• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Sweden and Mandela's anti-apartheid struggle

Ann Törnkvist · 6 Dec 2013, 12:20

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.

Story continues below…

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
British band Viola Beach killed in Stockholm car crash
The car plunged into a canal in Stockholm on Saturday night. Photo: Viola Beach

British band Viola Beach killed in Stockholm car crash
1 hour ago

Their car reportedly plunged into a canal.

Eagles of Death Metal rock Stockholm
Eagles of Death Metal at Stockholm's Debaser. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Eagles of Death Metal rock Stockholm
4 hours ago

"I take it as a very sacred duty," frontman Jesse Hughes says as band relaunches terror-hit European tour.

'I am the whistleblower': sacked Swedbank CEO
Michael Wolf claimed that he had himself reported the non-compliant transactions. Photo: Anders Ahlgren/SvD/TT

'I am the whistleblower': sacked Swedbank CEO
22 hours ago

“I know which companies this concerns, and I made losses on them."

Karolinska head quits over scandal-hit surgeon
Professor Anders Hamsten. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Karolinska head quits over scandal-hit surgeon
1 day ago

Karolinska Institute "failed to see the warning signs" of fraud surrounding Paolo Macchiarini.

Sweden jails Bulgarians for begging ring
Beggars from Romania and Bulgaria have become a common sight on Sweden's streets. Photo:

Sweden jails Bulgarians for begging ring
1 day ago

Landmark case sees brothers jailed for human trafficking.

Azita Raji confirmed US envoy to Sweden
Azita Raji speaks at Barnard College in 2013. Photo: Barnard College

Azita Raji confirmed US envoy to Sweden
1 day ago

After eight months, Sweden will finally get a US ambassador.

Video
WATCH: Rare peek at Swedish wild lynx caught on camera
File photo of lynx. Photo: AP Photo/Sergiy Gaschak

WATCH: Rare peek at Swedish wild lynx caught on camera
1 day ago

You may never get this close to these shy Swedish wild cats again.

Sacked Swedish banker suspected of shady deals
Sacked Swedbank boss Michael Wolf. Photo: Pi Frisk/SvD/TT

Sacked Swedish banker suspected of shady deals
1 day ago

UPDATED: But Sweden's biggest bank's former CEO Michael Wolf says he is the victim of a "smear campaign".

Where to find your favourite features on The Local
Read about Swedish food every Friday. Photo: Camilla Degerman/Image Bank Sweden

Where to find your favourite features on The Local
1 day ago

Find out when you can get a guaranteed food, business, property or fix or get involved in the debates The Local's readers are talking about.

Guess why this Swedish beer label got banned?

Guess why this Swedish beer label got banned?
1 day ago

Don't drink and drive pirate ships, kids.

Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
National
Can you spot the dildo in this photo?
Sponsored Article
Just landed? Here's the secret to finding work in Stockholm
Culture
Seven facts about the shy Swede behind the world's pop music
Travel
Why are people so happy in Malmö?
Blog updates

12 February

Editor’s blog, February 12th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Sweden’s most southern city, Malmo, hasn’t had the easiest start to the year, grabbing global…" READ »

 

9 February

Förr, förut, förrän, före and … innan! (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! A long time ago, I got this question: It would be a huge help if you could…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
How to set up shop in the 'Silicon Valley of Sweden'
National
Less than one percent of Swedish crimes linked to refugees
Sponsored Article
Luleå: 8 winter must-dos in Sweden's far north
Features
Single? Here are the ten Swedish words you have to learn
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Lindesberg, Örebro
Lifestyle
VIDEO: What's the fuss about Sweden's semla bun?
Sponsored Article
Swiss hospitality: The ladder to your international career
Culture
Ten fab Swedish hits for February
Sponsored Article
Ice magic at north Sweden island lodges
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: February 6th-7th
Travel
Stockholm's eight REAL no-go zones
Sponsored Article
Stockholm's secret ski resort: Kungsberget
Gallery
People-watching: February 3rd
Sponsored Article
Lofsdalen: The real Swedish wilderness
National
'How confronting the man who robbed me gave me closure'
Analysis & Opinion
DEBATE: Why are Swedes so obsessed with Nordic skiing?
Culture
See which Swedish museums are now opening up for free
Gallery
Property of the week: Insjön, Nacka
National
VIDEO: Tensions caught on camera inside Swedish asylum home
Gallery
People-Watching: January 29th - 31st
International
How will Sweden deport up to 80,000 failed asylum seekers?
Sport
When you gotta go... Swedish racing dog does poo and then takes gold
Sport
Guess who just got a HUGE pay rise?
Travel
WATCH: Five top tips for safe ice skating on Sweden's gorgeous lakes
Gallery
People-watching: January 27th
National
'Sweden could be at war within years'
3,495
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