Africa Groups of Sweden and SIDA
In this interview, Mr Georg Dreifaldt of the Africa Groups of Sweden talks about their cooperation with the ANC, SWAPO, MPLA, ZANU and ZAPU during the liberation struggle. He mentions cooperation between the solidarity movements in the Nordic countries, as well as in the Netherlands and the UK. He also talks about his work for SIDA in Southern Africa.
Bertil Högberg: Today is the 6th December 2005. I'm sitting in Stockholm with Georg Dreifaldt. How and when did you become involved in solidarity work?
Georg Dreifaldt: It was in the beginning of the seventies when I studied something about MPLA in Angola and about Frelimo in Mozambique and PAIGC in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde in a study circle run by the Stockholm Africa Group.
Bertil Högberg: Why?
Georg Dreifaldt: I think it was because two years earlier I spent two years in Hong Kong working as a sail-maker and experiencing first hand the plight of the Chinese people there. So I decided, when I got home that I should involve myself somehow in solidarity work. Why it became Africa, I don't really know. When I came home from Hong Kong, I went to a demonstration in Stockholm for Southern Africa. I don't remember if it was a 1st May or some other demonstration. That's when I got into contact with Ralph Praming, and Lars and Hillevi Nilsson. Those three were instrumental in getting me to the study circle.
Bertil Högberg: How old were you then?
Georg Dreifaldt: In 1974 I was 22.
Bertil Högberg: You say that in that study circle the activities of the group were mainly around the former Portuguese colonies. What about Namibia and Zimbabwe, did you deal with them?
Georg Dreifaldt: Namibia and South Africa yes, Zimbabwe was a little outside the scope at that time. The circle was based on the Africa Group’s study book “Africa, Imperialism and Liberation Struggle”, the ‘black’ book.
Bertil Högberg: The black book; it was out of stock but did you have copies or something?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes I’ve still got my copy here. It was mainly on the struggle in the Portuguese colonies. Namibia and South Africa were dealt with a bit and Zimbabwe not very much, if I remember rightly. It was some time ago.
Bertil Högberg: What did you do in the group at that time? What were the activities of the Stockholm Africa Group?
Georg Dreifaldt: They were mainly to support the struggle in Angola, support for the MPLA. Practically, we collected money and sold the Africa Bulletin, the Africa Groups’ magazine, and ran study circles and demonstrations, and what have you. Then in 1975 I went to Angola myself. That was my first trip to black Africa. I was the representative of the Africa Group to the independence celebrations in Luanda in November 1975. After that I became more involved in support for the MPLA. So I went out and held information meetings with schools and students and unions. After that trip I became more heavily involved in solidarity work.
Bertil Högberg: Where was the Stockholm Africa Group located at that time?
Georg Dreifaldt: It was located in a cellar on Malmskillnadsgatan, where we shared the space with the MPLA representation.
Bertil Högberg: What happened afterwards, because Angola became independent and ?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, and then we went on to work with the liberation of Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Bertil Högberg: Do you remember the discussions around that?
Georg Dreifaldt: Discussions around how we got the support for the various liberation movements?
Bertil Högberg: Yes.
Georg Dreifaldt: I think we started with support to the ANC or South Africa. In the Stockholm Africa Group we had study groups or research groups dealing with the various liberation movements in Southern Africa, in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. I was involved in the South African one and we decided which organisation to support. In South Africa it was not so difficult to choose. There was the ANC and there was the PAC. We saw from a very early start that the PAC was not the group to be supported. Not only because they were involved with the Chinese, but because of their history and, mostly, their exile history. We saw that the ANC was the only movement that had activities inside as well as on the outside of South Africa. Of course, some of the prominent members of the Africa Groups were politically inclined to support the ANC because of their involvement with the Soviet Union instead of the Chinese.
Bertil Högberg: What about Namibia and SWAPO?
Georg Dreifaldt: I think the story is much the same there. It was more difficult in Zimbabwe because they had ZAPU led by Joshua Nkomo, which was a pro-Russian, pro-Soviet movement, and ZANU with Robert Mugabe, which was pro-Chinese. The first choice of many members was to support Nkomo and ZAPU because of the alliance between the ANC, SWAPO and ZAPU. But many saw that ZAPU was neither the largest nor the most active of the liberation movements.
So support to ZANU was also prominent within the Africa Groups at that time. Then came the Patriotic Front, which was a blessing for us, as we didn't have to choose. But for SWAPO in Namibia, I remember that there were some, Trotskyists I think, in the Africa Groups who wanted us to support SWANU as well, weren’t there?
Bertil Högberg: Yes.
Georg Dreifaldt: Or at least, they didn't want to choose one of them but to support both.
Bertil Högberg: And they didn't want us to support the ANC?
Georg Dreifaldt: And they didn't want us to support the ANC, that’s right, they wanted us to support some of the trade unions.
Bertil Högberg: Okay, if you look back at the activities of the Stockholm Africa Group, how did they change after you started to work with these other three countries, or did they remain the same?
Georg Dreifaldt: The discussions within the Africa Groups were much more heated during the time when we were deciding on support to the ANC and SWAPO than they were before, because in the Portuguese colonies it was clear who was the enemy, and who was the friend. But in English-speaking Southern Africa, it was not that clear to some of us. So we had lively debates between the Stalinists, the Trotskyists and some ultra-Stalinists.
Bertil Högberg: So at the time the Africa Groups was clearly a politically left organization?
Georg Dreifaldt: Oh yes, on the left, but we had quite a few social democrats, though I don't think we had members from the bourgeois parties in the group.
Bertil Högberg: Was it still a requirement that you had to attend a study circle in order to become a member?
Georg Dreifaldt: For years, maybe to the late 1970s, it was mandatory, I think.
Bertil Högberg: Around the time when you joined, the national organization of the Africa Groups was formed. There had been a kind of a loose coordination between the local groups. Were you involved on the national level from the start?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, I was involved a bit in organizing the whole thing. The first national congress, was it in 1975?
Bertil Högberg: The first conference where it was decided to form a national organisation was in November 1974, but the constitution was only adopted in 1975 and in May 1976 the programme was agreed on.
Georg Dreifaldt: I became involved on the national level around 1977. When the national organization started to employ people in Stockholm, it was natural for me to engage myself in that. Then I went to the Sandö Folk High School to do a course, what do you call it in English?
Bertil Högberg: Training for development work?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, it was in 1977–78, and from 1978 I also became the Africa Groups’ national treasurer.
Bertil Högberg: You took over from me as treasurer in May, just before you left Sandö. We started at the same time on the board. At the Sandö school, which is quite far north, were there any Africa Groups activities there?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, there was a small local group, the Ådalens Africa Group. It was started by one of the teachers who eventually became vice-principal for the school, Bosse Hammarström. It was mainly him and a few other teachers from the school. Then I came myself and Staffan Thulin and a few others.
Bertil Högberg: Was Staffan also a member before Sandö?
Georg Dreifaldt: He was a prominent member of the Africa Group in Gothenburg and a staunch ZANU supporter. So we joined the Africa Groups in Ådalen and started to boycott the South African products, which they had in the school, Outspan oranges and the tins with preserved fruit.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, Koo, and there was one more brand.
Georg Dreifaldt: We went to retailers and marked them with our red “Boycott South African products!” stickers and there was a lot of newspaper coverage in the local paper. And we supported ZANU. There was a flood in Mozambique, which affected the ZANU camps. We collected lots of money and clothes for the ZANU refugees in Mozambique.
Bertil Högberg: I am surprised that Staffan, coming from Gothenburg was a ZANU supporter, because the Gothenburg Africa Group used to be ZAPU supporters.
Georg Dreifaldt: Both. Gothenburg was also one of the homes of the Trotskyists in the Africa Groups. They came from there, from Umeå and some from Uppsala, like Sture Lidén, and some were in Stockholm. We ran two study circles in Ådalen, one in the autumn and one in the spring.
Bertil Högberg: After you returned from Sandö you became more involved in the national office and were employed in 1979. Where was the office of the Africa Groups located?
Georg Dreifaldt: We moved from Malmskilnadsgatan in 1977 to Humlegårdsgatan, where the office was in a basement.
Bertil Högberg: Both were in a basement, weren’t they?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, but then we also had an office on Grev Turegatan, where we produced our bulletin. We shared both premises with the journals Kommentar and Häften för Kritiska Studier.
Bertil Högberg: How long did you work at the Africa Group office?
Georg Dreifaldt: I worked until Christmas 1984 and went back to studies in 1985. How long was that? Seven years?
Bertil Högberg: Can you describe the transformation of the organization over those years?
Georg Dreifaldt: The big change over those years was that in the beginning most of the work was voluntary work by activists. Now people became more and more dependent on the office, while the number of activities grew.
Bertil Högberg: What was the development when it comes to number of groups and members?
Georg Dreifaldt: We increased the number of groups and members up to the late 1970s, but then it stagnated. I think, it didn't grow much more during the 1980s. We were at the same level through the whole of the 1980s. There were the same number of groups, about 40–45.
Bertil Högberg: At the time we joined the board, there were about twelve.
Georg Dreifaldt: Much of the work also involved sending volunteers. The recruitment organization grew in importance from 1977, when we started to send volunteers to the liberated countries, up to the end or the middle of the 1990s when we had a peak.
Bertil Högberg: If we go back to your role in the office, at least at some stage you had a lot of contacts with the offices of the liberation movements? Did all of them have offices in Stockholm?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes they all did. SWAPO was here, the ANC was here and the Patriotic Front, all had offices here.
Bertil Högberg: But how would you say that the relationship was to the movements’ offices?
Georg Dreifaldt: My personal relations with them?
Bertil Högberg: No, first as an organization.
Georg Dreifaldt: I think we had very good relations with them and I personally also had good relations with them. I don't know if I was elected as a sort of liaison person, I don't think so, but since I was the one working in the office with the most experience at that time, I was in charge. The Patriotic Front changed representatives every so often, so we didn't have that much contact with them. But we had good relations with them when they had new representatives. I remember the last representative of ZAPU, I visited him in 1994 and he remembered us very well, even though there were quite brief contacts with him when he was here.
Bertil Högberg: Who was he? Was it Isaac Nyathi or Frank Mbengu?
Georg Dreifaldt: No, it was Canaan Moyo, that is who I think it was.
Bertil Högberg: Were you in Zimbabwe around independence?
Georg Dreifaldt: Not independence, I came a few years after that. Late in 1988 I went to work at the development cooperation office in Luanda with a SWAPO liaison.
Bertil Högberg: That was for SIDA, but before we go into that time, what was your role on the board during those years?
Georg Dreifaldt: I was not the treasurer any more, somebody else had taken that duty. We had a presidium, a sort of a working committee consisting of me and Sören Lindh and one more person who took care of the day-to-day things, but I was also in charge of the production of books and pamphlets.
Bertil Högberg: You were also involved when we secretly started to support projects inside South Africa with funds from SIDA.
Georg Dreifaldt: That's right, yes.
Bertil Högberg: Do you remember what we did?
Georg Dreifaldt: There were not only projects inside South Africa, but also projects inside Namibia.
Bertil Högberg: And in Botswana.
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, that’s right, and in Zimbabwe.
Bertil Högberg: The Agenda Press Service in Zimbabwe and SNS, Solidarity News Service, in Botswana.
Georg Dreifaldt: I was involved in those, yes. Then we had a few projects in Namibia where money also came from the Humanitarian Assistance Fund, which was very hush-hush.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, we had to keep everything secret and could never tell anyone what we were doing.
Bertil Högberg: What was happening in South Africa?
Georg Dreifaldt: Most of the projects we supported with this type of money from SIDA were inside South Africa. Some were involved with alternative media structures (Don Mattera, poet and writer, is interviewed in this series) but some were in the health sector, both research projects and more service on the ground (Dr Laetitia Rispel from the Wits Centre for Health Policy is interviewed in this series).
Bertil Högberg: Talking about medical projects, long before this, the two of us had started some medical projects with SWAPO.
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, in 1979, when we discussed starting up volunteer recruitment to Kwanza Sul.
Bertil Högberg: And the medical aid for SWAPO. Eight years later you returned to Angola wearing a different hat. You became the SIDA officer in charge of the contacts with SWAPO in Luanda. Could see what had been achieved within that project?
Georg Dreifaldt: Oh yes. I could see the success of the project, it was a very good project. It was quite sad that they had to leave it all there. They couldn't take much with them into Namibia as nobody wanted to finance the move or the settlement. SIDA's position was that when SWAPO left they should transfer it all to the Angolan government and say thank you for the assistance. What happened was that soon after SWAPO left, UNITA moved in and destroyed a lot of it, or maybe it was locals who moved in and stole it.
Bertil Högberg: Hospitals and clinics were built over those years. Were Swedish people still working in the camps in the years you were in Luanda?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, there were.
Bertil Högberg: But not as many as when we started, when we had about four all the time?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, I think there were two, one was a mechanic, they had a motor repair workshop.
Bertil Högberg: He was not recruited by the Africa Groups.
Georg Dreifaldt: Who recruited him then?
Bertil Högberg: I don't know.
Georg Dreifaldt: We only recruited medical personnel.
Bertil Högberg: Kirsti Paajanen was one of the last to work there and she left in 1989.
Georg Dreifaldt: Then maybe they had all left.
Bertil Högberg: 1989 was the year when there finally was an election in Namibia. Did that change the role of SIDA?
Georg Dreifaldt: SIDA supported SWAPO in every way we could up to the day of elections. After that we were not allowed to support SWAPO anymore, there was only going to be official support for the Namibian government, not for a political party. But we did what we could to support SWAPO in the election campaign.
Bertil Högberg: Can you mention anything in particular you did?
Georg Dreifaldt: One example is that we arranged for many of the vehicles that SWAPO had in Angola to be transferred to Namibia.
Bertil Högberg: These were vehicles that SIDA had paid for?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, for transport purposes.
Bertil Högberg: How was it to come from an activist role in the Africa Groups and join the civil service, SIDA, as an official Swedish representative?
Georg Dreifaldt: I think it was an advantage. I think it was very good to have had that experience from working in the solidarity movement, especially when we worked in Angola.
Bertil Högberg: Not so much when you later came to Namibia?
Georg Dreifaldt: No, it was not that necessary at that time, but it was good to have it of course. The contacts we had with the Africa Groups meant that we could, or I could, involve the Africa Groups in some of the SIDA projects we started up in free Namibia. For example, the alternative school project, was funded by SIDA and then taken over by the Africa Groups.
Bertil Högberg: The so-called SWAPO schools in the South?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes. It was the clandestine school projects I was thinking about.
Bertil Högberg: Which you asked me to take over when I arrived to run the Africa Groups’ office in November of the same year. You were also involved somehow when the ANC was moving into South Africa?
Georg Dreifaldt: That's right. In my contacts with the ANC in Angola I assisted them to report on their projects and finances to SIDA. When the ANC returned to South Africa in 1993/94, they were supposed to finalize all their projects before independence and report all the money that they had received to the various offices. They didn't have a well functioning structure at that time, so I was recruited by SIDA to assist them in this. I worked with TT Nkobi, the National Treasurer of the ANC, to finalize the books. I was twice in South Africa and the last time was a week before independence, together with Roland Axelsson. He and I spent the last week there together and finalized everything. So, everything was reported and finished by the time that South Africa became independent. It was a good finale to my career in SIDA. That was the last thing I did for them.
Bertil Högberg: What did you do when you came back?
Georg Dreifaldt: When I came back to Sweden I was for a year on the Africa Groups’ National Board again, maybe for two years. I continued to be involved with the Pamwe school project. Then my wife Bodil went to Angola to work with a Swedish project to remove landmines.
Then I had to stop my involvement in the Africa Groups to take care of the kid, who was four at that time. And then I didn't come back.
Bertil Högberg: Can you remember any highlights from your time in the Africa Groups?
Georg Dreifaldt: The trips of course were highlights, the opportunities that I had to visit the liberation movements in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique. The ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania was very interesting. I think travelling was the highlight, it was the reward. I must include the possibility to work for the newly independent state of Namibia. There were of course many highlights. Like the first tour in Sweden of the ANC cultural group Amandla. I went with them on the Finnish part of the tour. That was very nice.
Bertil Högberg: You were involved in a number of artist galas, fund raising events as well?
Georg Dreifaldt: That's right, you remember more than me. Yes, ANC 70 years, that was a big thing in 1982. Folkets Hus was packed with people. Abdullah Ibrahim and Swedish pop stars of the time, what were they called? There were various groups.
Bertil Högberg: I only remember him, but you managed to get him to a number of this type of solidarity concerts.
Georg Dreifaldt: Abdullah? Yes, two at least, maybe three. It was a fun time.
Bertil Högberg: Any conflicts that you remember as problematic?
Georg Dreifaldt: Conflicts of a political nature?
Bertil Högberg: Whatever nature, within the movement or between the Africa Groups and the Liberation Movements.
Georg Dreifaldt: I remember that there were some conflicts but I don't remember what they were about. For a period SWAPO was a bit angry with us because we didn't wholeheartedly support them, we started to question them for some reason. I don't remember if it was for their political prisoners or if it was for something else. We also had the one of the ZANU representatives who was a little bit hesitant in his contacts with the Africa Groups, but I didn't have any problems with them.
Bertil Högberg: Was that because we were not fully supporting ZANU?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, and we were thought to support ZAPU too much. Then we had the ANC, we had problems with Lindiwe for a long time, but that involved one of our members in the Africa Groups, and I don't remember the nature of that either. Of course there have been some conflicts, but I mean there are bound to be conflicts.
Bertil Högberg: Were you involved in the Nordic cooperation, in contacts with our Nordic colleagues?
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes. The ICSA conference in Södertälje, which I was sort of organizing.
Bertil Högberg: ICSA stood for?
Georg Dreifaldt: The International Committee against Apartheid, Racism and Colonialism in Southern Africa. We had Karin Söder, who was foreign minister, as the opening speaker.
Bertil Högberg: I was speaking as well.
Georg Dreifaldt: You spoke there as well? Yes that was a fun time also, lots of work.
Bertil Högberg: Which year was that? 1980, it must be. Did you have any direct contacts with our Nordic brothers?
Georg Dreifaldt: I had contacts with WUS in Denmark and with Fellesrådet för det sörlige Afrika in Norway and there also the Namibian Association, lots of contact with them. In Finland we also had contact with one group, I don't remember what they were called.
Bertil Högberg: The Finnish Africa Committee, wasn't it?
Georg Dreifaldt: It could have been. It was more connected to the Finnish unions. I met the guy who we had contact with much later, in Africa on a trip. So the international contacts were there and as a result of the ICSA conference, we started also to cooperate with the Dutch, the Mondlane Stichting and The Holland Committee on Southern Africa, which later joined forces and became KZA, the Komitee Zuidelijk Afrika.
Bertil Högberg: What about the anti-apartheid movement in England?
Georg Dreifaldt: AAM in England, yes, I had lots of contact with them. And Abdul Minty, who moved to Oslo in Norway.
Bertil Högberg: Is there anything more you think we have forgotten?
Georg Dreifaldt: One thing which was not so successful, was the start of recruitment to Zimbabwe, of which I was instrumental in setting up.
Bertil Högberg: Why are you not proud of that?
Georg Dreifaldt: Of course I am proud that we started it, but now with the developments in Zimbabwe … Do we have any volunteers there today?
Bertil Högberg: We have. We are trying to get the coordinator back, but we haven't had any other volunteers there for the past two years. You went down to do the preparations, do you know why it took so long for us? I mean 1985, that is five years after independence? And in the other countries volunteers started moving there right after independence.
Georg Dreifaldt: In the other countries they requested support or continued cooperation with us, which Zimbabwe didn't. Zimbabwe was flooded with NGOs, so it was more in our interest to get a foot in into Zimbabwe than vice versa. The Swedish Volunteer Service was over there. They came later, in 1984, but were over there and established when we came in. So it was natural for us to set up cooperation with them and not start the whole thing over again. But we wanted to work with the NGOs in Zimbabwe, not with the Zimbabwean government.
Bertil Högberg: And why was that? Our tradition from other countries was that we worked with the government.
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, but at that time we had already started to look ahead, that was a bit clear-sighted. We saw that maybe we shouldn't support the government. As an NGO ourselves we should work with other NGOs. So that was the philosophy we had when it came to Zimbabwe to work as much as possible with the local NGOs.
Bertil Högberg: What type of partners did you suggest?
Georg Dreifaldt: There were some cooperatives, and some social associations or NGOs.
Bertil Högberg: Did anything of that come off? The Farmers Union?
Georg Dreifaldt: The Farmers Union I think it was, but I don't think any of those organizations that I contacted when I was there became partners. When we sent our volunteers and our coordinator, they took other contacts and started cooperation with other organizations.
Bertil Högberg: It was only two years later, I think in 1987 that we actually got started there.
Georg Dreifaldt: The groundwork was done and they knew about us. Whenever I spoke to people in the government, they knew about the Africa Groups.
Bertil Högberg: We had made one attempt to start in 1981 but without doing any preparation, just sending down the documents of some volunteers.
Georg Dreifaldt: That is right.
Bertil Högberg: And they were refused a permit.
Georg Dreifaldt: Yes, because we didn't have an agreement. They were aware of us. The Zimbabweans were very formal about agreements and everything had to be signed and documented. So I can understand why we didn't succeed at first.
Bertil Högberg: It was a strange way of starting something.
Georg Dreifaldt: In Mozambique it could have worked to do it that way, because they didn't have an organization to deal with volunteers, but the ZANU government took over the full functioning of the public service.
Bertil Högberg: Well, it is good that we got Zimbabwe into the picture. Thank you, Georg.