events?

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
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