Swedish Mine Workers Union (Gruv)
The interview was held by Mady Gray on 9 October 2005.
Anders Stendalen, active in the Swedish Mineworkers Union and later also the President of the Miners International Federation, MIF, became involved in the liberation struggle when he met comrades among the black miners in South Africa. The MIF supported the black miners and Stendalen saw to that a black member was elected in the top leadership of any international federation for the first time. He tells of his involvement in sanctions towards South Africa, and also of how the Swedish Mineworkers Union supported the South African; National Union of Mineworkers, NUM. Very good international relationships developed between the Swedish and South African miners and he tells of the importance of personal relationships, which kept his involvement alive.
Madi Gray: We are doing the interview in Stockholm on 9 October at the headquarters of the Swedish Metalworkers Union. Anders Stendalen of the Swedish Mineworkers Union (Gruvarbetarnas förbund) has come prepared for this interview by bringing along photos, trade union magazines and transcripts of speeches he has given. Anders, how did you become involved in support to the struggle for the liberation of Southern Africa?
Anders Stendalen: My first thoughts about getting involved came in 1960 at the time of a major mine disaster in Coalbrook. Over 450 miners were killed when one mine collapsed, and the government stopped their colleagues from offering their condolences to the grieving families. You can say that it was then that I began to think about South Africa and felt that this system must be totally wrong. After that my awareness developed and you can say that by the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, when I met comrades among the black miners in South Africa for the first time, I became more involved and took a direct role in the work.
Madi Gray: Coalbrook happened more than 40 years ago. Yet you first met your comrades in 1980?
Anders Stendalen: It was only from 1979 that blacks got the possibility to establish trade unions. But miners only got that right in 1981, when they formed the National Union of Mineworkers, NUM. The constituent congress was held in 1982.
Madi Gray: Miners in South Africa fought hard for these rights and several lost their lives during the struggle. People forget things like that so easily. You were involved in the Swedish Miners Union. What did the trade union do?
Anders Stendalen: I was responsible for training and international questions in the union. I became the secretary and then the chairman of the union and later, from 1984, the President of the Miners International Federation, MIF.
Madi Gray: You’ve been involved at a high level not only with questions about South Africa but also with mining questions for a large number of miners in different countries. Did you introduce South Africa onto the agenda?
Anders Stendalen: I think you can say that. I met comrades, colleagues from the mines in South Africa and had such good contact with them, saw how seriously they worked and felt that supporting this was important. I thought, for example, that MIF should include black miners on its board and suggested James Motlatsi from South Africa, and he was elected as the first black member in the top leadership of any international federation.
MIF wanted to have a union congress in South Africa to support the campaign, but on the advice of our South African friends we held it in Harare, Zimbabwe in March 1989, as they said that they could not otherwise guarantee that everyone who wanted to take part would be able to. MIF’s was the first international union congress to be held in Southern Africa.
I’d like to add that NUM and its representatives have played a constructive role through MIF in Geneva in getting the ILO (International Labour Organisation) to adopt a convention on occupational health and safety in the mines and in launching a global education and awareness programme.
Madi Gray: You said that you were disturbed by what you experienced, but what was it that made the union listen and be receptive?
Anders Stendalen: We realised what heroes the South African mineworkers were. We had the idea of trying to make contact with people who lived inside South Africa and through them gain direct knowledge of their situation. Thus we would know how we should act in Sweden. We had the attitude that we couldn’t sit in Stockholm — or the mining town of Grängesberg — and tell people what they should do and how they should do it.
Madi Gray: At that time in Sweden there was a broad discussion on sanctions, if they were worth having, and of the impact of isolating SA. Did you also have this type of discussion?
Anders Stendalen: Yes. I was, for example, involved in the Swedish Board of Commerce’s group that dealt with companies’ applications to invest in SA. For me it was extraordinarily good guidance to hear how the comrades in South Africa looked upon it. We realised that to refuse new investments would be an effective means in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and pursued that line. Many thought perhaps at times that it was a militant line, but that was the line we pursued. We were given confirmation that it was right when Mandela came to Sweden and stayed at Haga Palace on his first trip abroad after his release in 1990 and I was the only Swedish trade union leader who was invited to have personal discussions with him.
Madi Gray: That must have justified your stand.
Anders Stendalen: Yes, and Mandela added that if you are boiling water you should not turn the heat off too soon, as then the water doesn’t boil. It was the same with sanctions. It was fantastic, I think, that on that trip among those he had with him were trade union comrades from inside South Africa, the ones who had worked with sanctions. Cyril Ramaphosa and the others.
Madi Gray: Cyril Ramaphosa became, of course, one of the key figures in preparing the discussions around the constitution.
Anders Stendalen: Yes, you know more about that than I do. My opinion is that the transition would not have gone as smoothly as it did without Cyril’s knowledge, skill at negotiating, and diplomacy.
Madi Gray: Before we go on, wasn’t there a trade union in South Africa for white miners during all these years? Did you have any contact with them and how was your relationship with them?
Anders Stendalen: No, I never had any relationships with the white trade union. I saw it rather as the most militant supporter of the apartheid regime.
Madi Gray: Did they never apply for membership of MIF?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, some time in the 1940s — long before my time. When I became involved, our contacts were entirely directed towards helping with the training of blacks in the National Union of Mineworkers, NUM, and we focused on the development of the union. NUM built things up themselves, but we supported them financially, as human beings, and also where training of members was concerned. We also gave legal assistance in trials against trade union members.
Madi Gray: So you can say that this began in the early 1980s. Is it still continuing today?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, I am retired now but follow the developments and get reports.
Madi Gray: Do you still have friendly contacts with NUM members in South Africa?
Anders Stendalen: Yes. There’s a new generation now but I think so. It wasn’t only the miners’ union in South Africa, but other parts of the trade union movement also became involved in politics, and that was good. Before 1994 the unions, the mass democratic organisations and the churches were responsible for training activities, apart from Bantu education, for the blacks.
Madi Gray: Yes, they played a tremendously important role, as did a number of NGOs. The unions were also extremely important in keeping the whole anti-apartheid campaign going.
Anders Stendalen: When the ANC and the communist party were banned, one way that people could become involved in the struggle was via the trade union organisations.
Madi Gray: Can you mention some high points that you think worked out well?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, when they succeeded in starting the miners’ union against all the odds. There were few who believed it would be possible, and yet NUM became so strong, not only turning into South Africa’s largest trade union but also into the African continent’s largest trade union. That is such a high point.
Another is that NUM managed to survive the crisis of the mid-1980s.
Nelson Mandela’s release was of course a major event. And while he was still in prison, in the middle of the riots in the shanty towns, the miners elected Mandela as honorary chairman of the union.
Madi Gray: I didn’t know that.
Anders Stendalen: Yes, early on, in the middle of this intense struggle that was going on. There were fatal shootings and … in that situation, the miners elected Mandela as their honorary chairman.
Madi Gray: That was strong of them. Do you think there were any problems? Were there occasions when you weren’t in agreement on important points?
Anders Stendalen: I can’t say that. Of course, we discussed things but, conflicting points, no.
There were other issues. We had to meet in Harare at the beginning, as I wasn’t given a visa to South Africa during the early years. We were confronted with the opposite situation when Cyril was stopped at the airport in Harare. He didn’t have a South African passport at that time, as his passport was issued in the Bantustan known as Venda, and Zimbabwe said that they did not recognise any state called Venda.
I can’t recall that we had any problems of that kind here. The Swedish passport police accepted passports from Venda, I didn’t look into it then, but I was faced with the fact when I was in Harare.
Madi Gray: What was the impact of cooperation with other organisations?
Anders Stendalen: It was naturally extremely important and we had of course direct contacts in the north and with Nordic organisations. What I would like to emphasise is our contacts with LO (the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions) and with the LO-TCO Secretariat for International Trade Union Development Cooperation (TCO, The Swedish Central Organisation of Salaried Employees) and with MIF, the international federation of miners.
We realised early on that at that time in Southern Africa there were over a million miners, of whom 6-700,000 were black. To create a union for the whole of Southern Africa we took the initiative to hold a meeting in Harare in 1984 to create the Southern Africa Miners Federation (SAMF), which was also an organisation for cooperation of all the miners. Morgan Tsvangirai and Jeffrey Mutendare from Zimbabwe, Ben Ulenga and others from Namibia took part, as well as people from Botswana and other unions in Southern Africa.
From the beginning of the 1980s, there was cooperation with COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the miners were perhaps the ones who drove it forward. Before that there were several central organisations in South Africa, but COSATU became the central organisation which brought them all together. One of the people I met there, Benny Barayi, who was the deputy chairman of the miners’ union, became the first chairman of COSATU.
Madi Gray: Perhaps you can say something about cooperation with other organisations in the north?
Anders Stendalen: On the union and the mining side, we had very close cooperation with Norwegian comrades of the Norwegian Working Men’s Union. We worked mostly through the miners’ international federation, however, as the miners had no special Nordic organisation.
Madi Gray: Do you think Nordic cooperation means anything to people and unions in South Africa?
Anders Stendalen: I think it has meant a lot. I experienced it as being the Nordic countries and Holland who worked in a similar way and supported South Africa. Without a doubt they were in agreement that cooperation was good. I think you have to be careful about overvaluing our contributions; the real contributions were made in South Africa and our support, the union’s purely financial support from Sweden, was perhaps only a matter of 8 million kronor a year during the 1980s, it can have varied somewhat. Of course we worked together in the north with this support.
Madi Gray: One can imagine that it was important support at different levels, was it open? Tied? Did you ask for it to be accounted for or to be informed on how it was used?
Anders Stendalen: The money was used in a way which had been determined in South Africa, in three ways: training, legal aid for all the trials taking place against union representatives, to support them, and humanitarian support. We also worked on occupational health and safety issues and chanelled our support through the Miners International Federation together with Norwegian and Swedish mining and aid committees. We went through South Africa, determined what we wanted to focus on and made joint plans, found funding and chanelled it through MIF.
Madi Gray: Did you also get money from Sida? How was it allocated?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, we got Sida money. Part of it was allocated to Sida projects, but we had our own collections in addition to this. For example in the mid-1980s NUM tried peaceful negotiation with employers in the Chamber of Mines, but a nation-wide conflict developed involving 360, 000 miners who were met by teargas and police violence. A state of emergency was declared, people were shot to death, but they got through this battle and survived.
The Miners Union in Sweden took the initiative when we saw what was happening and laid the foundation for this collection together with the Metalworkers Union in support of our colleagues in South Africa. It gained broad support and extended all over Sweden. The Mining and Metal Workers’ unions each gave 100 000 kronor, Sida another 250 000 kronor and we handed over a total of 3.4 million kronor to help save NUM.
Madi Gray: Did this campaign also help to educate people in Sweden? Did people give money when they understood the problem?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, of course, people felt very strongly about South Africa and the miners’ situation there. Later there was a similar conflict in Namibia, involving 4 300 workers. The mining company dismissed miners and ruthlessly threw them out of the hostels. So the Swedish miners’ union donated money and started a collection to assist them as well.
Madi Gray: You have mentioned a number of organisations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. Were there other countries involved, such as Angola?
Anders Stendalen: We did cooperate and had a training venture there. We were in Angola but we weren’t as close, perhaps because of the language, so we had projects in the area, people down there starting up projects. In just this struggle it was South Africa, Namibia, and Lesotho of course, not to forget Zambia and Zaıre/Congo — the copper brothers. The present president was a miner and has taken part in the meetings in Harare. Then there was Mozambique of course.
I usually give South Africa as a good example of how this kind of project should be run and how support should be given. Support should help in building up organisations but shouldn’t develop into aid-dependence. This has not happened in South Africa as they built up their own organisation. We supported them, and as the miners’ union grew, they came to the meetings and told us that they had enough funding to pay for their own trips etc. It has gone further, “Now we can help the neighbouring countries, we can help Mozambique, for instance”, they said. This was a fantastic development.
Madi Gray: That sounds promising.
Anders Stendalen: I think it is a textbook example of how this should work. Perhaps support is needed for special projects, but they manage the organisational details themselves. I don’t know if there are such good examples in many other places.
Madi Gray: I feel like a sponge absorbing all these good examples. I think South Africa is working well beyond all expectations. Very great problems remain, there are tensions and much that needs to be done, but we must also look at everything that has been achieved. So I am enjoying listening to what you are saying. You can say it is one very satisfying outcome of the relationship. Are there more?
Anders Stendalen: Yes it’s one of them. It’s a result of what we worked with together and that we were able to encourage it. Then I agree with you about the problems.
Madi Gray: They have proved difficult to resolve, but South Africa is trying.
I have a number of questions here on how the contacts took place and how the relationship deepened, which we have touched upon. Would you like to add anything? Do you, for example, still have personal friends with whom you are in contact?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, Cyril and James and also the current Secretary General of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe , are close friends.
Madi Gray: You have visited South Africa a number of times on behalf of the union, are you also thinking of going down there as a private person?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, my wife and I have been there on our own. We did a trip, and drove around in South Africa. So we have done that.
Madi Gray: What effect do you think that visits to Sweden by South African union representatives had, because you invited people here quite often, didn’t you?
Anders Stendalen: They had a very good effect. We had meetings in different places. On this photo, for example, we see James Motlatsi at a union meeting in Sweden where he explained about the situation. It was of the utmost importance to get the information directly from South Africa.
Madi Gray: It must have been important for the other members too.
Anders Stendalen: Yes I think so. Here Cyril is trying out a Swedish ‘spark’ for the first time. (Anders Stendalen & Madi Gray look at a photo of a small sledge on long runners with an upright part to hold on to which, like a scooter, is propelled forward through the snow by kicking.) It was something they had never seen or come across before. It was fun. It was a real cultural exchange. Yes, I think so, these personal contacts were valuable, to a great extent where work was concerned and for the organisation. On one occasion Cyril and his wife went fishing for the first time when they visited us in Grängesberg. I visited Cyril in Soweto too.
Madi Gray: So you can say that personal relationships kept your involvement alive?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, of course, you knew what they stood for. And the trust in each other grew so it is obvious that they were significant.
Madi Gray: Your personal relations after liberation in the different countries and since 1994 in South Africa have obviously continued after your retirement. Are the miners’ trade union and the international federation still involved?
Anders Stendalen: They are still involved, but not to the same extent. A lot has changed where the central organisation of MIF is concerned and the other international union organisations. The miners’ international federation has merged with the international chemical federation and others and has become a much larger and more powerful international federation.
Madi Gray: What do you think the support meant for ordinary miners in South Africa?
Anders Stendalen: It meant a lot, judging from all the enthusiasm we met when we visited mines and other places in South Africa. In my speech to the NUM Congress in Pretoria in 1997 I said, “As mineworkers we strongly believe in the virtues of tolerance. In our pits whatever the colour of our skins at the start of the shift, at the end of the day we all carry the colour of dust.” The enthusiasm people showed then proved that our solidarity meant something.
Madi Gray: Did they introduce you as someone from Sweden? Was there awareness that Sweden was involved?
Anders Stendalen: Yes. Though it’s difficult for me to answer that, I experienced it as being quite general at congresses and at meetings. I experienced an extremely positive atmosphere at meetings.
Madi Gray: The work with South Africa, did it influence Swedish miners’ activities in any other way?
Anders Stendalen: Of course. There were needs, requests about safety in the workplace, for example when that awful accident happened in Kinross in 1987 when 177 mineworkers were burnt to death. They asked if we could help in investigating what happened, turning first to Sweden. We talked to our doctor here at the time, as they needed a medical man and a technician. So we sent a joint team together with Germany, with the doctor and a mine expert, to investigate.
Madi Gray: Do you think that the involvement with South Africa had an influence here in Sweden? For instance when representatives of the South African miners’ union travelled around here they met many people. What kind of reception did they get here, what are your impressions?
Anders Stendalen: Yes, it did of course. The interest in international questions, for solidarity, was important. Perhaps I should also tell you something about these visits. In February 1985 I introduced these comrades, Cyril and the others, to Olof Palme, Sweden’s head of state. It was the first time he met them. Of course, the government had contacts on an official level, but not directly with people who lived there and who came here. It was a really good meeting and Cyril and Olof got on very well. The same afternoon we went up to Uppsala and had discussions with the Swedish Archbishop Werkström. They also met Sida’s management, and we introduced the visitors in different parts of Sweden as well, so we had meetings both in the mining areas and also here in Stockholm, when they were introduced to Olof Palme.
Madi Gray: You’ve written down a number of notes and they must be things that are very important you have noted down.
Anders Stendalen: No I have just picked out the answers I have given you. For instance, you asked what I thought the support meant for South Africa, but you really need to ask them that. Though I have to say that when James Motlatsi was at the Miners Union’s last congress he talked about these relations among other things. He said the same thing in South Africa in 1997 when I was at a lunch at a congress in Pretoria. I quote: “The relations which you Swedish miners have with us South African miners are the kind that we wish could dominate all international relations. You have been generous and understanding in your help, you have given without demanding anything in return, you have shown no racism. You have been comrades in the true sense of the word, in other words you are not imperialists. We will be eternally grateful to you as you came to our help when our need was greatest. I can assure you comrades, that when the history of this dramatic time is written, the Swedish miners will have their very own special place in it.”
Madi Gray: That’s wonderful! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Anders Stendalen: Do you know how the South African flag you have came about? When they were working with the new constitution, Nelson Mandela and the group working with Cyril realised that they had to have a new flag so Cyril drew one. At that time Internet wasn’t so common, so they sent it by fax to a colleague who was with a colleague of Mandela’s and asked him to colour in the fax and Mandela approved it. That’s the way it happened.
Madi Gray: During the first democratic elections in April 1994 I was a monitor with South African IDASA (not with the Swedish monitors) and the flag was hoisted for the first time at midnight between 26 and 27 April, as a temporary flag. Yet it only took a little while for everybody to learn to love it. What I think is so interesting is that the symbolism doesn’t lie in the colours but in the movement. The colours mean so many different things to so many different sectors in society, and the idea is that we shall all agree on the meaning of the flag, so the design symbolises moving forward together.
Anders Stendalen: I visited the NUM training centre in Johannesburg in 1992. It was fantastic! That such a young organisation had been able to build up such a training centre! We in the international federation had the honour of holding the first international meeting there and I was given the honour of opening the training centre. It is very impressive!
Madi Gray: I guess that Swedish money helped too, and made a contribution there.
Anders Stendalen: Of course, it was important that the workers had a venue. I remember that I also attended and spoke at the funeral of COSATU’s first president, Benny Barayi, though now I can’t remember how many people were there, 10-15,000, and we walked through an area where whites still lived. People from the farms had gathered along the road — armed — they didn’t attack us, but anyway. The union had to cast the grave in reinforced concrete so that the whites couldn’t open it up, as they didn’t want blacks buried in this area.
Madi Gray: What year was that? Before or after 1994?
Anders Stendalen: When Barayi died? Before. But I think that Mandela has made an enormous contribution in being able to bring about reconciliation. That it hasn’t been easy can be understood from this example, which even I was able to experience. A historic contribution.
Madi Gray: I keep looking at that plate in the display over there. It has arum lilies on it, a South African lily, I wonder if it was a present from the Metalworkers Union in South Africa?
Anders Stendalen: It might be. The Swedish Metalworkers Union had contacts with NUMSA, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa.
Madi Gray: One last question. Is there anything you would like to add? Or do you feel you have said what you wanted to say, you have thought about it a lot and found material, but is there anything else you would like to say?
Anders Stendalen: No, it’s done, but an interview is limited in itself, which is why I brought along some of the thoughts I’ve had and which I’ve presented on different occasions, for instance when I was in Pretoria in 1994 and 1997, but there is nothing else I can think of now. I have also tried to do a summary, an introduction that I did for the Palme Centre’s seminar in Norrköping in October 2003. I describe things there a little so I can give you that if you want it. It can also give an idea of how things were.
Madi Gray: Thank you so much, Anders.