About

This site is run by Gavin Brown.  I am a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Leicester University (UK).

What is this project about?

‘Non-Stop Against Apartheid: the spaces of transnational solidarity activism’ is a two-year research project.  It uses the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London (1986 -1990) to critically analyse the spatialities of transnational solidarity activism. It has the following specific objectives:

O1: To record a historical geography of the Non-Stop Picket.
O2: To analyse how the political (and material) culture of the Picket produced particular understandings of transnational solidarity.
O3: To investigate how the social space of the Picket enabled individual activists to develop and extend a sense of grassroots cosmopolitanism through their friendship networks with other activists.
O4: To trace how individual activists experienced the emotional geographies of the Picket; and, how their involvement in the Picket has affected their lives in the intervening two decades.

This research is innovative in combining an analysis of the political and material cultures of this protest with attention to the long-term impact of participation on the lives of individual activists.

Who?

It is run by Gavin Brown who was a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester. It is funded by a Leverhulme Trust  Research Project Grant.

Helen Yaffe was the Research Associate working on this project.

Why?

The international campaign against apartheid was one of the largest sustained examples of transnational solidarity in recent history. From 1986 – 1990 the supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group maintained a Non-Stop Picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. The Picket was the most visible (and controversial) expression of anti-apartheid protest in Britain. City Group’s unconditional solidarity with all liberation movements in South Africa (not just the ANC) 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.

The combination of the Picket’s central location in London 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. This research is an original study of the geographies of transnational solidarity activism, using this unique and previously unresearched anti-apartheid protest, where activists from many nationalities and social backgrounds converged, as its case study.

This project offers a renewed understanding of the importance of transnational solidarity activism in contentious international politics and insights into young people’s engagement in political action. It seeks to stimulate renewed debate about the value of transnational solidarity activism.

How?

We will be analysing material about the Non-Stop Picket, City Group and its relationship to other anti-apartheid movements that is held in public archives in Britain and South Africa.  We have negotiated access to a privately held archive of City Group’s internal documents and correspondence.  We are collecting and analysing photos of the Non-Stop Picket.

We will also be interviewing former members and supporters of the Non-Stop Picket about their involvement in that protest and how it has impacted on their lives since.

What will the project produce?

  1. This website, as a virtual archive of the project and our activities.
  2. Some academic articles and (eventually) a book, written in an accessible style
  3. An exhibition about the Non-Stop Picket.
  4. Teaching resources for schools that use the Non-Stop Picket as a means to think about the value of international solidarity and young people’s active citizenship in new ways.
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7 Responses to About

  1. Howdy! I just wanted to point out that the City Group picket was up and active in 1985. I regularly joined them while studying at the University of Houston’s Camden House. As a foreign student, I often was protected by my fellow picketers from arrest since they felt I would be deported immediately. Both the experience of the quiet times and the massive protests (like the March for Mandela) had a huge effect on the next five years of my life. When I returned to Houston, I founded City-A, the City of Houston Anti-apartheid Team which ran a campaign of events against the South African consulate there.

    • Gavin Brown says:

      Lucie,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this site. You are right that City Group existed prior to 1986 – it was formed in 1982 and regularly picketed the South African Embassy for various lengths of time from that date. Although we are interested in the broader history of City Group, this research project specifically focuses on the Non-Stop Picket that the group organised from 1986 – 1990.

      We would love to record your stories and memories of your time working with City Group and how it influenced your activism back in Houston.

  2. Sure, the picket was a huge inspiration. It was 24-hours a day when I was there, but sometimes just one or two people. They had lots of problems with skinheads at that time and, when possible, one of the guys from the picket would escort me back to my dorm. One of the other girls had a swastika burned into her hand by skins. London youth was still in a post-punk funk back then.

    The biggest event I took part in was the March for Mandela, so when I got back home and nothing was going on, I simply organized a “March for Mandela” there on the date of Soweto. Houston was the site of the only SA consulate in the US – a very quiet and productive consulate – so our goal was to make that known and try to shut it down. The ANC supported us by sending a speaker – I’ll try to find her name. For Houston, the protest was massive with about 400 protesters marching about three miles, stopping Galleria traffic and causing the police to pretty much blockade the consulate building – closing it for the day. We were covered on NBC, CBS, and CNN. The ABC affiliate actually called to curse me out, claiming we gave them the wrong date.

    After that, we formed an alliance with local artists and musicians for events like “Stand Up for 48 Hours,” which was a 48-hour picket of the consulate, “Art for Equality,” and “Asinamali, We Have No Money.” Our largest event attracted 700 people. Again, that was remarkable for super-conservative Houston.

    As a result of our work, I got to help with organizing “The Other Economic Summit” as a counter-balance to Houston’s G-5 Summit (1990). I got to host the ANC delegate, Max Sisulu. We had quite a hoot of a time because our volunteer security was certain someone would attack him. Back then, Houston had the largest population of white South Africans outside of SA. The security arranged our every move like a spy team and made us switch vehicles en route. Max finally asked if we could just stop and have a beer.

    I met Nelson Mandela in 1991 at the Carter-de Menil Human Rights Awards. And I cried.

  3. Oops, I think it was the G-7 then, not the G-5. The Other Economic Summit hosted a meeting of the “seven poorest nations” to counter the rich guys across town. That’s a story in itself.

  4. Gavin, it was 1987. I found the year when I pulled out the name of that ANC speaker. Guess the old brain doesn’t specialize in dates–sorry. I also found some documents from the picket if you want me to send copies.
    PS: You can feel free to delete these comments now that I completed the survey–or leave them up. I’m fine with it either way.

  5. Rob Scott says:

    Gavin, I have a number of black and white contact sheets of the picket – I think from ’86, if you’re interested. Not sure how many – they’d take some digging out, but if someone wants to come to my Bristol office and go through them they can.

    Cheers

    Rob

  6. Pingback: Social Politics and the ‘Home Front’ of Consumer Boycotts « Chomping at the Bloodied Bit

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