, originally known as the Boycott Movement
, was a British organization that was at the center of the international movement opposing South Africa's system of apartheid
and supporting South Africa's Blacks.
A customer boycott organization
In response to an appeal by Albert Luthuli
, the Boycott Movement
was founded in London
on 26 June 1959
at a meeting of South African
exiles and their supporters .
Julius Nyerere would summarize its purpose:
We are not asking you, the British people, for anything special. We are just asking you to withdraw your support from apartheid by not buying South African goods..
Expansion and renaming
Just eight months after the Boycott Movement was founded, the Sharpeville massacre
triggered an intensification of action. The response was the transformation of the group. It was decided to rename the group as Anti-Apartheid Movement
and instead of just a consumer boycott the group would now "co-ordinate all the anti-apartheid work and to keep South Africa's apartheid policy in the forefront of British politics." The member organizations were diverse and included the British Communist, Liberal and Labour Parties, as well as the Trade Union Congress
(TUC), individual MPs, the NUS, several churches, and other non-governmental organizations working against apartheid.
At the time, the United Kingdom was South Africa's largest foreign investor and the ANC was still committed to peaceful resistance. Armed struggle through Umkhonto we Sizwe would only begin a year later.
Based in Ruskin House, the organization published the newspaper Boycott News. It organized public meetings in support of the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress.
It was no longer limited to just South Africa. The AAM supported the struggles for freedom in Namibia, Zimbabwe and the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and, in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau.
The AAM scored its first major victory when it set upon the idea of forcing the exclusion of South African from the Commonwealth
. The AAM found willing allies in the Afro-Asian and Caribbean Commonwealth member states. Additional pressure was added by the involvement of Labour MP Barbara Castle who led a 72 hour vigil outside the 1961 Commonwealth Conference being held in London. The efforts were met with success when Verwoerd, the Prime Minister of South Africa at the time, issued a proclamation of the Republic in May 1961 announcing that South Africa was withdrawing its Commonwealth membership renewal application.
Abdul Minty, who Lisson describes was the AAM representative, presented the International Olympic Committee in 1962 with material about racialism in South African sport. The result was a ruling that excluded South Africa from Olympic participation.
Petitioning for political prisoners
In response to the assert of Nelson Mandela
and the "Treason Trial
", the AAM setup in November 1963 the World Campaign for the Release of South African Political Prisoners (WCRSAPP). The purpose of the campaign was "to organise support for the implementation of the [October] UN resolution." Through the early part of 1964, the AAM worked to ensure the "Treason Trial" received the widest possible publicity. In addition a petition was circulated attracting 197,387 signatures. As the trial drew to a close, the AAM orchestrated the dispatch of a memorandum by the UK Government that make clear to the South African Government that the imposition of death sentences on the accused "would seriously imperil the relations between the two governments", and requested "the cancellation of all the death sentences imposed on political prisoners and the release of political detainees."
Lisson describes the trial verdict and AAM's reactions:
"When he pronounced his verdict, the South African judge referred to the unprecedented international action around the trial. Indeed, the AAM had succeeded in activating a mass national and international campaign so that it could 'with justification claim that the world-wide support for the men on trial contributed to the fact that they were not given the death sentence'."
Economic sanctions campaign
In November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly
passed Resolution 1761
, a non-binding resolution establishing the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid
and called for imposing economic and other sanctions on South Africa. All Western nations refused to join the committee as members. This boycott of a committee, the first such boycott, happened because it was created by the same General Assembly resolution that called for economic and other sanctions on South Africa, which at the time the West strongly opposed.
Following this passage of this resolution the AAM spearheaded the arrangements for international conference on sanctions to be held in London in April 1964. According to Lisson, "The aim of the Conference was to work out the practicability of economic sanctions and their implications on the economies of South Africa, the UK, the US and the Protectorates. Knowing that the strongest opposition to the application of sanctions came from the West (and within the West, the UK), the Committee made every effort to attract as wide and varied a number of speakers and participants as possible so that the Conference findings would be regarded as objective."
The conference was named the International Conference for Economic Sanctions Against South Africa. Lisson writes:
"The Conference established the necessity, the legality and the practicability of internationally organised sanctions against South Africa, whose policies were seen to have become a direct threat to peace and security in Africa and the world. Its findings also pointed out that in order to be effective, a programme of sanctions would need the active participation of Britain and the US, who were also the main obstacle to the implementation of such a policy."
The AAM was enthusiastic with the results of the conference for two key reasons. First, because of "the new seriousness with which the use of economic sanctions is viewed." Second, because the AAM was able to meet for the first time with the UN Special Committee on Apartheid, a meeting that established a long-lasting working relationship between the two parties.
The conference was not successful in persuading the UK to take up economic sanctions against South African though. Rather, the British government "remained firm in its view that the imposition of sanctions would be unconstitutional 'because we do not accept that this situation in South Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security and we do not in any case believe that sanctions would have the effect of persuading the South African Government to change its policies'."
Making sanctions an election issue
The AAM tried to make sanctions an election issue in the 1964 General Election in the UK. Candidates were asked to state their position on economic sanctions and other punitive measures against the South African government. Most candidates who responded answered in the affirmative. After the Labour Party sweep to power though, commitment to the anti-apartheid cause dissipated. In short order, Labour Party leader Harold Wilson told the press that his Labour Party was "not in favour of trade sanctions partly because, even if fully effective, they would harm the people we are most concerned about - the Africans and those white South Africans who are having to maintain some standard of decency there." Even so, Lisson writes that the "AAM still hoped that the new Labour Government would be more sensitive to the demands of public opinion than the previous Government." But by the end of 1964, it was clear that the election of the Labour Party had made little difference in the governments overall unwillingness to imposing sanctions.
Rejection by the West
Lisson summarizes the UN situation in 1964:
"At the UN, Britain consistently refused to accept that the situation in South Africa fell under [[Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter|Chapter VII of the [United Nations] Charter]]. Instead, in collaboration with the US, it worked for a carefully worded appeal on the Rivonia and other political trials to try to appease Afro-Asian countries and public opinion at home and abroad; by early 1965 the issue of sanctions had lost momentum."
Academic boycott campaign
The Anti-Apartheid Movement was instrumental in initiating in 1965 an academic boycott of South Africa
. The declaration was signed by 496 university professors and lecturers from 34 British universities in protest against apartheid and associated violations of academic freedom. They made special reference to the issuance of banning orders against two South African academics Jack Simons and Eddie Roux, two well-known progressive academics.
- "ACADEMIC BOYCOTT OF SOUTH AFRICA: DECLARATION BY BRITISH ACADEMICS, 1965
- We, the (undersigned) professors and lecturers in British universities in consultation with the Anti-Apartheid Movement:
- # Protest against the bans imposed on Professors Simons and Roux;
- # Protest against the practice of racial discrimination and its extension to higher education;
- # Pledge that we shall not apply for or accept academic posts in South African universities which practise racial discrimination."
Partnering with the United Nations
Faced with the failure to persuade the West to impose economic sanctions, the AAM in 1966 formulated a strategy where by they would shift toward spearheading "an international campaign against apartheid under the auspices of the United Nations." AAM's proposed strategy was approved by the UN Special Committee on Apartheid
and then by the General Assembly. This new partnership formed the basis for all future action against apartheid. The man originally responsible for the new strategy gives this summary:
"The strategy was to press for a range of measures to isolate the regime, support the liberation movement and inform world public opinion; to continue pressing for effective sanctions as the only means for a peaceful solution, and at the same time to obtain action on other measures which could be decided by a majority vote in the General Assembly; to isolate the major trading partners of South Africa by persuading other Western countries to co-operate in action to the greatest feasible extent; and to find ways to promote public opinion and public action against apartheid, especially in the countries which were the main collaborators with the South African regime. This also meant that we built the broadest support for each measure, thereby welcoming co-operation rather than alienating governments and organisations which were not yet prepared to support sanctions or armed struggle."
The Anti-Apartheid Movement continued to operate in the UK until 1994. After the first democratic elections in South Africa, AAM changed its name to ACTSA: Action for Southern Africa
Some have argued that the support of the AAM, and in particular its financial power, gave the ANC's exile elite power over the mass democratic movements in the country with the result that a radical revolution was turned into an elite transition that resulted in the poor majority getting poorer in the first decade after democracy.