I think of the 'anti-apartheid movement' as a coalition of anti-apartheid organisations and individuals, as well as a growing number of governments, which in the 1960s was able to secure the active involvement of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and many other international organisations. This was a coalition which encompassed the world and consisted of international, regional, national and local bodies. It developed a broad range of actions from public boycotts to UN sanctions, from the provision of humanitarian assistance to refugees to military and non-military assistance to the liberation movement.
I can think of no other coalition of this scope, of no other campaign that was carried on so long and with such persistence, and of no other cause for which so many people in so many countries made such sacrifices. This broad coalition played a crucial role in the liberation of South Africa from apartheid. Recognition of this fact in no way detracts from the struggle of the South African people, because this great international movement could not have developed without the vision and statesmanship of the leaders of the liberation movement and without the struggle which they led.
In this solidarity movement it can be said without exaggeration that the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain and its leaders played a very significant role, both at the national and international level, and had a greater impact than its members perhaps realise. That is why the AAM became the target of South African intelligence and terrorism more than any group other than the liberation movement.
The meeting at Holborn Hall on 26 June 1959, which launched the international boycott of South Africa, received little media attention, but the spread of boycott actions in Britain helped make South Africa a major political issue within a few months.
AAM started its international work early in its life - developing contacts and promoting the establishment of anti-apartheid groups in other West European countries; lobbying the Commonwealth in 1960-61 and the International Olympic Committee in 1962; launching the World Campaign for the Release of South African Political Prisoners in 1963; and organising the International Conference on Sanctions against South Africa in 1964. Its campaigns for peoples' boycotts, government sanctions and the arms embargo soon spread far beyond the borders of Britain.
London was an important centre for many reasons. Because of historical links and the Commonwealth connection, there was a greater awareness in Britain than elsewhere of the situation in South Africa; opposition to racism and apartheid had developed over the years, despite collaboration with apartheid by the government and by vested interests. There was greater access to news from South Africa, and more personal contact with South Africans. Some of the British churchmen who had served in South Africa became fervent opponents of apartheid and South African exiles in Britain were active in seeking support for the freedom movement. Britain was by far the most important economic partner and supplier of arms to South Africa, so that public opinion in Britain was particularly important. And London was an important centre for the dissemination of information, especially to Commonwealth countries, and for approaches to Commonwealth governments.
The development of relations between the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the United Nations from 1964 or 1965 enhanced the AAM's international impact during a period when the AAM had hardly any resources to devote to international work. It helped the AAM to develop close relations with the OAU and contacts with many governments. The AAM, in turn, contributed significantly to the effectiveness of the United Nations, and especially of its Special Committee against Apartheid, in its anti-apartheid activities.
The UN Special Committee against Apartheid was established by a General Assembly resolution of 6 November 1962, and held its first meeting on 2 April 1963. That was a few days after Harold Wilson, the leader of the Labour Party, called for an arms embargo against South Africa at an AAM rally in Trafalgar Square. None of the Western countries accepted membership in the Special Committee because it had been created by a General Assembly resolution which had called for economic and other sanctions against South Africa; it was the first UN committee to be boycotted by the West.
The Special Committee, however, was able to use its composition to become an activist, rather than a deliberative, organ and a lobby for the liberation movement, and to build up wide support for a programme of action against apartheid. It enjoyed the confidence of a large majority in the General Assembly, so that it was often seen as the voice of the United Nations, though the UN could not take effective action on sanctions.
It was during the Sanctions Conference held in London in April 1964 that a delegation of the UN Special Committee first met the leaders of the AAM. It held hearings at Church House, where Barbara Castle, then AAM's President, spoke, and was accompanied by Abdul Minty. The Special Committee made a detailed report on the Sanctions Conference to the General Assembly and the Security Council.
In the general election of October 1964, the Labour Party was returned to power and Harold Wilson became Prime Minister. The new government announced an arms embargo against South Africa, as the United States had done in 1963. It soon became clear that the major Western Powers were not prepared to take any further action against the South African regime. Britain and the US were not even prepared to exert pressure on France and other countries which profited by replacing them as sources of military equipment for South Africa. We were faced with a deadlock on sanctions - and paralysis if sanctions were our only objective at the United Nations.
I was not convinced that all our efforts should be focused on sanctions, so I promoted information activity, assistance to political prisoners and their families, scholarships for South Africans, etc. In 1966, I formulated the concept of 'an international campaign against apartheid under the auspices of the United Nations'. It was approved by the Special Committee and endorsed by the General Assembly, and served as a broad framework for action against apartheid from then on.
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. I had been in frequent consultation with the ANC and the AAM and this strategy emerged from the consultations, though the formulation was entirely mine and the text was not cleared with them.
In June 1968, the UN Special Committee held its first session outside UN headquarters - in Stockholm, London and Geneva. The AAM helped to organise the London meetings at Friends House, arranged for the participation of many British organisations and individuals, and presented memoranda. The proposals which emerged in the consultations were reflected in the UN General Assembly resolution later that year, and in the programme of the Special Committee.
From that time the British AAM became, in effect, the closest non-governmental associate of the Special Committee. This co-operation was without precedent in relations between the UN and non-governmental organisations. The Special Committee sent letters of support for AAM campaigns whenever requested. It sent representatives to conferences and other events organised by the AAM and often sent representatives to London for consultations. The UN was a convenient place for the AAM to send petitions. The Special Committee not only granted hearings to AAM representatives, but invited them to its conferences, seminars and other events, providing fares and expenses. They were allowed full rights of participation, along with government representatives, and were often elected as officers of conferences and seminars. These events enabled the anti-apartheid movements from different countries to meet and consult on internationalising campaigns. The contacts made with governments were often useful. The major conferences also occasionally provided an opportunity to confront the governments of major Western powers. A number of the publications of the UN Centre against Apartheid were prepared by AAM or by consultants recommended by AAM. Many of the provisions of UN resolutions originated from suggestions made by the AAM.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain helped the Special Committee to meet other British organisations and develop contacts with anti-apartheid groups in other countries. As the AAM was in closer contact with South Africa than the UN Secretariat, it was a useful source of information.
I must make special mention of Abdul Minty. He was invited to many conferences and seminars of the United Nations, and even to assist missions of the Special Committee, as his advice was highly valued. He became one of the few individuals who was invited to speak in the Security Council and to its committee on the arms embargo. I believe that close association with the Special Committee enabled Abdul Minty to widen his contacts with governments. The AAM was able, through him, to make an input into the decisions and work of UN agencies, the OAU, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth. In 1979 Abdul Minty established the World Campaign against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa, with the support of the AAM and the encouragement of the Special Committee. The World Campaign was the UN's main source of information on violations of the arms embargo. Without it, the arms embargo would have been much less effective.
On other issues, our day-to-day contact with the AAM from about 1976 was through Mike Terry. The UN and the AAM co-operated in organising seminars and conferences, and producing publications and other campaign material; they also co-operated on the observance of Nelson Mandela's 60th birthday in 1978 and on the 'Free Mandela' campaign. I consulted Mike on many other campaigns and he was responsible for several UN resolutions and actions. Sometimes suggestions came from me and the AAM responded with imagination. Sometimes suggestions came from the AAM and we tried to do all we could to obtain action by the UN and to internationalise campaigns.
I mentioned that Britain was the main area of anti-apartheid action in the 1960s. In the 1970s it became clear that United States policy was the main hindrance to international action against apartheid because the US viewed the South African problem in the context of the Cold War. It was essential for a peaceful solution, or a solution with the least violence, to persuade the US to revise its policy and, as the leader of the Western countries, to promote concerted action. Some hopeful trends during the Carter administration (1976-1980) were followed by a virtual alliance with the apartheid regime during the Reagan administration under the guise of 'constructive engagement'. The Botha regime found it possible to destabilise neighbouring African States with impunity, causing enormous losses in human life and infrastructure.
Even during this period the AAM continued to play an important role because of its experience and international contacts. The US became increasingly isolated when it tried to protect the apartheid regime. A turning point was reached in 1984 with the resurgence of the movement in South Africa, the massive demonstrations against Botha in Britain and Western Europe and the launch of the Free South Africa Movement in the United States.