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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


TERBLANCHE, Otto. The Dutch cultural boycott against South Africa: An analysis. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.1, pp.37-55. ISSN 2224-7912.

In 1962 the UN General Assembly set up the Special Committee Against Apartheid. In 1968 the General Assembly asked all states and organisations to suspend cultural, educational, sporting and other exchanges with South Africa. The Special Committee gave increased attention to the cultural boycott in the 1970s. In 1980 the General Assembly adopted a resolution asking all states to take steps to prevent cultural, academic, sports and other exchanges with South Africa. The Special Committee began publication of a Register of Entertainers, Actors and others who have performed in Apartheid South Africa in 1983. The European Community adopted a series of measures in 1985, inter alia to discourage cultural, sporting and scientific agreements with South Africa except where these would contribute to the elimination of apartheid. In 1951 an agreement was reached to formalise the cultural exchange between the Netherlands and South Africa. Since 1953 there has been a formal Cultural Accord between these two countries. The implementation of the treaty from the Dutch side was handed over to the Nederlands Zuid-Afrikaanse Vereniging (NZAV) in Amsterdam. The Dutch anti-apartheid movement regarded the NZAV as a pro-apartheid organisation. The anti-apartheid groups also believed that the South African authorities used the Cultural Accord to "sell" apartheid abroad. The agreement was not only used for cultural contact. The Dutch nuclear physicist, prof. J. Kistemaker, visited South Africa in 1975. The Anti-Apartheids Beweging Nederland (AABN) was strongly opposed to this visit. Joop den Uyl was the minister-president (1973-1977) of the most progressive cabinet that the Netherlands had known. The Den Uyl government made promises of support for the freedom movements in Southern Africa. They also offered to help the victims of apartheid and racism. The Soweto uprising of 1976 and the death of Steve Biko in 1977 led to an outcry in the Netherlands. The Dutch government thus froze the Cultural Accord in 1977 and it was finally abandoned in 1981. The Dutch government also decided to introduce a visa requirement for South African citizens in January 1983. The Afrikaans author, André P. Brink, regarded the cultural boycott as being totally counter-productive, because the whole idea of cultural contact is based on the conviction that ideas can persuade people, can change people. The Afrikaans poet, Elisabeth Eybers, who settled in Amsterdam in 1961, was also strongly opposed to the idea of a cultural boycott. According to her it was important that the cultural products of the Netherlands remain accessible to South Africans. She was also very critical of the way the Netherlands acted as the moral conscience of the world. Only the names of a few Dutchmen appeared on the so-called "black list" of the UN regarding entertainers and artists who have performed in apartheid South Africa. One of the names was that of the Dutch author W.F. Hermans. His visit to South Africa in 1983 was clouded in controversy. It led to a lively debate between those who favoured the cultural boycott and isolation of South Africa and those who opposed it. Amsterdam was declared an anti-apartheid city in 1986 and in view of Hermans ' visit to South Africa, he was declared persona non grata by the Amsterdam city council. The anti-apartheid groups vehemently protested against the performance of the South African musical, Ipi Tombi, in the Netherlands in 1981. They regarded this musical as a product of apartheid. The activists also organised many picket-lines at theatres. The whole issue regarding Ipi Tombi and cultural freedom was intensely debated in the press. About 40 organisations supported the demand of the AABN that Ipi Tombi should no longer be performed in the Netherlands. The AABN published a critical report on the Cultural Accord in 1976. Since the mid 1970s more and more contact was made in the Netherlands with black South African artists in exile. In 1976 a working conference was held in Amsterdam under the slogan "Artists against apartheid". In 1982 the AABN organised a conference in Amsterdam - "The cultural voice of the resistance" - to strengthen the cultural ties between the Netherlands and the ANC. The ANC then favoured the total cultural isolation of South Africa. The conference favoured an alternative cultural agreement to serve the interests of all South Africans. Closer co-operation with the ANC regarding the development of cultural projects was propagated. In 1987 another cultural conference was held in Amsterdam - "Culture in Another South Africa". The aim of the CASA-conference was to offer a podium for debate, which was then impossible within South Africa. The ANC thus referred to Amsterdam as "the cultural capital of South Africa." About 300 mainly black South African artists discussed the cultural future of a democratic South Africa. One of the conclusions reached was that the cultural boycott of South Africa should be used in a more selective way, because some of the artists who visited South Africa contributed to the anti-apartheid struggle. These artists should be allowed to enter the country.

Keywords : The Netherlands; South Africa; Cultural Accord; apartheid; anti-apartheid; African National Congress (ANC); cultural boycott; cultural conferences; United Nations; Amsterdam; W.F. Hermans; Anti-Apartheids Beweging Nederland (AABN).

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