Helena Nilsson Lannegren
Centre Party Youth League (CUF) and Women's League
Lannegren became politically active in her early twenties. She became member of the Centre Party Youth League (CUF) and part of their broad work on international solidarity. Lannegren became chairman of the committee dealing with International Solidarity and the first project she came across was with JMPLA, the Youth League of the liberation movement MPLA of Angola, in 1975. It continued with close involvement with SWAPO and the SWAPO representation in Sweden, and, at the end of the 1970s with the ANC.
The Youth League organized public meetings to give information about the situation in Southern Africa, direct material support to women’s organisation and fundraising. At that time CUF was a large organization with 70,000 members, very efficient in fundraising and very innovative in finding different modes of collection. Lannegren later became the Swedish ambassador to South Africa and Namibia.
Madi Gray: Helena, could you tell me how you became involved in support to the struggles for independence in Southern Africa?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I was active in the Centre Party Youth League (CUF) and part of their broad work was International Solidarity. I became chairman of the committee dealing with International Solidarity and the first project I came across was with JMPLA, the Youth League of the liberation movement MPLA of Angola, in 1975. It continued with close involvement with SWAPO and the SWAPO representation in Sweden, and, at the end of the 1970s with the ANC.
What we did as a Youth League was to organize public meetings to give information about the situation in Southern Africa. We also collected money and at that time we were a very large organization with 70,000 members and I remember that we were very efficient in collecting money and very innovative in finding different modes of collection.
Madi Gray: Can you tell me something about your innovative methods?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: They are related to the fact that we were the Centre Party's Youth League and were mainly based in the rural areas. In one province they organized the selling of trees. They sold the trees they were given to the factories. That was one method and they collected thousands of kronor. Another one was to collect black plastic bags which farmers used for fertilizer so they collected the empty sacks and sold them and got money for that. We had a lot of innovative methods to create money.
Madi Gray: That kind of thing is hard work.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: It is hard work but we were many, we were committed, and we were interested. Even if the hardship and segregation were far away, it was our basic understanding that the majority of the people in Southern Africa didn't have the right to vote in elections. And that committed the youth to do hard things to give support.
Then slowly but surely we also started within the whole Centre Party movement in 1976. It was begun by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Karin Söder. She worked very hard for her part as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but the Women's League and the party itself also cooperated in campaigning. The Women's League collected tons and tons of clothes that were sent via Emmaus to the refugee camps. That was how we started and it continued for the whole of the 1980s, mainly to support SWAPO in Namibia. It was a combination because then we could work with parliamentarians to help them raise their individual motions in parliament, with their agreement. There was a very vivid debate in the Centre Party.
In 1979 it was a highlight for me personally to take the debate to the Prime Minister, who took office in 1976 in a centre-right coalition government. The issue was why, in defiance of the law prohibiting new investments in South Africa, the government decided to allow one of the big Swedish factories to replace old machinery with new which constituted an expansion. I questioned the Prime Minister, Thorbjörn Fälldin of the Centre Party.
Except for a few months in 1978-79, when there was a liberal minority government, he was Prime Minister to 1982. This is an example of how we worked both on a broad basis but also politically as a very focused group to change Swedish policies. The issue was already in the forefront but still the government granted some exceptions although we had a very good law that prohibited new investments in South Africa.
Madi Gray: And what was his reply?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: His reply was that it was the weakness of the law that exemptions could be made by the government and this was at their discretion, they could interpret the law, they could allow exemptions as, he said, the position was not clear from the law, so they could do it. My argument was political, and I said that he could have made another decision. But he said no, they had taken that one. I think it was an important question for the Youth League but in the broader perspective Sweden was our home. In the forefront we supported the independence of Namibia and when President Sam Nujoma came to visit in 1991, he thanked us for our support.
Madi Gray: How old were you when you began this political activity?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I was quite old, about 23, 24. It was in my mid- to late twenties and I ended up as Deputy Chairman of the Youth League and when today I meet people from the Youth League, they always connect me with that work.
Madi Gray: Right.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: So they are not surprised that I became the Swedish ambassador to South Africa and Namibia because I had the responsibility for solidarity with these countries within the committee. It opened our eyes to inequalities in the world but also that good hard long-standing work brings results. In the mid-1980s I don't think any of us thought that we would experience independence in our lifetime, though there was independence in Zimbabwe, that meant a lot of course, and then there were the special problems in Angola caused by the civil war. It was problematic for us, the fighting continued and it was difficult to find out what was really happening.
Yet the Centre Party continued to give support all the way to the independence of Namibia, and all the way to the independence of South Africa. Now I am not active due to my job, but I know from my work in South Africa and Namibia that the Centre Party is one of the few political parties still involved.
Madi Gray: By few political parties you mean in Sweden?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Apart from for the Social Democratic Youth League, the Centre Party Women's League is, for instance, the only political organization there. We support a democracy project, the Namibian National Association of Women in Business, NNAWIB, and the SWAPO Women’s League.
Madi Gray: They are active in Namibia, the Centre Party women?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, and the Centre Party women in Halland are also very active in Mbekweni, a municipality outside Paarl near Cape Town.
Madi Gray: The township there. There is also quite a lot of church and missionary work in that area. If we return for a moment to the past, who did you work with in Southern Africa?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: We worked directly with SWAPO and the SWAPO office, and directly with the ANC office here. We were the first political party to support liberation movements.
Madi Gray: And the MPLA? Did you continue to support it?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: No we never did that, we actually ended our support in 1977 or 1978 and that was mainly because it was very difficult to work. MPLA no longer had a representative here, the country was represented by the embassy and it was difficult to work with the embassy, as the embassy had another function. So support to MPLA ended in 1977.
Support had been very focused, collecting sewing machines and typewriters in support of the JMPLA, though there was a language problem.
Madi Gray: When you talk about sewing machines and typewriters, was it only for the MPLA youth that you collected them?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes. We also collected for members of the SWAPO youth league and for the SWAPO women’s organization.
Madi Gray: Was this for the refugee camps?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, in Kwanza Sul.
Madi Gray: Were you ever down there yourself?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I was only in Zambia to negotiate some electoral problems. It was more about working in the provinces, talking about plans for the area and on how they experienced them, to motivate them on a broader basis. It was more for local ideas than a bottleneck from the central position.
We also worked in Sweden, so we worked with our own organization, but then we formalised ISAK. That was more to join members of ISAK.
Madi Gray: I think it was formally constituted in the late 1970s but there was a year or two of work to establish it. ISAK means the Isolate South Africa Committee and it was an umbrella organization. Do you remember how many member organizations it had?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Quite a number, perhaps fifty or sixty.
Madi Gray: It included a lot of youth organizations and I think most of the youth organizations of the political parties were members.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: There were churches and solidarity groups, study organisations and trade unions in Sweden.
Madi Gray: Was it in your capacity as chair of the youth league that you were also active in ISAK?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I was not active in ISAK, I was not a representative on the board. First of all, I didn't live in Stockholm, I lived in the provinces. To be efficient, you have to delegate tasks, I think that if you are a representative, you have to be able to work at the head office, and so I was not actively involved on the board itself. I was later the Centre Party’s representative on the first ISAK delegation that was sent to Namibia in July 1990.
Madi Gray: That would be about three months after independence.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, we were travelling, criss-crossing Namibia to identify practical projects.
Madi Gray: Did you work together with any other organizations in Sweden?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Vuxenskolan is a study organisation affiliated to the Centre Party and we cooperated with them in preparing study circles for their international work. I don't think we were that active in the Farmer’s Union, though it’s in their nature that many of my colleagues from the Farmers’ Union took an interest in solidarity work, through Sveriges Bönder Hjälper Kooperation Utan Gränser.
Madi Gray: Swedish Farmer’s Help and Cooperation Without Borders, this movement is their solidarity council?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes.
Madi Gray: Did you cooperate with or work together with any organizations outside Sweden in the Nordic countries or elsewhere?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes. We in the Centre Party Youth League worked together extensively in the Nordic area in the Nordic Centre Youth. We collected money to establish the first ANC library around 1983, 1984. We built the library and then we collected the books.
Years later I met the South African ambassador to Brazil who was the first teenager in the queue to enter the library. Her name is Lindiwe Zulu. The reason I know her is because she is a journalist and I tried to persuade her to write the stories of the women in the struggle. It has to be done now because women like Albertina Sisulu and Adelaide Tambo are all getting older. But, then she became the South African ambassador to Brazil.
When I told her about my involvement in the library, she said, “But I used it!” I’ve met so many who appreciated it. It was actually the Icelandic Centre Youth who came up with the idea of the library because they were frequent visitors to their public library. That was the start of the whole idea and Lindiwe Mabuza always reminds me when we meet that I was the one who helped Iceland to promote this project. I think she was also the one who encouraged it.
Madi Gray: So Iceland is obviously one of the countries that you were cooperating with?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, it was Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Madi Gray: Not Denmark?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Denmark doesn’t have a Centre Party youth league. They are more conservative and don’t have formalized cooperation, but the Nordic Centre Youth has formalized cooperation. So that was the joint solidarity project in 1983 initiated in a different country. That is why Lindiwe Mabuza went to Iceland.
Madi Gray: She was in Stockholm as the ANC Chief Representative at the time. How did your relationships with your partners in Southern Africa function?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Our main partner in SWAPO was first Joseph Jimmy . It worked very well with the office. For Joseph Jimmy it was ground-breaking because we were the first non-socialist party that began cooperation. There were some doubts in SWAPO. Unfortunately he became very ill very soon after, so he didn't work with us that long. But by then we had established very close relationships with SWAPO and could get news of them and the whole region and what they needed to help with their campaign, and could set up direct relations with SWAPO. There was also Kaire Mbuende, now Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the office there was Niilo Taapopi, the new Chief Representative.
At the ANC office I met Eddie Funde (who worked with the Chief Representative Sobizana Mngqikana, now Ambassador to Turkey) and he was succeeded by Lindiwe Mabuza. No problem at all, neither with SWAPO nor with the ANC, it worked very well.
Madi Gray: On TV I saw that Eddie was heading the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the SABC.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, I just met him in May, and also Lindiwe Mabuza, who is now South African High Commissioner in the United Kingdom. Then I’ve met Lindiwe’s former deputy in the Stockholm office, Jerry Matsila, who’s now Ambassador to Brussels and the European Union. We met a few years ago and looked at each other and said we knew each other, when we were slimmer, younger and less grey.
Madi Gray: Were there other library organizations involved in your library campaign? I met a librarian from a magazine called BIS (Biblioteket i samhället – Library in society) who said that he had been very involved in Southern African or maybe ANC library work.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: If I am correct, I think it was mainly within South Africa from 1994. It may also be that the ANC combined and pooled all the support they got within that field. When we asked if it was possible to install a library, they said it would be fine, we could do it, and asked how much money would be needed to build the library. We set up the first contacts and then they stocked and ran it. But we were not involved in running the library.
Madi Gray: Yes, it must have been something like that. I remember now that during the mid- to late 1980s I was asked to write an article for BIS about the situation in South Africa because they planned to get involved in library projects.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Both the ANC and SWAPO organizations were very strategic, they also wanted to learn how to be prepared for their independence. It might become a broader project. How can we set up public libraries when the South African regime collapses? How can we learn from this activity that you are supporting at the schools or in the camps?
Madi Gray: To get back to your own particular career, how long were you in the Centre Party Youth and what did you do when you left it?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I was active in the Centre Party Youth League up to 1980 when I became Secretary General of the Nordic Youth League and I left it in 1983. By then I was already active in the Women's League, so I continued my solidarity work from the Centre Party Youth League within the Centre Party Women's League. I continued in the Centre Party for 25 years and I never left my solidarity work although I wasn’t involved in a special committee within the Women's League.
Madi Gray: The social democratic party in Sweden has a long post-war record as the governing party. When was the Centre Party in government?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: The Centre Party was part of the centre-right government from 1976 to 1978, and then for a short period, while the Liberal Party formed a minority government, we were out of government, but then again from 1979 to 1982. The Centre Party was also part of the coalition government from 1991 to 1994. Margareta af Ugglas was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Carl Bildt of the Moderate Party was prime minister.
Madi Gray: When you were appointed to South Africa, were you not appointed by a social democratic government?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: The Centre Party had parliamentary cooperation between 1995 and 1998 with the Social Democratic government to get the country’s house in order because Sweden had a huge deficit in the national budget and thus our cooperation began with the social democratic partner.
Madi Gray: You then became ambassador in South Africa for five years and at the same time you were ambassador in Namibia?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes I had Non-Resident Accreditation to Namibia. I got Namibia one year later. I have worked four years in Namibia and five years in South Africa.
Madi Gray: And before that?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I was a member of parliament, and Deputy Chairman of the Centre Party for six years. In parliament I was a member of the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs. I think the combination of all I have done was why Anna Lindh phoned and asked me to become an ambassador.
Madi Gray: Anna Lindh was Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, and she wanted to get better equity between men and women as ambassadors. She had to appoint women from outside the diplomatic corps and that is why she asked me. To appoint only a few women as ambassadors would have given the wrong signal, so Anna Lindh decided to appoint a handful of women who were not career diplomats.
Madi Gray: If we deduct five years, we come to the year 2000. For the record one could add that Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson announced your appointment during the Swedish-South African Friendship Week in November 1999.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: He wanted to tell Thabo Mbeki and the public that now he had decided to appoint a woman as ambassador.
Madi Gray: In fact, you knew quite a lot of South Africans in ministerial posts and other important positions, didn't you?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes there were quite a number I met again who were earlier in different positions in society. Mbeki was based in Zambia, but I was never living and working in Southern Africa. I was not in the SADEC region, I was here. But I have met others. ANC President Oliver Tambo was here so frequently, while Thabo Mbeki was just here for one or two visits. I first met Nelson Mandela when I went to South Africa.
Madi Gray: Did any problems arise in your relationships with any of the organizations you were supporting in Southern Africa?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: No not particularly. There were always small problems to solve and you could find that they wanted to solve them in different ways, but there was no main obstacle. It worked very well during all those years.
Madi Gray: When you say small everyday problems, can you give me an example?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: No, they were so minor that I don't remember them.
Madi Gray: What about things like getting money to the people, getting reports of how the money was used?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: That was never a problem. I think it worked very well and I think that part of the reason was because the current Namibian President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, was the financial administrator of SWAPO. I think he had everything in order, we never had that problem, either with SWAPO nor with the ANC. With other organisations there might be problems in development cooperation but not from these two, they were very well equipped. They also learned very quickly what the Swedish authorities needed in the report back to Sida.
I think the problem for Hadino Hishongwa was to convince the SWAPO comrades that, though it might not be a natural partner, the Swedish Centre Party was a reliable organisation and part of the government. They accepted it and that was in the very beginning. Of course we had different opinions on some issues and held facilitating meetings with other officials and some members of the party in government.
Madi Gray: What were the sources of joy in your relationship with your partners in Southern Africa?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: On a number of occasions we made really good contact. I think we became friends. SWAPO and ANC members were all welcomed into our organisation. We toured around and what struck us was their optimism although they had come out of prison and had been subject to all the humiliation, the problem of being cut off from their families, from their close relatives, their children. They encouraged us to continue our work because they themselves were optimistic that they would one day be independent. They needed our support and they needed it both financially and politically, but their great optimism gave us the courage to also work with other persons. When we met them and saw they had it, the courage, we felt why should we complain when we were living in an open and free society where a lot of things were open to us. So I think that was the main source of joy, to be transported by their joy.
Madi Gray: Would you say you've kept contact with some people you've met during the struggle years and through your work as ambassador? Would you say you are still in contact with some people? Have friendships developed and relationships changed from the more political to the more personal?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: It is very special when you are an ambassador; I really have to be very strict in my position, so when I now meet old friends from that period we are almost always very correct. But some of them I can now normalize and have friendships with. I have a very close friend, we were so close before, and when I became the ambassador for Namibia we had to sit down and say look, there are things we can't continue. We had to be very strict so that we didn't mix our private and professional lives. We have kept our relationship and I did attend a huge traditional wedding in northern Namibia and we will continue to be friends until death parts us. She is my age and we have kept up the relationship for many years. She left Sweden in 1985, that is 20 years today.
It is the same, although we couldn't always develop it, with some of my friends in the ANC who were not in Sweden, but are also now ambassadors or high commissioners. So we will find each other somewhere in the world where we can sit and drink coffee and continue where we left off.
Madi Gray: What do you think it meant to the people who you had contact with, not only directly but also indirectly? You've mentioned that the Centre Party was perhaps not a natural partner. I am thinking in terms of these being black people on the whole, in a struggle against white domination. Most of the people who supported them throughout the world were left-wing, and so the Centre Party youth and women broke two expectations. How do you think that impacted on them and on you?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: First of all I think that they realized that they could trust a white person. White people per se are not hostile. With a white heart, a warm heart, one can also be very human and have the same opinion. I also think they understood that we came from the rural areas where people struggled to get their rights and their questions brought up in a political environment, and that though we came from a situation far from their poor conditions, we understood because of our political commitment. For the women I think it was obvious they understood that rural women organizing themselves in a political party gave them power, the same goes for the youth league. That the youth and women had an ability to organize not only political activities, but also social activities meant a lot in a rural environment. I think mainly SWAPO gave us this recognition because they came from very rural areas. So I think the impact was that we were honest, we were committed and we could also teach them something for their political future, how to engage all the rural areas. And for them, both the people in South Africa and the people in Namibia, the impact was that people so far north, so far away from the actual area, had made the effort and had the strength and the courage to continue to campaign for them. During the 1980s it was a forgotten conflict, it felt as if their supporters didn't have the patience and the courage to continue. But in the refugee camps with all their insight, they knew that somebody out there was supporting them.
I remember so well when I went to the celebration of South African Women's Day and there were a number of women ministers and women leaders and they said, “The packages of clothes came regularly as clockwork”. We helped to ship these containers with clothes. “I felt it was like Christmas!” and then there was one minister who laughed, “But there was never a size for me!” And that was a sign to them that we were with them, without meeting them, we were with them.
During an early visit to Namibia, there was a quiet moment during the afternoon and the guy in the passport control was not very interested in me, but was reading the Namibian. I was standing there and tried to get his attention by giving him my passport. Then he was on his feet, "Madam, are you from Sweden? Are you the Swedish ambassador?" "Yes, I am." "You have to thank the Swedish people, because I was a freedom fighter and whenever I came back to the camp, there was food, there was shelter, and there were clothes from the Swedish people. We will never forget your support."
All these small stories give me a kick, and I try as much as I can to give it back to the Centre Party. We had patience, we had courage, we had interest, and I am very proud that we managed to the very end to support them. We never gave up!
Madi Gray: That’s true.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I think it was very important that we didn't give up. It meant that in combination, our support, together with international sanctions, all kinds of boycotts and of course the collapse of the Soviet Union, all small things individually, but everything together brought apartheid to its end. I may have underestimated the importance of support from people to people but I am very proud that I have been part of it and also that I got to experience in my lifetime five of the first eleven years of South African democracy. And to help develop that country with all the means they have, now they've got freedom. Here we take democracy for granted; they don't do that in South Africa. They really are proud of their identity cards that give them the right to vote, and they know, like the people of Zimbabwe, that they can change things if they want to.
Madi Gray: Were you involved in the monitoring of the elections?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: No not me. It was mainly my parliamentary colleagues as I was not in parliament at that time. There were a handful of parliamentarians monitoring from 1990 both the media and South African developments. There was an interest when they were asked to volunteer to monitor the elections and with our background and with all the work we’d done, it was not difficult to get monitors and observers to volunteer. Both parliament and other organizations sent observers.
Madi Gray: And presumably those who did go had some idea of why they were going and what they were going to?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: And they had read about different things, they were well educated, well prepared.
Madi Gray: Yes, and some were probably solidarity campaigners or went through study circles.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I think they were well equipped, and that it was a good lesson. Soon after came the independence of the former East European countries, and then all of a sudden we were monitoring each and every election in all corners of the globe and our experience from Namibia and South Africa was a great help. I gained my experience during the third democratic elections. There were no international observers in South Africa that time.
Madi Gray: No. While we were talking about elections we touched on some of their significance for the work of the Centre Party and the youth and women. I have two questions relating to that, partly what we touched on right at the beginning, about projects that are still ongoing, but partly relating to what you've just said. How has the work in South Africa and Namibia impacted on Centre Party structures and its work?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: I think I touched upon that in my last answer. The deepening, and to work on it and to take care of local branches, because I think that is a lesson from South Africa and Namibia, you have to nurture your local branches because you can't identify yourself with the government and the state itself. You are a political party, you can win and you can lose, and for the Centre Party that is fearful of threats to democracy, you must be careful about your human rights because if you don't do that, they can easily be lost because of some other powers and forces that want to undermine democracy. We’re back to the fact that if you want to get involved, it’s not a one-day or a one-week or a one-year show. You have to continue, it’s a commitment until the work is finished, and that was also very important. And then the world got smaller.
Madi Gray: After the Soviet Union had fallen?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, and we have so much in common, if I am a woman from South Africa or I am a woman from Sweden. I remember in 1990 we had a three-week preparation seminar for 14 Namibian women to learn how to participate in a campaign for the women. The Centre Party Women's League sent them off one by one to the provinces and they were welcomed at the train station by the chairman of the provincial branch and they stayed at a home of a member of the provincial branch. It was very natural to open up her house and when the SWAPO woman entered the house, she was asked to go and see her room that was prepared and then there was a dinner and some other women were invited and they had a good laugh and a good chat. What the women took for granted in Sweden, they got so much appreciation for from the Namibian women who asked, “Why do these women make the bed and clean the room for me, and cook the food and want to sit together with me and have a fruitful discussion?”
We had so much in common although we are black and white, so it was a reminder not to isolate, be open, don't be afraid, and we can learn so much from each other. That was important for the Centre Party, to get engaged in particular issues of what is happening, but it was not difficult to engage them in this work. As soon as they were engaged it went smoothly. I am sure that is why they can continue easily with the SWAPO women and the different networks in Namibia.
It is the Halland branch of the Centre Party that is engaged in the Mbekweni township in Paarl and not headquarters.
Madi Gray: Is it branch to branch, almost a kind of twinning?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Twinning yes, and it might not have happened if we hadn’t had that earlier experience, because those who are now active in the party, were active as youths. So they keep their interest, they try to follow as much as they can what is happening. They connect me so closely with this work and I feel so happy whenever I get this kind of feedback that we open up from the head organization but also give the trust to the local branches to perform these tasks and responsibilities that they could fulfil. And my travelling for the Halland delegation started with South Africa and when I was in Namibia I met the Centre Party Women's League. We have a tendency to leave them. Now South Africa and Namibia have their independence and all those relations that were formed during the struggle have stopped. But from the political party’s side I can see in other parts of the society the work has continued and has broadened out. But it is so important that the political party continues to have a dialogue. Otherwise there is a bit of problem in Namibia because most of the cooperation has been wound down, but we are trying to revive it, this was my last job. So I managed to get some contacts, because I think they will start organizing a democracy project in Namibia.
Madi Gray: Like adult education circles?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Yes, and meetings and to trust people and to teach them all kinds of skills like how to run an organization and how to cultivate your garden, how to take care of your children. The study groups are so different and cover so many areas and are very helpful to safeguard democracy.
Madi Gray: Is there anything you'd like to add that you feel we might not have covered in this interview?
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: When we started we touched on Swedish NGO involvement in the independence struggle and it should not be forgotten, but should be documented. The reason why we had such governmental support was the push from the people. We pushed the government, we pushed the Social Democratic government, and we pushed the Fälldin government to do more. Remember, it was Billy Modise who was here as a student and approached Tage Erlander, the prime minister at that time. Tage Erlander told Billy, “Push me, push me, I can't do anything if I can't rely on public support and public opinion”.
So without this work in so many different organizations in Sweden, we would not have the situation where people far away are thankful for our support and we wish that all is well with these individuals. I can, in my head, see all these women and youths and men who were driving, who were organizing, who were putting up posters and making the coffee, who collected clothes, and read all the information about what was happening in Southern Africa. It was an enormous amount of work but we did it. We did it with all our hearts and that was very important.
It is the same with Lindiwe Zulu’s work, who has to take care of the older women of the ANC, to document how it was to be an active woman in the liberation movement itself, for this not to be forgotten.
Madi Gray: Yes it is very important that it isn't forgotten.
Helena Nilsson Lannegren: Because often men's history is written in biographies but not the women’s and that is why it is so important.
It is the same in Swedish political society. You can have the kind of women who make coffee and serve the men; they don’t participate in politics, but they think that we who do, need coffee to do it. Women are a part of the political movement and thus they are important.
Madi Gray: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule.