The Nordic Africa Institute

Haukur Már Haraldsson

Lecturer at the Department of Media and Information Technology, Reykjavik Technical College.

The interview was conducted by Proscovia Svärd on the 23d of October 2008.

Proscovia Svärd: What was the stand of the newspapers on apartheid?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: At that time we had “Morgunbladid” which was a right wing newspaper, until the last years only took a stand against apartheid after it had been defeated. This was simply because then, the ANC was seen as a communist movement. There was “Þjóðviljinn” newspaper which I worked with and which supported the People’s Alliance and the anti-apartheid movement. There was also the “Alþýðublaðið”, The People’s Paper – social democratic middle-left kind of paper that supported the anti-apartheid movement, “Tíminn”, The Time newspaper of the Progressiv Party which did not take any stand, there was an Afternoon paper called “Vísir” which was a right wing newspaper and if it took a stand it was against the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement.

Proscovia Svärd: The purpose of my trip to Iceland is to try and establish if there is any assembled documentation on the liberation struggles. Do you think that is an easy task?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I do not think it is easy because most of the newspapers are dead. There are only two morning papers left (one of them new) and one afternoon paper. There could be some documents at the National and University Library. I know that the trade unions were very active and for the 5 years I was the Press Secretary and Editor at the Icelandic Federation of Labour and we invited guests from the ANC, and I remember taking some of them to working places to have a meeting with the staff in the coffee breaks and lunch, and documents on this could be in the archives of the Icelandic Federation of Labour.

Proscovia Svärd: Were you then collaborating with the Swedish Labour Unions?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: Yes we were in close collaboration with Swedish and Norwegian as well as the Danish Labour Unions.

Proscovia Svärd: There was a Committee called the “The Committee Against South Africa” that was established in 1988 here in Iceland. Did you know anything about it?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: No.

Proscovia Svärd: How were you involved in the liberation struggle?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I was involved as a member - and for some years as the Chairman - of the People’s Alliance Youth Organization. We took part in the demonstrations and as a member of staff of the Icelandic Federation of Labour I was involved in contacting the ANC and I think it was via some office in Sweden. We got visitors from the ANC via some offices in Sweden or Britain, I do not exactly remember which and after I left the Federation of Labour I worked for some time for the trade unions and they were all involved. Today all these trade unions have merged.

Proscovia Svärd: Which years were these?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I was in the Federation of Labour from 1977 to 1983 and I worked for several trade unions as a freelance journalist to 1985 when I started teaching and did not do much after that. So as a person this struggle was very interesting and that is why I was involved in it because of its ideology.

Proscovia Svärd: Given the fact that the government then was so conservative, how did your actions impact on its stand against apartheid?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: The government then did not do much about apartheid officially.

Proscovia Svärd: I have gathered from some of the people that I have talked to that there were conflicts within the small groups that were fighting against apartheid because you had different ideologies. What is your comment?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: The left politics has a habit of splitting into small groups having conflict with each other, disagreeing on some sentence and in Iceland it was very interesting. I was simply some kind of a socialist, not grounded on any theoretical books but more or less on my live feelings. But around me were many of these people who were splitting up in small groups because they disagreed on how to interpret some sentences from some books by some leaders in all the countries. We had about 4 or 5 Marxist-Leninst groups with various abbreviations after Marxist-Leninst part of the name, KML and various other abbreviations. There were maybe 4 or 2 people in each of these groups publishing articles and very active simply scolding each other. Good loyal friends one day could be enemies of the working class the day after. It was quite a marvelous time when you think about it afterwards.

Proscovia Svärd: Was this the way the anti-apartheid groups were organized i.e. along the different ideologies that they held?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: In the trade unions we got papers/magazines from abroad, got news, we met people in the Nordic countries when we attended meetings but there was no organized committee under the labour union. It was usually if it was a demonstration (could be against whatever) like in June of 1968, when we had a very hot summer in Reyjavik, a Nato meeting and we used every possible opportunity to remind people of Apartheid.

Proscovia Svärd: I heard the 1st of May being mentioned by some people.

Haukur Már Haraldsson: Yes, the 1st of May was also used to demonstrate. We used pamphlets and posters against apartheid, it was in news papers and magazines. I think it was quite lively, it was not organized by strict rules or anything like that but it was a kind of a spontaneous thing that happened and every time there was a demonstration we used it as an opportunity.

Proscovia Svärd: Were there are any Youth Organisations on Iceland?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: It was the youth organization of the People’s Alliance and there were Youth organizations in most of the parties. The good thing about youth is that they are usually a bit more aggressive than the older people. They change may be sometimes when they get older but usually youth organizations in all the parties are rather radical.

Proscovia Svärd: What motivated your engagement in the liberations struggles?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: It was simply my way of thinking.

Proscovia Svärd: Would you say that there was no organized group as such other than the different University student micro groups and the Labour People’s Alliance used to get together and put up a demonstration on whatever occasion that occurred?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: Yes.

Proscovia Svärd: Did you engage in any international solidarity groups that existed for example in Sweden?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: No, Not personally. Most likely some individuals who were studying in the other Nordic countries were members of some of these solidarity groups in these countries but not as organizations.

Proscovia Svärd: Did you have any direct contact with the ANC through your organization?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: Now I am talking from memory which sometimes slips but I think it was via an office in Sweden that we had contact with the ANC people.

Proscovia Svärd: Apart from the demonstrations, what other actions were organized to make the people’s voices heard.

Haukur Már Haraldsson: In Iceland we have the tradition of writing articles in newspapers and we did that very much.

Proscovia Svärd: Did any of you visit Southern Africa during this time?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: During this time? I don’t recall.

Proscovia Svärd: In Sweden for example people demonstrated, but there were some secretive actions that were taken by organizations and individuals like the transfer of money etc to the ANC. Were the actions on Iceland more open?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: It was more in the open. It was mostly open demonstrations or the writing of articles.

Proscovia Svärd: When you wrote articles, were they published by all the newspapers?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: No, Morgunbladid for example which was one of the main newspapers couldn’t publish them.

Proscovia Svärd: It would be interesting to see what the articles in the Morgunbladid database say about apartheid.

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I do not think the articles of that time published by Morgunbladid would be anti-apartheid. Perhaps later but it was very tragicomical because when all of the world was realizing what was going on in and when the South African state was collapsing then it changed a little bit. It was the same with the Vietnam war, Morgunbladid supported the US government right through the whole thing and today it is the same with Isreal. This is how Morgunbladid works.

Proscovia Svärd: What would you say were the highlights of your involvement?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I don’t think there was anything special. It was a matter of expressing the way we felt about the situation.

Proscovia Svärd: Did you at any one time feel like you were moving in the right direction and that you had achieved change?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: Yes, afterwards maybe, after the fall of apartheid. Maybe you think about it and say yes we did something about it but that is a selfish thought and I don’t recall any special high light.

Proscovia Svärd: What do you think your engagement meant for the people of Southern Africa?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I hope it meant something. I think it meant a lot; it was a part of the global stream that washed the apartheid away.

Proscovia Svärd: When you think about the solidarity that you were engaged in then and you think about what is happening today, how would you define the solidarity of today.

Haukur Már Haraldsson: I have visited South Africa twice. When I travelled the first time, I had read a lot about furious people, unemployment, poverty and state collapse but I was so surprised as a matter of fact when I came to Soweto. I thought that a lot of changes had taken place since the 1990s. It was surprising to see the townships but for some reason I was not very disappointed but I was rather happy when I left because the people were free. Maybe because when people are living in their own country and vote for their own government, you can disagree with the government or become its enemy but you are still in your own country and its your own government working on your problem. I got a driver for one day who explained a lot about the changes which was very good and it enabled me to understand the situation better. I appreciated the fact that it was a new nation. The struggle had won. I got that feeling from the people I met. It may be a naive point of view from my side but they were free.

Proscovia Svärd: What has Africa meant for the people of Iceland?

Haukur Már Haraldsson: Iceland is a very distant country and we are not very many that have been to Africa. In the economical catastrophic situation in this country the only thing that worries me today as a member of the Board of ICEIDA is how we can carry out our obligations with our development work in Africa in countries like Uganda, Malawi, Namibia and Mozambique

Proscovia Svärd: I am very grateful for your time. Thank you so much.