Solidarity returned (to sender)

Central to the politics of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group and the Non-Stop Picket was the principle that British solidarity activists could not choose for the Black majority in South Africa (and Namibia) who their legitimate representatives were. City Group took what it called a ‘non-sectarian’ approach to anti-apartheid work and extended solidarity to all liberation movements fighting apartheid in Southern Africa.  In practice, this meant that the Non-Stop Picket offered support and solidarity to the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement (of Azania)/AZAPO alongside the ANC; and to SWANU as well as SWAPO in Namibia.  I have described in previous posts how this built to moments of reciprocal solidarity for British anti-racist struggles from exiled members of the PAC.

SWANU supporters on the Non-Stop Picket (Source: City Group)

City Group’s solidarity was not always appreciated, let alone reciprocated, however.  Just as City Group’s relationship with the London ANC was strained for much of the 1980s, relations with SWAPO members in the UK could also be difficult.  Given the close alliance between the ANC and SWAPO, this is hardly surprising.  We recently came across two letters from March 1986 (just before the start of the Non-Stop Picket) that give some insight into exactly how strained this relationship had become.  In a handwritten letter (dated 25 March 1986) sent to City Group’s Treasurer, Richard Roques, Dave Pram [we think that’s the name] relayed that he had been told by a SWAPO member that City Group Singers were not welcome to attend a planned SWAPO rally because “it could be a problem for us”. The letter continues,

She stated that City Group, having lost their relationship with the ANC, had “forfeited” SWAPO.

We also have a letter dated the following day (26 March 1986) from Netumbo Ndaitwah, the Chief Representative of SWAPO, in which they claim they had been instructed by SWAPO’s Secretary General Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo

to respond to your letter addressed to him dated 7 March 1986. Comrade Secretary General has asked me to send back the bank draft No….amount to US dollars three thousand  fifty-six cents seventy-five only [sic] ($356.75). He also told me to inform you that any conduct you would like to have with SWAPO being for the purpose of information or  when you would like to make financial or material assistance you must direct it to SWAPO office in London.

In their correspondence with City Group, both the ANC and SWAPO often appeared to play their London offices off against the exiled headquarters in Africa – at times London would insist all correspondence went through the HQ; and, frequently, HQ staff would direct enquiries back to London. Some of this might have been bureaucratic incompetence within complex, geographically dispersed exiled organisations; but some of it appears to have been political manoeuvring.

Around this time, SWAPO representatives also told members of a number of local anti-apartheid groups around Britain that they would refuse further donations from them, if they offered any support to City Group and the Non-Stop Picket.  While it is always entirely appropriate for organisations to refuse donations from those they disagree with, this incident demonstrates how City Group’s expulsion from the national Anti-Apartheid Movement impacted on its ability to deliver material aid and financial donations to all those movements it wanted to support with solidarity.  Although City Group never stopped trying to send financial donations to SWAPO and the ANC; over time, a greater proportion of its resources were directed to the other, smaller liberation movements.  SWANU were certainly appreciative of the financial support they received from City Group, as the following letter (from 27 January 1988) attests:

SWANU appreciate the cooperation between our two organisations. We would like to extend our fraternal greetings from the SWANU Central Committee which would like to enhance our cooperation by hosting more events and meetings together…’

Although I believe City Group were correct to take the ‘non-sectarian’ stance that they did, these incidents demonstrate the difficulty of putting that approach to solidarity into practice, especially where one liberation movement in each national context (South Africa and Namibia) dominated most international solidarity networks.  The ANC and SWAPO received significant funding from many international sources (both governmental and non-governmental) and could afford to turn down City Group’s relatively small donations.  The same sums were perhaps more significant and valuable for smaller organisations like SWANU with less international prominence and fewer external sources of funding.

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
This entry was posted in Archival research and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Solidarity returned (to sender)

  1. I remember a meeting with Strini Moodley from the Black Consciousness Movement – was it in 1991? He was a boyhood friend of Steve Biko. Strini was one of the most eloquent individuals I think I have ever met. The meetings we had with him were enlightening and his dedication to the movement were humbling.

    At this time we were campaigning for the Zebedele estate workers, they had been forcibly removed from their homes on an orange orchard owned by none other than F W De Klerk because they had gone on strike for better working conditions. I had tried several times to get the Guardian to cover the story – I was the Trade Union rep for CAA at the time – to no avail.

    Now, I can’t remember who it was who suggested an occupation of the Guardian’s reception area – it may even have been Strini – but about a dozen or so of us went to the said offices one Friday evening with Strini and demanded to see the night editor. After a while he actually came down and I tried to explain the Zebedele strikers situation. The editor shrugged his shoulders and muttered something about no space. Richard Roques stepped in saying, “I think you may want to speak to this gentleman, I have a feeling he may be able to persuade you otherwise” (words to that effect). “Why’s that?” asked the night editor rather dismissively. “He’s a boyhood friend of Steve Biko, Strini Moodley.”

    Within two or three days there was a half page piece in the Guardian written by their South Africa correspondent, can’t remember his name, David someone or other.

    Not what you know…

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