Africa Groups and ISAC
Rev. Renöfält got his first interest in the liberation struggles in Southern Africa within the Christina High School Movement. Later, he also became involved in The Africa Groups of Sweden. Then he became the chairperson of the Isolate South Africa Committee. Here he tells us about the large network of Swedish organisations that supported the liberation struggle in Southern Africa.
Bertil Högberg: How and when did you become involved in the support for the struggle in Southern Africa or Africa?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, I can remember being interested in the area and the struggle in the early 1970s.
Bertil Högberg: Do you know where you got that interest?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, I was then a teenager and I was beginning to be interested in international issues and issues of justice. In general there were influences from the Christian High School Movement where I was active and I had an elder brother who was also starting to be more interested in such issues. Within the church there was a growing interest in these types of issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So that is when I started to become interested.
Bertil Högberg: The development weeks of the churches, did they mean anything?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes they did a lot but actually they only started up in 1973, so my interest was earlier than that. But then the Vietnam War took over, so up to 1975 I was mainly involved in anti-war struggles. First, it was in my high school in Söderhamn where I lived and later on also here in Uppsala where I studied theology. Even though I was aware of the situation in Southern Africa, I had got an interest in it, the major task or issue for young people then I would say was the war in Vietnam. After the war some of my friends also got more involved in the Southern Africa struggle.
Bertil Högberg: But the Christian High School Movement had an interest in Guinea‑Bissau, didn't it?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, yes it did, I got involved in the Christian High School Movement in the early 1970's and in 1972 or 1973 and I became the chairperson of the National High School Movement and then as an international project, we were supporting the Guinea‑Bissau liberation struggle. More specifically supporting the printing of the first schoolbook for the liberation movement, which I think was printed here outside Uppsala. So I was quite involved in that and there was a big interest. We collected money then in the different groups but also in connection to that, there was an information project that carried on then until maybe 1976 or 1978. I think we had some cooperation also with the Christian Youth Council and also with the friendship organizations in Sweden and Guinea‑Bissau at the end. I think the Africa Groups were also involved, or at least people from the Africa Groups. So it was growing into a joint project of a more long-term support than before, and then it was not only the schoolbook but more and more the adult education, inspired by Paulo Freire, that became influential in my organizations here in Sweden.
Bertil Högberg: Did you ever go to Guinea‑Bissau after the liberation?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes I went there together with a group from the Christian High School Movement. This was in January, February 1978. I went earlier together with a few friends and I spent almost three months in the area but then we also got a study group of young people who had been part of this support for the struggle there.
Bertil Högberg: What was your first contact with the Africa Groups?
Lennart Renöfält: I think that was through my involvement in the Christian High School Movement and our project on Guinea‑Bissau. It was somewhere around 1974, when we developed this support project. We were of course looking for other organizations in Sweden who could have knowledge in the area and so it was natural to have contacts with the Africa Groups. Then after the end of the Vietnam War I became a member and more active in the Africa Group here in Uppsala. I also started to be more involved in the Mission Covenant Youth (SMU) here in Uppsala. So I tried to make connections also between the involvement in the Africa Group here and the Covenant Youth Organization.
Bertil Högberg: You also joined the National Board of the Africa Groups.
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, first I was active on the Board here in Uppsala but then I became a member of the National Board and that could have been in 1976 or 1977. I am not hundred percent sure of which year it was but it must have been in 1978 when we started to work for the formation of ISAK and by then I had been on the board for a couple of years so I would think it was '76.
Bertil Högberg: Okay. And what was your role on the Africa Group Board?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, as a member of the board I of course tried to take part in all aspects of the work. I felt that I had a special role in being one of the Board members who had most connections to the churches and Christian organizations. I had a strong network in that direction and also here in Uppsala. I was trying to make connections between the Covenant Youth Organization and the Africa Group. In the local group here, we had some joint work and it was the same then also in the Africa Groups nationally. I had also some experience from organizing things on the national level in youth organizations and I took that with me also to the Africa Groups. There were not so many of us of that type in the Africa Groups. They were more activists without so much experience from organizations before. So that I felt was a special role I could play.
Bertil Högberg: Regarding the start up of Isolate South Africa Committee ISAK. Can you describe what the whole process was, how the discussion went on within the Africa Groups before?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, to my knowledge it was the general feeling that we needed to take further steps to develop the work. The Africa Group was, even though it was active and there was a growing support for the work and also a growing membership and more activities and so on, it was still quite small. It didn't make a strong impact on Swedish policies or on public opinion in general. Since it was a very small organization, the idea was to try to make connections to more organizations and to have stronger work in that way. There had been some attempts earlier also to organize more national and joint campaigns against South African goods for instance in Sweden and carried out through the Swedish Youth Council. There had also been, earlier experiences of more joint work on the national level so the discussions as I remember in the Africa Groups, were to try to develop a platform and to ask organizations to join, to make a stronger voice and possibly to reach more people. I think these discussions started in 1977 and through 1978 and I think it was after the summer of 1978 or we invited other organizations to the first meeting to discuss. In December 1978 I think it was that the Isolate South Africa Committee, ISAK was started up and the first board was elected. I remember we were three people from the Africa Groups then, that were asked by the board to work especially on this issue.
Bertil Högberg: And that was you and Dick Urban and…
Lennart Renöfält: Yes I remember Dick Urban very well because we did a lot of work together on that issue.
Bertil Högberg: But the Africa Groups had a South Africa Committee working within the campaign, I think that was before that. Were you coordinating that committee?
Lennart Renöfält: No I think it was on that committee I worked together with Dick Urban and maybe it was the setting that the committee was asked to develop the work through trying to get more organizations to join or to develop a broader platform which would then be a possibility to make it stronger.
Bertil Högberg: What were the issues when you discussed the platform? What were your concerns about how the platform should look like?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, the Africa Groups then had a more radical platform compared to many other organizations in Sweden, so within the Africa Groups there was a discussion on how far we could go? Of course you could not take the Africa Groups themselves and ask everyone to just join but had to have a platform that would express basic beliefs in what was best for the struggle and not to compromise too much and still have it in a way that you could also get their broad support. One of the main issues was the armed struggle which was difficult in relation to several organizations and I also remember the issue of support to the Pan Africanist Congress (of Azania) or the African National Congress (ANC) or both. This was also a discussion but I don't quite remember exactly how much of these discussions were right from the beginning when forming the platform. I however think they were both there from the beginning.
Bertil Högberg: Did the Africa Groups have to make any compromise?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, in the joint work for the platform it was not only the Africa Groups who were involved. It was a broader group of organizations even though the initiative came from the Africa Groups. The platform was written and discussed among several organizations where for instance the Swedish Youth Council and the Christian Youth Council were quite active. They were very important too because we knew that if we could get them along, then we would have a possibility to be successful because they represented so many organizations and would also lend some legitimacy to the whole issue. I think that many of the main issues the Africa Groups had were present in the platform of ISAK. It was from the beginning a quite far-reaching and radical platform and we managed to get such wide support for. Throughout the whole work of ISAK, it was possible to use it as an instrument, to take the struggle further step by step because, we could not from the beginning implement everything that was in the platform. In our work we had to raise issue-by-issue and then fight for it but it was there as a base in the platform. It was a very good platform.
Bertil Högberg: In my memory I think it was almost identical to the one we had been campaigning around…
Lennart Renöfält: Yes it could have been.
Bertil Högberg: Maybe not in wording but content wise.
Lennart Renöfält: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: But can you try to remember the platform? It was support for the ANC…
Lennart Renöfält: Yes the ANC and SWAPO and it was the consumer boycott. That was one of the biggest issues then, one of the first that was pushed to also broaden the general public support. It was the issue of Swedish corporations to stop the investments in South Africa. It was the support of the UN sanctions and the issues in relation to that. It was the cultural and academic boycott that I think were related to the decisions at the UN.
Bertil Högberg: And sports as well.
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, sports, cultural and academic. So there was a total isolation of the apartheid regime and then also in connection to the Swedish issues of investments, the consumer boycott and the support for the liberation struggle. I think they were the main different parts.
Bertil Högberg: But this issue about investments had been on the agenda before ISAK was formed, the process was already going on?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes I think they were, both the investment and the consumer boycott were issues that were quite high before. I am not sure now about the exact timing of the different things but, the Swedish investments were highlighted very much by the Ecumenical Council in Sweden and I know that the president of my church, the Mission Covenant Church together with the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church, went to some of the big companies’ stockholders’ meeting to argue and they were not very popular there.
Bertil Högberg: If we go back to the discussion on ISAK, to make it wide. We talked about the platform but to get as many organizations in it as possible was one of the issues. What were the discussions around that?
Lennart Renöfält: The whole purpose of trying to start this broad cooperation that was named ISAK was to make the work stronger. We knew that if we didn't manage to really get wide support, we would not achieve what we were aiming for. So we had a lot of discussions on how to do this and how to get important organizations on board from the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, I think that it was very important that the Swedish Youth Council was so positive, even though it was not from the beginning totally clear if they would join. It was easier when the Christian Youth Council - which then had 10 to 15 members in Sweden - came in and was very active in the work and also many of their member organizations like the Mission Covenant Youth, the Baptist Youth, the Methodist Youths, the Church of Sweden Youth Organization, came along from the beginning. That made the support for the platform quite broad. Then of course we had got some of the political youth organizations at an earlier stage but we had a longer struggle for instance, to get the Social Democratic Youth on board. They had had a tradition not to so easily join joint projects like this. But with many of the Christian Youth Organizations and many others also, it started to become so broad that it was hard not to become a member if you wanted to actively support the anti-apartheid movement or the struggle for liberation in Southern Africa. So, we managed to get above a certain level of support to make it interesting for organizations to join. If you stayed outside, you had to have good arguments for it. And it grew pretty fast up to 30 to 40 member organizations and eventually, I think the highest was 67 or something like that.
Bertil Högberg: And how many were there when it was started?
Lennart Renöfält: I think it was 13 from the very beginning.
Bertil Högberg: Was there an exception among the organizations that did not join?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, it took a little bit longer to convince the Social Democratic Youth, but they joined fairly early, when it became obvious that there would be broad support. Then we had problems with the labour unions that would argue that they had their own channels and their own ways of working. We had a few unions that joined and that were quite active also in the organization but the wider support from the labour unions was not there. Actually we had a lot of arguments with some of those unions at companies that were involved in investments in South Africa, and that part was a tough struggle. Of course several of the political parties have a policy that they very seldom join this type of umbrella organization. We could have cooperation with them but they would not join and support us. A couple of parties did but most didn't.
Bertil Högberg: And which youth movements did not join?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, of the political youth organizations, the Conservatives didn't join but I think we had all the other youth organizations.
Bertil Högberg: And when it comes to churches, were any of the churches members or was it only the youth organizations?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, it was youth and student and some women organization may be. The churches had a policy of not joining as a church but they would support. We had close cooperation with the Swedish Ecumenical Council throughout the whole struggle and there you had all the churches as members, or most of them as members. So they were connected to the work in that sense but they would not join as churches.
Bertil Högberg: You were active in getting this whole thing started on the request of the Africa Groups’ Board, can you describe the Africa Groups at this time?
Lennart Renöfält: For me it was the time when I started to shift over to getting active in setting up ISAK. My whole attention was on forming ISAK. I became the first chairperson of ISAK and actually also the first employed person for a short time, to try to start up a small office. I was very focused on that but of course the Africa Groups were still a very important factor for the work for several reasons. One was that a lot of people, who had a long-term involvement in this area and with these issues, were members of the Africa Groups and therefore, they were sort of experts on the issues. You could draw a lot of knowledge from them and they were active in different working groups and so on. Secondly, we shared. at the beginning, office space and some of the logistic things around setting up an organization and were supported very much by the Africa Groups. Also when carrying out the campaign work, we could rely very much on the fact that the Africa Groups would be in the forefront of organizing both nationally but also in the different regions in Sweden where there were local groups. They would try to set up regional cooperation with the member organizations. That was of course a great advantage when we had this big group of member organizations, who could work locally. One could then look into which one of these organizations was present locally and then you could contact them, and try to set up local cooperation to carry out the work.
Bertil Högberg: Were there many of these local committees from around the country?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes. I think there was a growing number throughout the years that were set up and some were in the regions and were quite active. Some were very local and temporary and others would be active only throughout the campaign weeks. Some were more on going and there were also structures for ISAK centrally to try to relate to all these local committees of different types. ISAK was not a member organization for individuals; it was more a network of organizations. So it was all the time based on that and there was some cooperation between one or two or several member organizations in one local place. But out of that also grew people who may be mostly had their identity in being active in ISAK activities even locally.
Bertil Högberg: So it became more of an organization in itself rather than being a coordinating committee for other…
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, people who were involved in this work for years, started to find their identity in being a local ISAK organization.
Bertil Högberg: These local committees, did they have an influence on the national level?
Lennart Renöfält: They did not have a formal influence when it came to the board according to my memory but, they had an influence on what we would do at meetings and so on. Through their active involvement they were of course very important partners for the central office of ISAK to relate to. When you wanted to carry out campaigns they were very important to go through.
Bertil Högberg: Which were the most important organizations when it came to the local work?
Lennart Renöfält: I think that used to shift a little bit throughout time. I think there were many levels of work. One was these local committees or regional committees carrying out campaign work jointly in the name of ISAK. The second one was that the organizations would use the information material and could implement that within their own structures and use it for seminars. It could be one issue brought up and then it would kind of infiltrate the whole structure. Many organizations would write about it in their magazines and so on. And I think this was the main strength also of the ISAK work. The fact that they had influenced so many people through their regular organizations where people were members. You didn't need to recruit people for a special issue but they were reached by the issues through their membership in these many different organizations. In that sense, I think many organizations did a great job in working through their own channels. Some of course were more passive and didn't do so much in that sense. Throughout most of the time I was involved in ISAK I was working as an International Secretary of the Mission Covenant Youth Organization and there we used a lot of the information material by ISAK throughout our work. It was a big issue within the organizations and among our around 100, 000 members and throughout the country. It was brought up at youth camps and in youth meetings. We had a big discussion within the organizations on especially the Shell boycott, which was a very controversial issue, but eventually we came up with a joint decision to join the boycott. So it was an issue that was very much alive within the organization and I believe that was the case in several of the member organizations.
Bertil Högberg: Would you say that the work that was done within the organizations was more important than the work that was done by local committees?
Lennart Renöfält: I think it is hard to make a judgment on that. I think everything kind of worked together. The strength of ISAK nationally was when it came to the push for changes in Swedish legislation and to make public statements and to really get into the mass media. After some years, massmedia became very open compared to the beginning when we really struggled to tell everyone who we were and why we wanted to have a voice. The strength of that was based on that there were a lot of activities going on, both joint activities locally but also within organizations. These issues were seen at many different levels and that gave strength to the ISAK central work and the possibility to push Swedish policies forward. I do not think you could take away any of these levels. If you only had the work of the local committees, they would not have been so strong without many of the members throughout the organizations knowing about the issue. And also, that many of the member organizations like again the Mission Covenant Youth, we worked with the Swedish company ESSELTE. We bought stationary from them and when we discovered they were involved in South Africa, we took a decision that we would not have anything to do them and we went out publicly on this. That made it an issue and it made them answer us and so it was one example. I think this happened in many organizations, which made it of course stronger than if only ISAK in ISAK's name would have done this. So I think that the strength of the whole setup was that it was both in the name of ISAK but also the member organizations worked throughout in their own name. That made it much stronger and I think it is hard to pick out which one was the best, I think it was a good setup.
Bertil Högberg: You said that one of the aims was to influence Swedish policy around these issues. How did you do that?
Lennart Renöfält: Based on our platform, we tried to take strategic decisions on how to step by step fullfill that platform. I think we were quite successful. We didn't get all the way but I think it is quite easy to see that issues that ISAK started to push, first were totally rejected by the political establishment and the ruling party. They said this was not possible, then after a while we would get more support through mass media and some parties and organizations. Then you would see that a debate started also in the parliament on the issue. After a while, someone would start to write a party proposal. Then maybe a year later it would come from the government and maybe not all the way but still in that direction. So you could see that from total rejection, you would move and in two, three years it could be the government's own proposal and almost the same. And that was on several issues I think.
Bertil Högberg: If we try to look at those issues and if we first take the consumers’ boycott, which was basic. Could you tell how that developed and how you did work with the consumers’ boycott issue?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes that was one of the early ones that had strings back to the 60's. In the beginning we were trying to make public opinion aware that this was an issue and that there were goods coming from South Africa. Then to make lists of which goods were there was a possibility for a consumer to boycott. What could you find in the stores? We had these stickers saying, "Don't buy South African goods" and people would go out and stick it on the goods in the stores. We also put up posters or you had demonstrations, you had people standing out on the streets picketing and writing articles in the newspapers and all types of ways of making people aware of this.
Bertil Högberg: Did that have any impact on the actual number of goods that were on the shelves?
Lennart Renöfält: I think it is a bit hard to tell because it is not always so easy to know exactly how much is sold and that information is not so available. My guess would be that it didn't have a fundamental impact on the selling of goods. I think it went down but not to a higher degree. It had however an impact on people's opinion, and that was the most important. Therefore it became political pressure from people to also find political ways of handling the issue. After some years then more voices were raised that Sweden should try to have laws that would at least cut down on the importing of these goods.
Bertil Högberg: Was that achieved?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes eventually decisions were taken. It was a couple of steps in these laws that were passed in parliament. Eventually we ended up with a total ban on South African goods. That was a very strong and good example also for the ISAK campaign work that it is possible, you can move step by step. It is not a fast thing, you have work year by year and see the small steps but it goes in the right direction.
Bertil Högberg: Campaigns against investments in South Africa had been started by the churches already in the early 70's but ISAK took that on. What were the activities and what happened around that issue?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes I remember that the first month of ISAK’s existence, of the first materials we produced were a sticker on consumer boycott and a little information brochure connected to that. The second was a number of posters on Swedish firms that had investments in South Africa and which were highlighting their presence there and why they should leave. So that was very much from the very beginning of the campaigning work. It was clear in the platform for ISAK but the more general public opinion and also the political standpoint of most parties was that Swedish companies’ investments might be troublesome but there was still something good with them. Swedish companies were probably behaving better than other companies and if they left someone else would take over. That was the type of argument we would be faced with. And also, as I mentioned earlier, the labour unions connected to these companies were more or less supporting their companies’ policies on this. One of the difficulties to handle was then when you sometimes would see interviews on TV or so when the mass media went to South Africa and they would ask workers at the companies belonging to Swedish companies, if they wanted the company to leave or not. That would be shown on Swedish television without any comments. If workers would say that they should leave, that was a crime in South Africa. We tried to counteract that type of information by saying that of course you get that type of answer if you ask them. If you ask a person at a company, it could also be sensitive because that person could lose his or her job too. We would argue that the main labour unions in South Africa that were also connected to the liberation struggle would argue for this type of action.
Bertil Högberg: The situation when ISAK was formed was that a law had already been passed against new investments in South Africa.
Lennart Renöfält: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: And the aim of ISAK was total ban on investments but did ISAK achieve anything in that way?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes it was, I think in a similar way as with the consumer boycott there was stronger and stronger support for the standpoint of ISAK. More and more people in Sweden would join in that and we could feel a stronger support from public opinion, and also from more and more organizations. Politically, it was also stronger.
Bertil Högberg: But did any companies actually leave South Africa as a result of this campaigning?
Lennart Renöfält: I don't think that any of the major Swedish companies left.
Bertil Högberg: So in that sense our campaign was not a success, in the way that many campaigns in the US were, that actually got companies to leave.
Lennart Renöfält: No, they had a different approach to the stockholders which I think also depends on differences in ownership and the way it was handled between the US and Sweden. There were less public and more pension funds that they could target in their campaigning. I think the ISAK campaign in Sweden was not successful when it came to completely achieving the goal but it was certainly bothering the companies very much, and we managed to get the issue very high on the agenda in their work. There was a law on new investments; I think the whole campaigning around it made surer that it was not circumvented.
Bertil Högberg: If we look at cultural, sports and academic boycotts, were there any achievements in those areas?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes I think that was an area where there was quite a big success. We had several issues throughout the years when there were examples of people in organizations breaking this boycott, and they were usually highlighted very much in the mass media. As a result, many of them would withdraw or change policies. So there was a process of kind of tightening that boycott and making people in organizations aware that if they were to break it, it would have a high price, because they would be very much highlighted in the mass media. So in that sense, I think it was a clearer process of achieving the goal of the platform of ISAK. And it was easier to target because compared to the companies who had the economic interest of being there, the cultural, academic boycott was easier to target within public opinion. But of course there were still examples of people and organizations breaking it, but to a lesser extent I think.
Bertil Högberg: You were the first chairperson, and then you left Stockholm to take up your first position as a pastor but you came back for a second longer period as chairperson. Was it two or three years later?
Lennart Renöfält: I think it was three years later.
Bertil Högberg: What was the difference in the organization that you had left and that you found then three years later?
Lennart Renöfält: The first part of the first year of ISAK was very much finding a way of working - a lack of resources, a lack of staff. As I said I was the first chairman, and a project employee trying to set up some work.
Bertil Högberg: Employed by the Africa Groups?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, because there was no structure for it in ISAK. Even if the support was wide from many organizations, the whole structure was still very weak. But things started developing in the right direction, and we got some funding from SIDA and the department of Foreign Affairs, but it was still a small and a fairly weak campaign organization. However, when I came back three years later, it was very much developed and it started also to become better known. I remember that first year, you would call when the mass media reacted to something, and you would say you were the chairperson of ISAK, and they'd say ISAK who? In the mid 80's however, there were no problems of that type. It was more well known, it was stronger in mass media, it had its own office where people were employed. We had a number of years up until the mid- 80's with a very strong growth of the whole administrative capacity of ISAK, and all areas of work were expanding. I think the highlight of the whole effort could be said to be the people's parliament against apartheid. That was probably the biggest event and also when the issues were as hot as ever in the Swedish debate.
Bertil Högberg: And that was in 1986?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: You were still chairperson?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: The Africa Groups were very important in the beginning. When you came back three years later, then you were not identified as an Africa Group person. When you were chairperson the first time, you represented the Africa Groups but you didn't do that the second time…
Lennart Renöfält: No the second time I was elected chairperson as a member of the Mission Covenant Youth.
Bertil Högberg: You were then their International Secretary?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, of course even the first time I was active in the Covenant Youth and a couple of the other Christian Youth Organizations as well. As I was one of those from the Africa Groups working on the initiative from the beginning, I represented them. I returned to Stockholm in '82 and became the chairperson in '83, so the main difference was that ISAK now was established as an organization. When we formed ISAK, it was in a way meant as a campaign. For some organizations it was not so obvious that this would continue, and develop into a more ongoing thing. But after a while we saw that this worked well, there was a momentum in the whole issue and it was necessary to continue. Some organizations were still a little bit afraid that it would become truly established, and they wanted it to remain a campaign.
Bertil Högberg. This was an issue in the period when I was chairperson there in between, but it was resolved during your second period. It must also have meant a change of name from the “Isolate South Africa Campaign” to “Committee…”
Lennart Renöfält: To “Committee”, yes. Yes, there was that change. But in relation to the Africa Groups, I think the main difference was that from the beginning, ISAK was small in capacity and office and everything like that. Then it grew, and I think the relationship to mainly the other member organizations became closer, and more organizations became more involved in the work. ISAK developed good contacts with SIDA and the foreign office and in that way could also get quite strong funding for the work. I think the Africa Groups were important, and the office was in the same building, the Solidarity House. So there was a close connection, but ISAK was not depending on the Africa Groups in the same way any longer. And if you look at the total amount of work carried out in the name of ISAK or related to ISAK, in the beginning, much more of these activities could be traced to local Africa Groups. Then when it grew, the size of ISAK and its work became so much bigger than the member organizations. The Africa Groups was compared to many of the other organizations a small one, even though its members were very active. So regarding the work, I think it was less dependent on the Africa Groups, even though a lot of expertise was still found within the groups. For a period it was not easy for the Africa Groups to handle this internally, because so much of the campaigning work and the work that was seen by people - was carried out in the name of ISAK. The identity of the Africa Groups became difficult to see.
Bertil Högberg: You worked with organizations outside the ISAK structure such as the Ecumenical Council, that you have mentioned. Were there other structures that you cooperated with?
Lennart Renöfält: I think the Ecumenical Council was the most clear cooperation partner. We also connected to them on their annual “development week” as well. The Ecumenical Council was one part and then the Mission Council and the Youth Council of the Churches, those three Christian Organizations were forming this development week. It was a campaign week on justice and peace issues. Together with them we had some cooperation in connection with the Nobel peace prize to Desmond Tutu, etc. I know as well that we tried to work together with the sports organizations on the sports boycott. I was not involved in that myself so I have problems remembering details, but I know there were discussions with those organizations. And of course we tried also to find ways of cooperation with some political parties. For instance, in pushing the issues in parliament and in the political process, we needed to have people within that structure who would write proposals and so on, and lobby for the issues. I might be forgetting some cooperation here.
Bertil Högberg: The UN Association?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, yes of course, the UN Association was especially important when it came to the People's Parliament Against Apartheid which was a joint conference. Their main input there was the international connections to the UN system, and that made it easier to have some officials from that area also.
Bertil Högberg: You said earlier that it was one of the most significant achievements and events that ISAK was involved with. Can you describe what happened and who was involved in that people's parliament?
Lennart Renöfält: From the beginning I think many of us thought this was a good idea that came up in our discussions, and also in a discussion together with the UN association - but we didn't really believe it would become as big as it did. It grew and grew in size in our minds while organizing it, and it also grew when it came to the international connections. It was a chance for Swedish organizations to meet, to discuss the anti-apartheid work and to form some type of platform together, or to highlight different parts within the platform that ISAK already had, and issues that were discussed at that time.
Bertil Högberg: So there were representatives from both local and national levels…
Lennart Renöfält: Yes there were participants from these local ISAK networks we talked about earlier, and every national organization could send representatives to it. All types of organizations. It was actually the widest representative meeting held in Sweden on this type of issue ever. We had between 80 and 90 international guests and it was kind of a meeting within a meeting. We had a special program for them, and discussions on how to coordinate different international campaigns, to see where the work was done in different countries and in different structures. There were UN people and people from the liberation movements but also from many other organizations similar to ISAK.
Bertil Högberg: And there were the leaders of the liberation movements...
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, yes it was on a very high level, for instance the former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was holding one of the main introductory speeches, which was to became his last public appearance before being shot.
Bertil Högberg: Was there any significant cooperation on the Nordic level?
Lennart Renöfält: That developed throughout the years, and became an important part of the work. From the beginning, the main issue was to coordinate the Swedish campaign and to get it started, but then this work by nature had to be international because we were not doing it for ourselves. The possibility to achieve the goals internationally was also of course to cooperate with the liberation movements - this was their struggle but we could support it. That support had to be organized internationally. There are similarities in the way we function as organizations in the Nordic countries regarding policies etc. Throughout the years we developed a quite close cooperation with the organizations that were similar to ISAK in the other Nordic countries.
Bertil Högberg: Which were?
Lennart Renöfält: I don't know if I remember the names but there were slightly different structures in different countries. You have the similar organizations to the Africa Groups, but also wider cooperation that was developed which didn't look exactly the same. I think the Swedish ISAK was the strongest and the widest organization in that cooperation.
Bertil Högberg: If we look at the wider international scene, which were the most important partners in the anti-apartheid arena?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, the Nordic, and then the close cooperation with the liberation movements of course. Then I think organizations in the Netherlands and Britain. There was a difficulty in relation to Britain. When it came to international work I think they had a tradition of being the biggest and strongest anti-apartheid organization. They were used to being the ones who was very much setting the agenda for the work, and we were also very active in trying to coordinate different campaign work. We found that there were difficulties in finding a common language and a common leadership for all this. We got quite significant resources from the Swedish Department of Foreign Affairs to organize international gatherings for anti-apartheid organizations. I remember that the first meeting we had was almost not even attended by the British anti-apartheid movement. Then when they saw that this was a big joint meeting which could be instrumental for the coordination, they would join and be more active. But it was a growing network, and I think that was also leading up to the good participation in the people's parliament and the years after that. There were also joint meetings internationally focusing on different issues like the Shell boycott, the gold boycott and highlighting the different common issues we had internationally.
Bertil Högberg: And your cooperation with the liberation movements, how did you go about that?
Lennart Renöfält: I remember that cooperation as being very close and regular. The whole time we had regular meetings with representatives from the liberation movements that were stationed here in Stockholm. We would have both informal and more formal meetings to discuss and to report on our work and get comments. We would also try to have an open discussion to see what was possible to do and not, and they would sometimes come and ask us to highlight certain issues. Sometimes that would be possible, and sometimes there would be issues that might be harder to deal with, such as an issue of public opinion, and then we could have a discussion on that based on our different experiences. I mean, we were the experts on how to do campaign work in Sweden, and they were the experts on the liberation struggle. So of course we in a way worked on a mandate of supporting them in the struggle, but still we could have a discussion on how we could best do that, what was possible to achieve, and how to work strategically on the issues in Sweden. Of course we had to decide, but based on their opinion. What I can remember is a good relationship with them.
Bertil Högberg: Within the platform support was built to the ANC and to SWAPO. How was the Namibian/SWAPO issue handled within ISAK?
Lennart Renöfält: South Africa was much more well known, and in people's minds apartheid was connected to South Africa. In general public opinion South Africa would be much more highlighted and well known. The main focus was South Africa but throughout the work of ISAK we never dropped the Namibia issue. It was always there and it was part of the campaigns. We did publish information material on it, and we also had good contact and cooperation with the SWAPO representative here in Stockholm. It was there all the time, but we had to admit that it was not so much in focus. I think part of the strategy was that if we could support a change in South Africa that would affect Namibia as well. Strategically that was the focus.
Bertil Högberg: Yes that became the strategy of many organizations in the 80's, seeing that South Africa had to go first and Namibia later. Were there any conflicts within ISAK over the years?
Lennart Renöfält: Yes, at first I mentioned that we had discussions on the platform. Some organizations or individuals pushed hard for PAC, that it should be included in the platform, but it was not. I don't think that was a very long and difficult struggle or split. There were more discussions at the beginning and after we settled that, there was kind of a joint decision and we went forward. This was a very broad, strong cooperation - and very successful, I would say. Probably the most successful solidarity work ever carried out in Sweden when it comes to the achievements, and the impact on public opinion and on decision making in the parliament. It was also part of the successful struggle for liberation. But because of this it was also very interesting for people to try to influence it, and we had discussions with those who thought that our platform was too radical and that we could not implement everything all the time. With the Shell boycott, it was clearly seen that there was hesitation about how far we could go. We had problems with the Shell strategy of pushing the local owner of the petrol station in front, and therefore the campaign was not easy to handle. I know that within many member organizations, that was a difficult issue. In the Mission Covenant Youth Organization I fought very hard in one national meeting we had when we were to take a stand. Eventually we got the support for joining and to be active in the campaign. We had for instance a member of our youth organization who owned a Shell petrol station, and of course he didn't like it. We also had discussions with people from some of the communist youth organizations who would see ISAK as an important organization and tried to use, infiltrate, or be active in it, and push for their issues. We tried to use a language that would be best for a strategic way of developing support within public opinion. Mass media sometimes likes people who are very, very clear in their statements. In relation to some of the campaigning against companies, people in some organizations in Stockholm would use mass media as a platform, in the name of ISAK, using a different language and a different attitude. That was also difficult and we had discussions on that within our organizations. So it was a bit from both sides.
Bertil Högberg: Did you ever travel to South Africa?
Lennart Renöfält: No I tried to get a visa once, actually I was to be part of a trip planned by the Ecumenical Council in Sweden, but I never got a visa. Well, I did get it two days before our departing or something like that, and the whole trip ended up being cancelled because it was difficult for several people within that group to get a visa. So I guess I was on some kind of a list. I didn't travel to South Africa until I worked for the Swedish Christian Council in 1995 or ’96 when I was organizing a study tour to South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: Were there other personal relationships that developed over these years with people in South Africa? You had contacts with the liberation movement offices, but were there also other persons that became involved and became important?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, for me personally, and also I think for many people, and public opinion in Sweden, some of the church leaders in South Africa were very significant. They were very much exposed in mass media and they were also able to travel, and in that sense take part in meetings here. Like of course Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane and Alan Boesak. They were all here at meetings organized by the churches, but also in a wider sense. I remember when Alan Boesak visited the Annual Conference of the Mission Covenant Church. I think he made a stronger impact on that crowd of three thousand people, and in the meetings he addressed there, than I have ever seen an international guest do before. That was also when the issue was very high on the agenda, and he was very much exposed through mass media in various interviews. This was the time when UDF was formed in South Africa as a platform for the work. He was acting on that as well as Frank Chikane. I could see that they had a strong impact in the churches, and helping people make up their minds as they were very clear on what they were saying. It was obvious that these were voices that people would listen to, and that helped when taking radical standpoints.
Bertil Högberg: Mentioning that Alan Boesak spoke at the Church assembly, we talked about the involvement of the youth movement within your church. But how did this issue about South Africa affect the church itself? What became the involvement of the Mission Covenant Church?
Lennart Renöfält: I think it is fair to say that in many local congregations there is a close connection between the youth organization and the congregation itself. If, as a youth organization you are active in this, then you would also involve the congregation and that would be the base for it. We saw that a lot of local congregations and youth organizations would use information material. For instance they would have some type of program, discussion or action on the issues. Mainly the youth would also join in local ISAK activities. I can look at the church newspaper that I have clippings from. For these years South Africa was almost in every week's paper. There was news from what was going on, the anti-apartheid work from ISAK and from within South Africa, and from the discussions between them and the Reformed Church there. I remember when Alan Boesak was put in prison at one point in South Africa, we had meetings of the pastors in the Mission Covenant Church here in Stockholm. As he had been here recently and talking at the annual conference, people knew who he was and some of us then organized a possibility for us to go to the South African embassy. We were not allowed by the police to have a demonstration marching on the streets. We still got a lot on posters and we would walk on the sidewalk all the way down there. It was almost like a demonstration and maybe more than 300 pastors from the church then joined up outside the embassy and were demanding the release of Alan Boesak. This was probably the first time for many of those pastors ever to take part in a political demonstration, so it made a strong impact and it was an issue that really involved people, and got new people involved in this type of struggle.
Bertil Högberg: Is there anything remaining from this interest in South Africa within the church or youth movement?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, it is not on the same level as a public issue or within the church either. It is a different situation and I think that this type of involvement goes a bit up and down within structures. But actually yesterday I met a woman who was working in an educational setting, now in our church and she has relations to South Africa that were developed during that time. I also know several individuals who have been in theological studies, making special studies in relation to these issues and I can see a lot of links like these that have developed. I think that within our ecumenical international work from the Covenant Church in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, there are very clear links to this time when the South African white reform church was expelled from the world alliance because of its stand on apartheid. This had developed into a discussion on whether issues of justice and money can be interpreted as issues of faith within the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and very active work is being carried out now. We actually had seminars on that in our National Church Conference last year. There is also a very clear link to these types of issues, and influence from the active work on South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: Are there any more specific highlights that you remember that were very important and that you would like to share?
Lennart Renöfält: For me personally and for many people, the whole support for the struggle in South Africa and the developments from that have been an important part of our whole viewing of life. How to understand the struggle for liberation also see how solidarity work can be carried out. To see from the beginning, how quite few activists in an organization like the Africa Groups, and then growing interest in many other organizations, can develop into a strong joint force. Pushing the public opinion and also the whole country's policies in a clear certain direction, that this can be part of an international movement supporting the liberation struggle and to see the results, is a very strong experience. I remember when, as part of our campaign, we had the demand to free Nelson Mandela. Somewhere inside myself I was thinking "Well, we can say this, but who believes it?" And then it happened, and we saw the whole dismantling of the apartheid system. That was a very strong experience, feeling that it was not in vain it really resulted in something - and many people carried that feeling with them. I have been participating both nationally and internationally in the work of Third World Debt and working for the World Council of Churches and I'll see other settings, and I see a lot of similarities and possibilities. I see it from the decades back when this "Drop the Debt" issue was raised. Today at last we are starting to see results. It is a matter of working on it year by year, but you can see a development. If you are joined together and you work strategically, and on a long term-basis, then you can achieve goals. That is something basic, that I carry with me and bring to other issues, which is important from this journey.
Bertil Högberg: How have you been able to use your experience from ISAK in your later involvements?
Lennart Renöfält: Well, I in many ways personally gained a lot of knowledge and experience from this. Most clearly I can see it in my work on the Third World Debt issue, where I have been working to build a Swedish campaign on that, as part of the “Freedom from debt”-coalition. I was also employed by the World Council of Churches for some years in trying to give support to the development of the Jubilee South Movement, especially in Africa. The experiences that have been instrumental for that work, I gained through the anti-apartheid work. That was where I saw the long-term work, the strategic thinking and also the necessity of a broad-base coalition. Trying to bring people together without worrying if everyone does not have exactly the same idea of how the work should be carried out. See to the issues and the goals instead of fighting about details, and the necessity of having a wide international network. You cannot achieve international goals if you work isolated as a country or isolated as an organization.
Bertil Högberg: Okay, thank you.