The Nordic Africa Institute

Lindiwe Mabuza

ANC—Chief Representative to Sweden and the Nordic countries

The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Bonn, 14 March 1996.

Tor Sellström: You came to Sweden in 1979 as ANC Chief Representative to the Nordic countries. How did you find the anti-apartheid movement in the Nordic area at that time?

Lindiwe Mabuza: I did not want to leave Africa. I had lived in the United States from 1964 until the beginning of 1977 and I just wanted to be part of what was happening on the African continent. I then realized that the decision of the ANC National Executive Committee to send me out had been well considered. I would let many people down by not accepting it. But I did not understand what I was going into. I was just afraid. There was apprehension about going to—first of all—a white world. I had lived under apartheid and racism in South Africa and in the United States. What was now going to happen? But, fortunately, so much had been done prior to my coming to Sweden by other people from South Africa that I found a very receptive and accepting climate. A climate that was conducive to do more, and my responsibility was to see how much we could tap of that. I remember the parting words I got from President Oliver Tambo when I was going to Sweden. He was aware—everybody was aware—that I was nervous about this new exploration. He said: ‘Sweden stands as a brilliant landmark in the history of our struggle’.

Tor Sellström: I think that he had already been there in 1962?

Lindiwe Mabuza: The first time, I think, was when he left South Africa in 1960. He went straight to Denmark, at the invitation of the Social Democratic Party. I remember him telling me what a fantastic experience it was. Arriving in Copenhagen, the streets were paved with Danes with the Danish flag to welcome him. At that time, there was also a meeting of either the Socialist International or the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the southern part of Sweden. So from Denmark he went there. I was fortunate, because he said to me: ‘You are going to friends. Do not be afraid’. I remember that. Later, when we talked about it, he would say: ‘If the apartheid regime and its allies knew the extent of the Swedish engagement with us in the struggle, there would be problems for that country’.
The anti-apartheid movement was already there. Billy Modise and others had been there before me and there had been countless students from South Africa who were using their time in Sweden to inform about apartheid. The anti-apartheid movement was there, but I think that by the time I left—at the end of 1987—it was a phenomenal organization, with structures and networks. When I arrived, you had the Africa Groups of Sweden and the beginnings of the Isolate South Africa Committee (ISAK). I think that at the time it had about five member organizations. The Social Democratic Party, the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party, VPK and APK. I cannot remember the fifth one. But, by the time I left I think that you counted the organizations in Sweden that were not part of the Isolate South Africa Committee.

Tor Sellström: How would you explain that Sweden at an early stage recognized and supported ANC, but was quite late when it came to the imposition of sanctions.

Lindiwe Mabuza: In terms of declared policy, I think that all the Nordic countries by 1978 had taken an anti-apartheid and pro-sanctions position. However, the non-implementation of this was not because of a lack of political will. I think that it was due to dynamics in the society. The decision to support ANC was popular and accepted by all the political parties and the government. But when it came to imposition of sanctions, there was division within Sweden.
Political parties have their constituencies and whereas the Social Democratic Party, VPK and APK—who were not in government— were eager, you also had to deal with the position of the Centre Party, the Liberal Party and the Moderate Party, who, while supporting us politically, were not about to sacrifice their allegiance to the companies that were investing in South Africa. We understood that. We had to work to convince them and I think that the People’s Parliament Against Apartheid in 1986 was most decisive in bringing all the groups which were for isolation of South Africa to the same position. But it took a long time, even with our fervent supporters within these organizations. I think that it was due to the contradictions within the Swedish society, as there were contradictions within so many others. It took twenty years in the United States. Sweden was not an exception in that.
We counted on various levels in the society to help us pursue our objectives. The political parties in and out of government. The trade unions were a formidable component of the anti-apartheid movement. There was not a decision for sanctions for a long time, partly because people believed that by imposing sanctions you actually made the victim a sufferer. We had to deal with all the arguments where our own positions were not accepted and our reasoning was questioned. It was an educational process all the way, until you got to a position where the trade union movement itself was divided. For us, the division meant that there was a movement forward, because where there had been only one position before there were now those who said that the trade union movement was for sanctions. Then you knew that progress was being made.
The churches had the same problem. It was much easier with the youth organizations of the political parties, as well as with youth organizations of the civic society and the church youth organizations. Once they understood, they were not ambiguous about the need for sanctions. When the school pupils’ organizations decided that sanctions was the way, they were ready to go and fight Esselte: ‘If you do not accept our position there will be no paper, nothing from your company in our schools in Sweden!’ They posed the question in such a way that there was a choice. You choose apartheid or you choose the Swedish schools. It was a development. It took time to get to positions like that.

Tor Sellström: As the representative of a liberation movement you were visiting different political camps. You were talking to the government one day and to the trade unions and the opposition parties the other. Were you acknowledged by the different milieus in the Nordic societies?

Lindiwe Mabuza: It was unbelievable how we were recognized. This might sound a little bit presumptuous and arrogant, but we were better treated and recognized than some of the real, accredited ambassadors in all the Nordic countries. Our leadership met with all levels of leadership in all the Nordic countries. Members of the National Executive Committee would have serious discussions with Olof Palme as well as with the leadership of the Centre Party when they led the coalition government. They would also be talking to the leadership of the churches, the archbishops, because they were an important constituency.
A precedent had been set when the Social Democratic Party was the governing body in Sweden. It became part of the political culture. Anybody who would have gone against that would have looked so absurdly right-wing that it would have had negative consequences for them. It was very important that understanding became a rule when the Social Democrats were in government. Of course, it also had to do with the Swedish attitude of seeking consensus rather than confrontation on some international questions.

Tor Sellström: The non-socialist government actually increased the support to the liberation movements in 1976. There was this precedent?

Lindiwe Mabuza: Yes, part of that precedent was that they always had discussions with the liberation movements and evaluated the needs in accordance with the time. It was normal that the support would increase. If it had remained the same, there would have been criticism against the government. They had no option but to go forward. We were experiencing an increase of people into ANC and our needs were growing. Our ways of solving those needs were also developing. We needed more resources and there was always an adequate response to our calls for assistance.

Tor Sellström: Nordic support to ANC was strictly civilian. How did you experience that the military side of the struggle was kept out of the debate?

Lindiwe Mabuza: I do no think that it was kept out of the debate. How do you fight apartheid? I think that a decision had been made by the Nordic governments in which areas to participate in the struggle against apartheid and in which areas, for historical reasons, they would not participate. But it was very much part of the debate. Every time Oliver Tambo or Thabo Mbeki came, we would tell the Swedish authorities what was happening in the armed struggle. Not to involve them, but so that they should understand where we were. This was a partnership among equals and friends. As a liberation movement, we also took the position that each country should assist us in accordance with its objective positions. And here the situation was such that supporting the liberation struggle by infusing assistance to the military would have killed our positions and would have undermined those governments.
We were always talking and debating with church people about why we took up arms: ‘Jesus Christ whipped people out of the temple and there are just wars’. We had to talk with the trade unions. I remember mobilizing in different schools and it was always a question that came up. Talking to whatever structure it was always a question. But the reality is this: We did not have to lambaste the governments of Scandinavia for not helping us to buy arms, because they were fulfilling a very important role even for our military objectives. If you have soldiers who cannot brush their teeth in the morning; who cannot wash; who cannot have breakfast, lunch or supper; who cannot have clean clothes; then you have a mutiny on your hands. So we think that the Nordic countries contributed enormously even to the development of our armed struggle in that they assisted the soldier to live and to carry out his or her objectives.
We understood. I do not think that there is any ANC leader who questioned why the Swedish government did not help us to purchase arms. For the mobilisation of Europe we also needed to remove the argument that the Swedes were helping ANC militarily. We needed to remove arguments that were obstacles to the mobilisation of other governments. The Nordic governments had to keep their hands clean, but we knew that there was a significant contribution to the military. We had the Home Front allocation, people in Swaziland and people in Botswana. They were in transit to join ANC; to go to military camps; to go to schools; to be professionals, or to be professional soldiers. They had to be catered for. There were many ways in which the military was being assisted.

Tor Sellström: But at the same time there were political forces in the Nordic countries who criticized the governments for not giving armed support to ANC?

Lindiwe Mabuza: Yes, but as they did that we never responded. Of course, we said that it would be nice, but that there were other ways of assisting. It is also true that no Swedish government prevented Swedish political parties or nationals from making contributions towards the military struggle. Every day we had contributions coming in to the ANC fund without any tags attached. Individuals and organizations were saying ‘use the money as you see fit’. If we decided to buy guns or whatever the military wanted—which we did by the way— no government actually stopped the unmarked contributions, and it was assumed that if they were unmarked, ANC reserved the right to use them as it saw fit. These contributions came from all sectors of the Nordic societies: from political parties, trade unions and trade unionists, church organizations or church individuals. They were there and without any conditions. I know, because we also had to make certain procurements in the Nordic countries related to the military, using these funds.

Tor Sellström: Some countries would not support ANC or SWAPO with transport means because it was said that a truck can be civilian by day, but military by night. Did you experience the same limitations with the Nordic governments?

Lindiwe Mabuza: As far as I remember, absolutely not. There was no debate or argument on that. We had annual negotiations where we allocated funds to different ANC departments. If a department needed transport means, those responsible for the negotiations with ANC would accept ANC’s judgement on what was needed and where it was to be purchased. For example, we could order Japanese vehicles, because it would be cheaper, and send them to Mazimbu, Tanzania. The assistance was not tied to Nordic procurement. There was an allocation. Now, how do you stretch it to meet the needs of a growing population over a longer period of time? With the assistance of experts within the Nordic governments, we could say that rice from Indonesia and oil from country X would be the best. I think that what was fundamental was the respect for the judgement made by ANC and that the credentials of the people negotiating on behalf of the liberation movement were accepted.

Tor Sellström: If we look at the composition of the ANC delegations to the annual talks, you would be represented by politicians at a very high level—people like Thomas Nkobi, Thabo Mbeki—and on the Nordic side there would be aid officials. Was that contradictory to you?

Lindiwe Mabuza: No. It would be wrong to say that they were only aid officials. They were implementors of political decisions. They were playing a political role across the table from our politicians and could not split themselves from that responsibility. There was absolutely no problem with that, because the aid officials were accountable to the political decision makers. In fact, as agents of Swedish foreign policy we found in them a readiness to understand the political dynamics so well and they would communicate that. They actually ensured that we were properly represented when it came to communicating our positions. You had to trust them to be able to do that, which I suppose also was the reason why certain people were put in certain countries and not everybody in an embassy was handling things relating to the liberation movements. It needed a certain judgement, a quick ability to change with the dynamics and to be sensitive all the time.
I would think that probably they, more than we, would have had certain problems. Perhaps a resistance to go in accordance with what we may have wanted, but, again, it was their responsibility to say to us and to their government: ‘We think that this position would have this kind of implication’. No, they were not just robots and agents. They were very much co-participants. Their word carried much weight and the politicians that they were discussing with had to respect that.

Tor Sellström: Many of these aid officials were women. Do you think that it affected the aid allocations? Did they promote women’s interests on the ANC side as well?

Lindiwe Mabuza: They promoted all the interests presented by the various ANC departments, but because they came from a region of the world where women’s emancipation and equality questions were paramount they promoted that. Their presence also guaranteed that ANC women’s questions would be given the same weight as, for example, what the department of education required. It would be taken into account as much. But it went beyond that. As women, they also knew the women’s organizations in their respective countries that could get access to SIDA, NORAD, FINNIDA or DANIDA funds in order to augment the already ongoing assistance. So that assistance could come in a multi-pronged way. They were themselves understanding of where we needed to go as women within the liberation movement.
Without being conscious of it, they assisted us in strengthening the organizational capacity of the ANC women’s organization, helping it to become viable.

Tor Sellström: I remember that there once was a comment from a male representative of another liberation movement who said that ‘you know, in the Nordic countries they delegate these important political issues to women without clout’. But later that very same person changed his position completely, because he found what you have just said.

Lindiwe Mabuza: Because he was a man. He came with a certain perspective, a certain prejudiced position.
When I entered the Nordic area, the SIDA desk officials were women. It was not because a women was coming to represent ANC, but that was the responsibility given to them. Birgitta Berggren was then the responsible official at SIDA. It was very important for me that it was a woman. From her I could find out things that I probably would not easily have found out from men, because you hit a certain level of communication that does not easily exist with men. We learned to confide in each other.

Tor Sellström: The same was probably the case with the Africa Groups?

Lindiwe Mabuza: Yes, absolutely. The women were really the channels of communication, the organisms of delivery in all spheres. I am not saying that the men did not play their role, but it was just a phenomenal thing. From the day I started to work with the Africa Groups until the day I left Sweden, Lena Johansson was responsible for liberation movement activities. We saw the expansion and conspired. ‘Conspired’ is a nice word to use in that we sat down and planned our strategy. We had succeeded with this. How far do we now take the cultural dimension? What should be the different phases of that? She could say: ‘If we are going to the women’s front, then minister so-and-so is somebody we should be talking to’. She was in a position to know who were most effective as proponents of women’s positions in the Nordic countries.
But I also have to say, in all honesty, that the Scandinavian men were not behind in that. When I saw the development of the support— which really was phenomenal—I came to the conclusion that it had to with the upbringing of the Scandinavian children. There was a culture of intolerance for ugliness, unfair play and war, and an instinctive desire that came out of a people’s culture for fairness, equality, freedom and peace. It came from men and women from the time they were young.
Let me give an example. I went to a school, I think that it was in Sundsvall, when we were fundraising for the ANC school in Mazimbu. We were just supposed to work with high schools, but one of the teachers asked if I could also talk to the smaller children, because they had a message for me. I went there and on their own the smaller children started fund-raising! I was going there to mobilize the big children, but the smaller ones said: ‘We won't wait for that!’ Then I went to a class to talk to them about South Africa and about children of their age under apartheid. When I finished—I was speaking in English and the teacher was translating—the teacher said: ‘Ask Lindiwe questions if you have some’ and many hands went up. The first question was from a little girl—these kids were eight years old—and her face was really going red: ‘I just want to ask this question: How can people be so wicked?’

Tor Sellström: Do you think that the programmes of cooperation between ANC and the Nordic countries reflected your needs?

Lindiwe Mabuza: Yes, of course. After all, SIDA, NORAD, FINNIDA and DANIDA, had annual meetings amongst themselves and I would think that on their agenda was also the assistance to liberation movements so that there could be a coordinated Nordic approach. The difference, of course, was the size, the amount and the direction. But what was not given by country X was given by another country.
We started with a limited view of what we were doing and that was reflected in the amounts and in the negotiations themselves. But our perspective of what ought to be accommodated grew as we had more people coming out of South Africa to go into schools. We then decided that it could not be an end to send them to foreign countries to finish high school, but that we should build our own school. So education had to come in as a part. At the same time, the school had to be provided with a clinic, so you would also have the health sector coming in. We were forming the departments as we were having increased assistance. The Nordic countries were actually helping us to form the nuclei of the future ministries. It comes out of that. The assistance had to go in accordance with the needs. Some ANC departments got a bigger chunk, because their work was increasing. Their accounting methods were also improved. The responsibility was on us to make sure that to get more assistance everything was legitimate and quantifiable.

Tor Sellström: Could the annual negotiations between ANC and SIDA be described as negotiations between equal partners, where the agenda was set by both parties?

Lindiwe Mabuza: The agenda belonged to both parties. ANC people from the regions of Southern Africa had to come to Lusaka and so did the Swedish counterparts. Everybody contributed to the agenda. I know that SIDA had to be sure that the reporting from the Home Front was accurate. We also needed SIDA’s reports, because we had to have a panoramic view of the entire contribution. It was a negotiation between equal partners. I would also be consulted and so were the other chief representatives of ANC.

Tor Sellström: Do you not think that there were strings attached to the support?

Lindiwe Mabuza: I think that it really would be the height of naïvety to say that there are no strings attached in a contribution. If somebody helps somebody else to be free it is a reflection of the desire of peace for themselves as well. That is a string. I do not believe in altruism. There was also a very real and human desire that should these people be free, it would guarantee peace between South Africa and Sweden or Norway, because we would have established firm bonds of friendship for generations. It was an investment in peace and in freedom for a people, but in unity with other peoples and other countries. I think that that was the kind of string attached to the support.

Tor Sellström: As a poet and a cultural worker you were actively promoting a cultural boycott of South Africa, which perhaps sometimes was more difficult than the economic isolation campaign as you were dependent on cultural outflows from South Africa. How did you experience the Nordic anti-apartheid movement in the cultural field?

Lindiwe Mabuza: When I left Lusaka to work in Scandinavia, one of the things that I discussed with Oliver Tambo was that I had just started the development of a cultural approach which would eventually lead to the formation of a cultural department. We had a cultural committee, which I was heading, and I was excited about that. We had started it in 1977. His response was: ‘Perhaps being the Chief Representative in Sweden gives you more power to do what we have been talking about’. He gave me the authority to continue from that base. Now, one has to constantly bear in mind that in every area, whether it was culture, health, education or politics, for us there was the question of economic engagement in South Africa. There were two sides to one coin, the isolation of apartheid and support to those who were fighting apartheid, and if you had that as a basis there was absolutely no confusion. Even in the area of culture you had to isolate everything that promoted apartheid. You would not have the Drakensberg’s Boys Choir coming to Sweden, but you certainly would have Miriam Makeba, Buwa! or the Gothenburg gala, because all contributed to the isolation of apartheid. Any time people who were not representing apartheid were on stage, that in itself was an attack, but it was also in support of the victims. So, there was never a contradiction.
That also meant that you had to be very vigilant, checking who was doing what, which Swedish performer was going to Sun City and so on. You had to be awake to all these developments, reading the papers, listening. Finally, the artists themselves would call the Africa Groups or the ANC office and say: ‘I have this offer. What should I do?’ It became very easy in a sense. I think that it was more difficult with economic sanctions.
Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland all assisted us in having that enormous cultural manifestation in Gaborone in 1982, where we were able to bring out of South Africa about 800 cultural workers and from around the world about 200 others. There, for the first time, we were able as South African artists to declare that we were going to be active in the cultural boycott. It was the consolidation of a position that was already established, but we were also going to assist the marginalized artists in South Africa through the establishment of a trust fund.
Isolation meant just that, isolation of the reactionary apartheid instruments of oppression and repression and upholding the principle of the right of the people to struggle and to resist. It was manifested in their writings and that is why we did not oppose André Brink’s or Nadine Gordimer’s works coming ine Gordimer’s works coming into the Nordic countries and that is why SIDA promoted a competition among female short story writers in Southern Africa. ANC participated in that and won. But, all of this supposed daily work, where you reached out to different artistic or cultural expressions in the Nordic countries. Once you had succeeded in doing that, it became easy. Thus, after all the years developing these various structures it would just explode in the cultural gala for ANC in Gothenburg in November 1985.
Similarly, after years and years of mobilizing in the schools, you would have explosions of support for the SOMAFCO school, such as the teachers’ organisation establishing a teachers’ block and the Swedish students establishing a laboratory. Apartheid denied science to the black children, but the Swedish pupils said that the first thing that we must build was a science block. There were all the time answers to the bankrupt philosophy of apartheid. In every sphere, including the cultural field through Buwa! and the efforts by South African mega artists like Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, who said: ‘Let us get the professionals together and see if we cannot as one voice say that we also are part of this mainstream assaulting the walls of apartheid’.
With Swedish funds we also had cooperation between ANC and Zimbabwean artists, that is, artists of a liberation movement and artists of a free country. They came to Sweden under the auspices of ANC, the Africa Groups and the Zimbabwean embassy. It was a recognition of ANC as a government in waiting. There was no alternative to ANC. What the regime and its allies were doing was always to try to push an alternative. But the hard work of the people of Scandinavia and of the ANC offices in Scandinavia meant that we created a climate that was impenetrable by any voice that was contrary to ours.

Tor Sellström: But in Zimbabwe—and partly also in Norway—there were alternative voices trying to compete with you. I am thinking of PAC.

Lindiwe Mabuza: We never questioned any government for recognizing PAC. We just had to deal with our own position. We were doing a function and doing it seriously, putting everything into that. The best brains of South Africa were going into that. The energy of South Africa was going into that. The ethics, the convictions and the commitments were going into that. We were not compromising our positions through corruption. It was very important that the leadership was most credible. They had to sacrifice a lot to maintain their credibility. They had to be seen in the eyes of the donor community as good and dependable allies, as very committed people and not just as people mouthing words of commitment. People who were ready to give and actually gave their lives and their time completely and totally to that commitment. It was in the performance of the liberation movements that other countries judged who they wanted to help.
When I arrived in Scandinavia, the allocation for ANC and PAC from Norway was around four million Norwegian Kroner. We were treated as equal. But we were not equal! They later corrected their position and by 1987—when I was getting ready to leave—I think that the allocation to ANC had reached some 45 million Norwegian Kroner. So, people were able to judge by our performance. I know that even within some of the Nordic governments there were voices that said: ‘You cannot put all your eggs in one basket’. Well, they put their eggs in different baskets and the eggs broke when the baskets fell, except the ANC basket.

Tor Sellström: Do you feel that the importance of culture, sports etc. as weapons in the anti-apartheid struggle was duly recognized at the political level in the Nordic countries?

Lindiwe Mabuza: I think so, without any qualifications. One of the first things that I did following the dictum of President Oliver Tambo was to use my position to push this. In that way, I was able to convince the Nordic countries to bring Amandla there. By that time, Amandla was not even formed! It was a notion. Once they said yes, I painted the concept that it was an ANC cultural group that would perform on stage and win the people in Scandinavia. When that was accepted by the Africa Groups, Fellesrådet in Norway, the Africa Committee in Finland and the Danish solidarity movement, we built Amandla.
We built this cultural ensemble from our base in Angola, which was associated with the military. This shows the dynamics. When we built that group we said: ‘Where do we find the people who are sufficiently disciplined and organized?’ We went to the military camps, where the culture of South Africa continued to thrive. The culture of liberation. The soldiers were writing liberation songs and liberation poems, motivating their military perspective through culture. Amandla was organized there, but to form Amandla we needed to start from zero. They did not have any instruments. They did not have uniforms and we did not have the money to bring them to Europe. Once the four Nordic countries said yes, we went to Holland, because there was a strong antiapartheid movement there. We also went to Germany. It was these six countries. I started in 1979, but in 1980 we were already able to bring Amandla. The second tour was in 1983. By 1983 they were nearly professional.
What happened was that the creativity of our soldiers came out. They created the script. They were able to explain the formation of ANC and what had happened in the different phases of our struggle. This was the best bullet we had, because where you did not convince people with your political argument Amandla did that in two hours. It was graphic. It was for everybody to hear and see. It was for people to end up saying ‘I am stupid if I do not understand this’. It was happening in Scandinavia, but it was also happening in South Africa, where they were hearing about the achievement. The people in South Africa were inspired by the liberation movement outside. And we were inspired by their efforts, for example when the play Woza Albert became an international success.

Tor Sellström: The political leadership in the Nordic countries understood the importance of this?

Lindiwe Mabuza: They appreciated it more than we can tell, because it was not the bullet. We were strengthening their hand when it came to dealing with other countries. Because the Nordic governments acted on our behalf within the international community at various fora. They did not have to defend us. They would just explain why they were doing things in a certain way, which in itself offered the best defence for what we were doing and why they were assisting us.

Tor Sellström: So they broadened your international contacts and opened up diplomatic space for ANC?

Lindiwe Mabuza: Of course! Also in the Nordic countries. Amandla was seen by ambassadors from other countries and they were sending reports to their own governments: ‘Here are the Swedes at it again. This time it is on the cultural front’. Which government was to say that Sweden was doing something wrong by assisting us in that way?
Culture was a weapon in the struggle, but it was more than that. Culture was the best way of talking about the soul of the people, the feelings of the people. The irrepressible desire for freedom and the infectious hope for liberation. Through culture we were injecting our sensitivities into the audience. Whoever was part of that felt that their decision to support us was correct.

Tor Sellström: Over the years there has been a close relationship between South Africa and the Nordic countries in the cultural field. For example, in the late 1950s there was the defection of the band The Golden City Dixies from Cape Town in Sweden.

Lindiwe Mabuza: Yes. Peter Radise was one of those and there were others. I cannot remember all the names, but I do remember how in the late 1950s—I remember it as if it was yesterday; reading the newspapers—Swedish artists went to meet Miriam Makeba at the airport. They had created Miriam Makeba hats and welcomed her, because she was an artist who represented the politics that they supported. It was always there.

Tor Sellström: You were close to both Oliver Tambo and Olof Palme. How would you describe the relationship between the South African and the Swedish leader?

Lindiwe Mabuza: The picture that comes to my mind is the opening of the Swedish People’s Parliament Against Apartheid, where both Olof Palme and Oliver Tambo were the key spokespersons. There Palme said: ‘If the world decides today that apartheid goes, apartheid would go’. He had taken his position. It was brave for a political leader to say that the responsibility was with the world. He was endorsing the principles of the People’s Parliament Against Apartheid, which was that the people of Sweden had decided that sanctions was the way to go. He agreed. A week later, he was killed. We have no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that he played a leading role in Scandinavia, within the Social Democratic movement in Scandinavia and within the Socialist International.
We have to say that the most phenomenal thing about the Nordic support is that it came from all parties. However, the ruling parties had for a long time been the Social Democratic parties. They broke the ground. I think that the relations between Oliver Tambo and Olof Palme determined how far and how. I have never known two leaders from two parts of the world being so much like brothers in the struggle. Look at the pictures from that day! Look at the way they are looking at each other! As ANC chief representative I have been in meetings with the two and privileged to hear secrets being exchanged: ‘Which front should we try to deal with? Which country could then be approached? How, as a liberation movement, should you be going about this?’ I know.
I also know of the presentations at the United Nations to influence other countries. They would sometimes say: ‘Oh, those Swedish do-gooders’, but it was because it was pricking their conscience. They would try to undermine Sweden, but it did not work. Instead, their own people were to follow. The American public rose up against Congress and Congress overrode a presidential veto. The Nordics had been doing that. It had grown within the United Nations, the international church community, the international labour movement and the entire democratic world.
It was one thing to get support from Brezhnev and the Communist parties in the world. We did get that, without any strings, and it was highly appreciated. But it was a different thing to get support from a member of the international community that was not Communist and that believed in the things that Reagan also believed in and who had the power—because of the successes in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe—to know that we could win in South Africa as well. The significance of Olof Palme was also that he sometimes—when we were not able to deal with a sensitive situation—because of his own credibility as co-participant in the struggle could say what we could not say. I have the example of a meeting held in Arusha, Tanzania, with the Frontline States over the question of the Nkomati Accord between Mozambique and South Africa. We had made our statement and President Nyerere had said that ANC should have been more firm. Our approach was that South Africa was interested in a Constellation of States and that the Nkomati Accord meant that Mozambique was participating in that. Palme just said to the late President Machel of Mozambique: ‘How could you?’
What Palme was saying was that the Swedish assistance was about restoring Mozambique’s dignity. Now they were on their knees.
The accord had nothing to do with what Sweden had been assisting, that is, the liberation of Mozambique so that they could be able to stand on their own. In other words, where he could have been interpreted as arrogant, negative and too critical of a brother or a sister, Palme could assert a principle without fear of being attacked as a racist, a white Swede, who was interfering in African affairs. He was seen as a partner in the enterprise of liberation.
Tambo was most privileged to have met Palme just before his assassination. Two weeks later he was back to bury his friend and brother. The Delmas prisoners in South Africa then sent a statement of condolence through Birgitta Karlström Dorph at the Swedish legation in Pretoria. We were sitting there with the new Prime Minister, Ingvar Carlsson, when he pulled it out of his inside pocket and said: ‘Mr President, we are so moved and proud of our relationship with you. See what your people have done on this occasion’. He read the statement. They had all signed it. I think that that tells you in nutshell.