• Sweden's news in English
 
almadalen_header

Sweden and Mandela's anti-apartheid struggle

Published: 06 Dec 2013 12:20 GMT+01:00

The struggle against white minority rule chimed with the spirit of Swedish politics, particularly the idealistic, internationalist tendencies of the Social Democratic Party, which dominated Swedish politics for most of the sixties, seventies and eighties. While many western countries viewed South Africa through the prism of the Cold War - something that often tempered their opposition to apartheid - neutral and Social Democratic Sweden took a stronger stance.

For many, Olof Palme, the charismatic Social Democrat leader and prime minster, embodied Sweden's strong anti-apartheid stance - a fact acknowledged during Mandela's visits to Sweden, during which he met Palme's widow Lisbeth and paid his respects at the assassinated politician's grave. 

Sweden made "a great contribution in support of the struggle for liberation in southern Africa," noted E.S. Reddy, Secretary of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid from 1963 to 1965, in a book published in 1998.

This support was grounded in a Swedish anti-apartheid movement founded back in the fifties. In 1957, Swedish missionary Gunnar Helander was barred reentry to South Africa due to his affiliation with anti-apartheid activists. Helander later threw his support behind the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the peaceful struggle of Albert Luthuli, the prominent ANC politician.

IN PICTURES: Nelson Mandela and Sweden

Author Pär Westberg, who went on to found the Swedish chapter of Amnesty International, met South African literary giant Nadine Gordimer in the late 1950s. She introduced him to Mandela, and fellow anti-apartheid activists and ANC politicians Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, who was also jailed for 25 years in the Robben Island prison with Mandela.

This inspired Westberg to set up the Swedish South Africa Committee, with the aim of mobilizing Swedish politicians against the South African regime.

"We were extremely energetic in trying to have signatures by leading Swedes from all over the political spectrum," Westberg noted in an interview with Helander last year. Although conservative politicians and businesspeople in Sweden were generally as resistant to supporting the anti-apartheid movement as elsewhere, Social Democrats and Liberals were supportive, as were trade union activists.

SEE ALSO: Sweden hails Mandela: 'He changed the world'

But in the 1960s, Sweden did not turn this general anti-apartheid sentiment into concrete foreign policy on South Africa. Several political observers note that the Vietnam War drew attention away from southern African liberation struggles, but the ANC still let their disappointment at Sweden be known.

ANC Secretary General Duma Nokwe complained that "we are disappointed with (...) the Swedish government on the question of South Africa at the United Nations", according to a 1999 compilation of essays on the topic entitled "Sweden and National Liberation in Southern Africa", edited by Tor Sellström.

Popular resistance started instead on the ground, finding voices in Sweden's student movements in the late 1960s. As apartheid resistance started spreading worldwide, groups in Sweden began boycotting South African produce.

Students refused to eat oranges imported from South Africa, carrying placards urging others not to buy fruit from the country because "it tastes of blood".

And while any action through the UN in what was legally a domestic affair remained elusive, in 1972 Sweden started channeling direct financial support to the ANC. These were small amounts at first - just 150,000 kronor - but later grew into significant amounts.

"I think that one can say, without casting any reflection on any of the other countries, that Sweden played a pivotal role as far as aid was concerned, not only to our movement, but to the liberation movement as a whole," Kay Moonsamy, treasurer of the South African Communist Party, told Tor Sellström in a 1995 interview. 

Palme would later, as Sweden's prime minister, also caution his international colleagues from letting the African independence conflicts be drawn into the Cold War.

"(We must) oppose the efforts to use African countries as pawns in a power game, prevent a new scramble for Africa stemming from superpower rivalry," Palme told the UN Security Council in 1977.

In 1978, the Swedish government banned any further business investments in South Africa, despite the presence of Swedish companies such as Asea, Transatlic, and Volvo. 

Just a few days before Palme's 1986 assassination, which some conspiracy theorists pinned on a white South African backlash, he again addressed the question of apartheid.

"We must live up to our responsibility for bringing this repulsive system to an end," he said.

While Sweden never provided any military to the ANC, which had a militant wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, a senior foreign ministry source told The Local that the amount of humanitarian assistance poured into the movement allowed it "to allocate its other resources as it saw fit".

DON'T MISS: Mandela's complex ties with Germany (The Local Germany)

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Lisa Holm murder
Suspect freed in Lisa Holm murder case

Suspect freed in Lisa Holm murder case

UPDATED: One of the men police have been holding on suspicion of murdering missing teenager Lisa Holm has been released, but his older brother remains in police custody. READ  

Almedalen 2015
BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Three
Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor at Almedalen. Photo: TT

BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Three

Sweden's youngest political leader in history, Ebba Busch Thor has called for a crackdown on homegrown terrorists and lower taxes at Almedalen, the biggest week in Swedish politics. READ  

Almedalen 2015 with the Nordic Council
'The Baltic Sea means everything to us'
Jørgen S. Søndergaard (Greenland), Annika Olsen (Faroe Islands), and Veronica Thörnroos (Åland Islands

'The Baltic Sea means everything to us'

The "Nordic way" receives a lot of praise around the world, not least when it comes to sustainability. The Local went in search of the Nordics’ secret, and we were surprised by what emerged. READ  

Video
US herring video is 'an insult to Sweden'
Screengrab: BuzzFeed Video/YouTube

US herring video is 'an insult to Sweden'

A fermented herring expert has expressed outrage at a BuzzFeed video in which Americans turn up their noses at the Swedish delicacy. Their comments, he says, are an “insult to the Swedish people and Swedish culture”. READ  

Saab signs deal worth billions for Swedish subs
What the new submarines could look like. Photo: Saab AB

Saab signs deal worth billions for Swedish subs

UPDATED: A deal between Swedish defence giant Saab and Sweden's military for two submarines worth 8.6 billion kronor ($1.04 billion) is set to boost jobs in the Nordic country, chief executive Håkan Buskhe said on Tuesday. READ  

Swede wins $18m in Wall Street harassment case
A Swedish woman sued her Wall Street boss. Photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Swede wins $18m in Wall Street harassment case

A New York court has ordered a Wall Street mogul to pay $18 million (nearly 150 million kronor) to a Swedish woman who sued her boss for sexual harassment. READ  

Vanished Swedish teen calls mum from Syria
A photo from Nusra Front's Twitter feed in March 2015. Photo: TT

Vanished Swedish teen calls mum from Syria

UPDATED: A 15-year-old girl from southern Sweden who has been missing since last month, has phoned her family to say she’s in Homs in Syria, Swedish media are reporting. READ  

Almedalen 2015 with the Swedish Institute
Why is Sweden still working with Russia?
Panelists discuss the importance of cooperating with Russia. Photo: The Local

Why is Sweden still working with Russia?

Relations between Russia and the EU might be tense, but Sweden is working hard to build connections - from the ground up. READ  

Presented by Natural Cycles
Swedish women’s sex habits: riskier than ever
Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/IStockPhoto

Swedish women’s sex habits: riskier than ever

Research shows that young Swedish females are taking more risks when it comes to sex – but why? READ  

Swedish woman battles killer slug invasion
The 'killer slugs' invade Sweden every year. Photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/SCANPIX

Swedish woman battles killer slug invasion

A Swedish woman armed with nothing but her wits and a bucket has told how she fought off an army of almost 2,000 Spanish slugs. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week: Visby, Gotland
National
Sweden set for sunniest week of year
Gallery
People-watching: June 26th-28th
Features
The Local's essential guide to who's who in Swedish politics
National
More Swedish military exercises as Russia aggression fears grow
Blog updates

26 June

Editor’s blog, June 26th (The Local Sweden) »

"Greetings from Stockholm, We’re about to transport our newsroom to the idyllic Swedish island of Gotland for..." READ »

 

23 June

Defending Our Interests … And Our Allies (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"This is an important week for European security, with decisions affecting Europe’s unstable Southern and Eastern..." READ »

 
 
 
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Travel
Why Swedish camp sites are set for a bumper summer
National
Swedish summer's really on its way (at least according to forecasters)
Gallery
People-watching: June 24th
National
Why are southern Swedes angry about becoming 'Danish' again?
Society
Lifestyle: When to catch your favourite features on The Local
National
Is Sweden one of the world's most peaceful nations?
Sponsored Article
Harstena: Travelling to Sweden's secret islands
National
One in ten Swedish cats homeless
Sponsored Article
'I constantly evolve my Swedishness'
Gallery
Property of the week: Värmdö, Stockholm
Society
Would you eat this Swedish pizza?
National
Swedish royals' dream honeymoon
National
Swedish hospital opens first centre for male rape victims
Gallery
People-watching: June 20th-21st
Photo: TT
Lifestyle
Midsummer: The Local's guide to Sweden's craziest festival
Sponsored Article
Murder, myth and magic: Travelling to the birthplace of Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: June 17th
Sponsored Article
Gallery: Life in Sweden's secret archipelago
Society
Seven alternative names for Sweden's Prince Nicolas Paul Gustaf
National
FBI returns stolen Swedish books
National
Want to smell like Zlatan?
National
Royal joy over birth of new prince
Gallery
Property of the week: Brantevik, Simrishamn
National
How racy graffiti inspired a teacher's high school sex class
Gallery
People-watching: June 12th-14th
National
As it happened: Prince Carl Philip marries Sofia Hellqvist
Technology
Is Stockholm the world's creative capital?
National
Timeline: Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
KTH President: ‘Sweden’s success is because of its size’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: New royal couple Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Features
Ten Swedish festivals to discover
Features
Ten reasons Stockholm is definitely way cooler than Copenhagen
National
VIDEO: Watch Swedish man rescue baby elk from cold creek
National
VIDEO: Have you seen this jet ski blunder at a Malmö hotel opening?
Gallery
People-watching: June 10th
National
Swedish airports launch cheeky safe sex toilet campaign
Gallery
IN PICTURES: June summer snaps
Politics
Rainbow flag compared to swastika by 'sorry' Swedish councillor
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
National
Animal group barking over this colourful Swedish pooch
Society
Would you pay to go dwarf-tossing?
Gallery
Östergötland: Pilgrimage to the heart of historic Sweden
Lifestyle
In need of some summer loving? Here's how to date in Sweden
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: Nine questions every expat should ask
Sponsored Article
The millionaire teacher who leads by tough love
Sponsored Article
How to change the world: Malmö to Mogadishu
Sponsored Article
'No one tells expats about unemployment benefits'
Sponsored Article
What it's like to be a student in Malmö
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

3,237
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se