The Nordic Africa Institute

Lotta Jonsson

ISAK, The Left Party

The interview was held by Bertil Högberg on 10 December 2005.

Jonsson became a member of the board of the Isolate South Africa Committee (ISAK) as a representative of the Young Communist League (YCL) at the start of the organisation. She was responsible for international questions. Jonsson was also a member of an international committee on isolate South Africa and the national board of YCL.
Examples of activities are a campaign against SAS flights to South Africa, street theatres in the centre of Stockholm, boycott campaigns against different shops selling fruits from South Africa and many more things. Jonsson also organised the People’s Parliament against Apartheid in 1986. In her role as international secretary of the international committee she organized big international conferences together with other anti-apartheid movements from Europe to discuss common strategies concerning boycotts and kept regular contact with various anti-apartheid organisations all over the world.

Bertil Högberg: Okay it is 10 December 2005 and I am sitting in Oxölösund with Lotta Jonsson Fornarve and my first question to you is how and when did you become involved in the support for the liberation of Southern Africa?

Lotta Jonsson: It was when I became a member of ISAC's Board, the Isolate South Africa Committee, as a representative of the Young Communist League (YCL). I was there nearly from the beginning.

Bertil Högberg: But had you been involved in anything with Southern Africa before?

Lotta Jonsson: No I hadn't, no. It was completely new.

Bertil Högberg: And how did you find joining the board of ISAC?

Lotta Jonsson: Exciting and important and I was also active in ISAC Stockholm, the local ISAC group.

Bertil Högberg: And what was your position in the YCL?

Lotta Jonsson: I was responsible for international questions in Stockholm. I was also a member of an international committee and the national board of YCL.

Bertil Högberg: Do you have any special memories from these first years of ISAC.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes, I mainly remember the different activities that we did in Stockholm. For example we were involved in a campaign against SAS flights to South Africa, we organised some street theatres in the centre of Stockholm that were really exciting. We also organized boycott campaigns against different shops selling fruits from South Africa.

Bertil Högberg: Which were the other organizations that were active in the Stockolm ISAC.

Lotta Jonsson: That was the local Africa Groups, the peace committee, the young communist league and the, who else? I can't remember really

Bertil Högberg: Any of the Church groups?

Lotta Jonsson: I am not sure.

Bertil Högberg: Other political youth movements?

Lotta Jonsson: Maybe SSU a little bit but the three main ones were the Africa Groups and the Young Communist League and the Peace Committee at that time.

Bertil Högberg: And you remained on the board for how long?

Lotta Jonsson: For many years until '85 or '86, somewhere there because I started to work at ISAC as an international officer and I was also organizing the People’s Parliament against Apartheid.

Bertil Högberg: So were you on the organizing committee for that?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes. That was at the beginning of '86 and I started to work with it at the end of '85 or somewhere there. And then I continued to work as an international secretary after that.

Bertil Högberg: What was your role as international secretary?

Lotta Jonsson: First it was to organize big international conferences together with other anti-apartheid movements mainly from Europe to discuss a common strategy concerning boycotts and other things, mainly boycott campaigns and then also to keep regular contact with different anti-apartheid organisations all over the world.

Bertil Högberg: Which were the main contacts you had?

Lotta Jonsson: It was mainly with Europe, Britain and of course the different Scandinavian countries.

Bertil Högberg: Which were the Scandinavian orgaisations?

Lotta Jonsson: In Norway we had Fellerådet för det Sörlige Afrika and the Namibia Committee and in Finland we had something called ELAC it stands for Isolate South-Africa Committee or something like that if you translate it and then it was the South Africa Committee in Denmark and some other organizations.

Bertil Högberg: WUS?

Lotta Jonsson: WUS for example yes. It was mainly the South-Africa committee but there were some others as well. We had very close cooperation within the Nordic anti-apartheid movements.

Bertil Högberg: How often did you meet?

Lotta Jonsson: Two, three times per year. Then we also had regular telephone and telefax and so on contacts.

Bertil Högberg: Were you also running joint campaigns?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes we were. Yes, for example that campaign that I mentioned in the beginning, the boycott campaign against SAS.

Bertil Högberg: Because that airline was jointly owned by Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Lotta Jonsson: Exactly, so that was a joint campaign. Most of the campaigns were more international that we were involved in but then we discussed them in a sort of Nordic cooperation. But we also tried to influence and to put pressure on the Nordic politicians and mainly the foreign ministers when they had their meetings.

Bertil Högberg: In the Nordic Council.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes, so we always tried to have something when they had their meetings. It could be some statements or something that we wanted to push for.

Bertil Högberg: On the more European scene?

Lotta Jonsson: The British and the Dutch, the Holland Committee on Southern Africa and I would say most of the European countries had anti-apartheid groups and we met regularly....(interruption)

Bertil Högberg: Which were the main campaigns that were run on the international level?

Lotta Jonsson: We had of course the Shell campaign, the boycott against the oil company Shell is an international one and then we had the campaigns concerning political prisoners. We also tried to put pressure on some of the governments that were sort of blocking the boycott, particularly the British and the American governments. And we also had the bank campaigns against loans to South Africa that were internationally organized. It was also important to exchange information and exchange experiences around different campaigns etc. that we were running at a national level and then we could learn from each other and copy campaigns. We spent a lot of time discussing a common strategy and of course it was, the main thing was the mandatory and comprehensive sanctions campaigns and then we could of course decide how to organize them at a national level. It could differ a little bit.

Bertil Högberg: Visitors from South Africa were important. Did you also coordinate and share visitors among the different countries.

Lotta Jonsson: Not so much but it happened.

Bertil Högberg: What about cultural tours?

MS JONSSON: Yes I was very much involved in that. The cultural boycott was of course very important and that was also something that we worked with at an international level. The cultural and the sports boycott. But we also invited the cultural artists from Southern Africa to tour in Sweden and it happened sometimes that they even toured in neighbouring countries.

Bertil Högberg: Can you mention some important ones?

Lotta Jonsson: One of the early ones was, but that was, I wasn't that much involved in that one, that was the Amandla tours. This was the ANC cultural tour.
That was organized by the Africa Groups. There was also an involvement by other organizations at local levels so I remember the second one from when they were in Stockholm. Then I also organized tours with for example a group called Tananas and they were touring all over Sweden a couple of times.

Bertil Högberg: There was also an organisation called Artists Against Apartheid.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes and they were members of ISAC and they organized a lot of cultural activities in Stockholm and even in other places in other towns.

Bertil Högberg: Was it they that took the initiative for the Cape (North) to Cape cultural relay?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes it was, more or less. I think it was some kind of result of Artists Against Apartheid's work, but it wasn't exactly organized by them. It was a project, I think it was mainly linked to the Africa Groups but ISAC was also a little bit involved.

Bertil Högberg: It was diffucult to distinguish who was behind what activities.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes exactly we cooperated a lot, ISAC and the Africa Groups concerning cultural activities and then of course we organized a lot of big concerts for fund raising mainly.

Bertil Högberg: And now when we have mentioned the Africa Groups, how did you see the relationship between ISAC and the Africa Groups?

Lotta Jonsson: You can say the Africa Groups were kind of the engine in the anti-apartheid work. They took the initiative to build ISAC and they were also very active in ISAC's work as one of the main members.

Bertil Högberg: When it comes to relations to the liberation movements, were you involved in keeping those up?

Lotta Jonsson: All of us were involved of course but I was very much involved with keeping up the contacts with the ANC mainly but also with Swapo. We worked very closely with them especially when it came to cultural events and so on.

Bertil Högberg: Were there difficulties of any kind in the relations between ISAC and the liberation movements?

Lotta Jonsson: No, no I don't think so. One of our members, the liberal youth, had a little bit of a problem sometimes. I think it was mainly politically that they saw the ANC and Swapo as too radical.

Bertil Högberg: It was also around the Shell boycott.

Lotta Jonsson: Also around the Shell boycott, yes that's true.

Bertil Högberg: The Shell boycott was one of the conflicts within ISAC. Were there any other things that resulted in internal discussions?

Lotta Jonsson: Not very many, no I think those two are the main ones, the Shell campaign, that was a difficult one.

Bertil Högberg: Is there any particular visit of people from southern Africa that you remember.

Lotta Jonsson: Of course Nelson Mandela's visit and the other leaders.

Bertil Högberg: The leaders when they were released from prison. You were involved in organizing their reception.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes I was, it was marvellous, I can't describe it.

Bertil Högberg: Are there any of these persons that you met over the years that you kept contact with?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes Abdul Minty I had contact with him but I lost it recently and Lindiwe, I had contact with her, the ANC Rep, Lindiwe Mabusa, she is in London now as the South African High Comissioner.

Bertil Högberg: Abdul Minty was for a long time Deputy Director General in the Foreign Office in Pretoria. Anyone else?

Lotta Jonsson: And who else? Except the people in Sweden of course, no not so many, it is sad really.

Bertil Högberg: Talking about the people in Sweden, there were some South Africans living in Sweden how much did they participate in the campaigning, I mean apart from the ANC office of course?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes quite a lot especially concerning cultural events since there were quite a lot of them who were musicians and they participated when we organized events around the ANC for fund raising etc. They were quite involved. The ANC office also tried to involve them in different activities but not so much in the daily anti-apartheid work. We had some who were members.

Bertil Högberg: You worked all the way up to the closing of ISAC didn’t you?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes I did.

Bertil Högberg: So you followed the whole development from the beginning of the 80s

Lotta Jonsson: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: Can you describe some of the stages that the organization went through?

Lotta Jonsson: When we started in the 70s we were mainly concentrating on the (Swedish), campaigns against investments, that was our concentration in the beginning and also campaigns against the import of fruits and then when the law was...

Bertil Högberg: Which law, you mean on investments?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes the investment law.

Bertil Högberg: That was passed in '79.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes that was passed then. So then we concentrated more on the consumers’ boycott.

Bertil Högberg: What was this consumers’ boycott, about?

Lotta Jonsson: It was mainly against fruits from South-Africa

Bertil Högberg: And what were the activities?

Lotta Jonsson: We were trying to put pressure on the importers not to buy fruits from South Africa and we also tried to put pressure directly on the consumers not to buy fruits from South Africa, distributing leaflets etc. stickers.

Bertil Högberg: You worked with local councils as well?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes we did, yes that's true.

Bertil Högberg: How successful were you in those things? Did you manage to stop South African fruits or goods coming into Sweden?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes finally we got a law.

Bertil Högberg: Yes but not without the law?

Lotta Jonsson: I think the law was a result of our work but, we also managed to get some importers to stop buying like the cooperative movement. So we succeeded partly but not completely. We needed a law but as I said the law was a result of our work, absolutely.

Bertil Högberg: And when you started to work at ISAC, how many were you in the office?

Lotta Jonsson: We were three when I started.

Bertil Högberg: And when ISAC was at its peak around '94, how many were you then in the office?

Lotta Jonsson: I think we were, six or seven, depending on how you count. It had grown constantly.

Bertil Högberg: Now if you look at the activities of your organization the YCL what did you do within the organization?Lotta Jonsson: t was like everybody else I think. We tried to distribute the campaigns within the organizations and we also asked our local groups to take active part in local ISAC groups. But yes we were trying to run the different campaigns within the organization, distributing it through the organization.

Bertil Högberg: Did you run any fund raising campaigns on your own within the organization for the ANC for example?

Lotta Jonsson: I think we did once but we were mainly joining the ISAC campaigns. I remember clearly that we had a campaign for Angola once.

Bertil Högberg: Were there any other highlights or experiences you recall?

Lotta Jonsson: Some of the international conferences. For example some conferences organized by the UN. The UN had a special committee, the UN Committee Against Apartheid and they organized consultations once or twice every year with the different anti-apartheid groups all over the world. Once I was representing the Nordic Groups in New York and that was quite amazing. And they counted us as one of the biggest or largest anti-apartheid groups in the world.

Bertil Högberg: Your were highly regarded there

Lotta Jonsson: Yes we were and I mean that was a fact, we were one of the five largest anti-apartheid groups in the world.

Bertil Högberg: And you said in the beginning that you were involved in organizing international conferences.How many did you have on Swedish soil?

Lotta Jonsson: We had about two or three I think organized by ourselves but then we were involved in some other international conferences, cooperation with other organizations who were working with southern Africa. But most of the international gatherings were in western Europe, often in Geneva or Brussels because of the close link to the UN and European Union.

Bertil Högberg: How did you see the role of the cultural activities within ISAC?

Lotta Jonsson: The cultural activities were sort of an engine in the local work as I see it. When we had those tours, we were always linking them to some campaigns and at the same time they were doing fund raising and spreading information and culture from the area. So they were very important for the local groups to mobilize around.

Bertil Högberg: There were a lot of Swedish choirs and groups that were singing South African Freedom songs, were you involved in promoting that?

Lotta Jonsson: A little bit, a little bit. We had for example some national gatherings, cultural gatherings when people participated from different areas, singing together and dancing etc. and I was a bit involved in that but that was mainly the Africa Groups' responsibility. Then also one had at Globen when we organized a big concert for Mandela. We had 350 persons from different choirs singing freedom songs. That was marvellous.

Bertil Högberg: And you could have had more artists.

Lotta Jonsson: Oh yes, oh yes. We really tried to squeeze in as many as possible but that was, we couldn't, we couldn't take more, that was a little more than we should have.

Bertil Högberg: Yes because everyone wanted to participate.

Lotta Jonsson: Everyone wanted to participate, absolutely.

Bertil Högberg: What would you think that they meant, these cultural tours and events?

Lotta Jonsson: They inspired people really and helped pople to identify with the struggle and it helped us to build bridges to increase the interest. The culture as such was also often political in one way or another.

Bertil Högberg: Many of these activities were in different places in Sweden. How many local ISAC Committees were there? Do you have an idea?

Lotta Jonsson: I wasn't working at that myself but we had a lot of them, I guess 50, maybe 60 or something like that. It is hard to say because they came and went. Some of them were very, very strong and very well organized with many local organizations and so on. Some of them were more temporary. But there were really a lot of activities at local level.

Bertil Högberg: What would you say was the main effect of the work of ISAC? What did ISAC achieve?

Lotta Jonsson: I do think that we helped to abolish apartheid, we contributed a little bit and we managed to put pressure on the parliament and the government to enact the laws on boycott. That was a result of ISAC’s work absolutely and we also managed to keep up the support to the ANC.

Bertil Högberg: What do you mean with keep it up?

Lotta Jonsson: There the government wanted at some stage to cut the aid to the ANC.

Bertil Högberg: Was that when we had a change of government?

Lotta Jonsson: Yes exactly it was a bourgeois government at that time. And we were putting pressure, political pressure on the government and parliament and I think we managed to keep up the government support for the ANC.

Bertil Högberg: If you look at what happened after '94 what was the role of ISAC in the last couple of years when boycotts were no longer an issue.

Lotta Jonsson: It was mainly to build up sort of a communication between Sweden and South-Africa. Between organizations in Sweden and South-Africa, sort of friendship links to build up some kind of exchange.

Bertil Högberg: How did you organise that?

Lotta Jonsson: We organised delegations that went down to South-Africa. They were doing some research to try to find possible links. It could be organisations, schools etc.

Bertil Högberg: And what happened to those? Was there anything established that lasted?

Lotta Jonsson: I don't know really, I think so but unfortunately not as much as we were expecting. I think more could have been done.

Bertil Högberg: And then when victory was there, elections were held in '94. What about ISAC then?

Lotta Jonsson: Well then ISAC had done its work I'd say, so we had to “close shop”.

Bertil Högberg: And it was as simple as that?

Lotta Jonsson: I left, I wasn't involved in the work after that so I didn't follow it that closely but there was an attempt to build a new structure, a network to develop the contacts between the different organizations who had been involved in the struggle earlier. That organisation still exists.

Bertil Högberg: Network Southern Africa

Lotta Jonsson: So that was a continuation of ISAC I can say. But I think we could have done more to keep up the fantastic marvellous work that we had done.

Bertil Högberg: The ISAC work was very much focused on South Africa but Namibia and SWAPO were also part of the agenda. How would you describe the work you were doing for Namibia and SWAPO?

Lotta Jonsson: We were doing fund raising for SWAPO and we were also organising cultural events, trying to distribute information and we were always talking about a boycott against South Africa and Namibia as long as it was needed. I think Namibia was sort of a part of South Africa nearly in a way. We had a delegation to Namibia just after the liberation and after the democratic elections too, when we tried to inform ourselves about the situation and also to make contacts with the different organizations etc.

Bertil Högberg: Okay is there anything else that you have remembered, a special event or something that has left lasting impressions with you?

Lotta Jonsson: The big thing was of course the concert with Nelson Mandela. Another important international event that took place was when I went on a mission with Mr Abdul Minty who was then the chairperson of an organisation based in Oslo that was monitoring arms and nuclear military collaboration with South-Africa. We were representing the whole anti-apartheid movement in Europe and the rest of the world. And our task was to go to some of the East European countries. We went to Czechoslovakia at that time and Poland and Hungary, yes those three. And met with the governments and organisations and political parties and we were trying to inform them about our work and also to lobby for a continuing boycott against South-Africa because we had received signals that they were planning to start dealing with South-Africa before apartheid was completely abolished and it was still important to keep up the pressure.

Bertil Högberg: This must have been at the beginning of the nineties?

Lotta Jonsson: It was in April 1991, just after the democratisation of those countries.

Bertil Högberg: They were trying to do everything in the opposite way to the old regimes.

Lotta Jonsson: Yes exactly that was the thing, they saw that everything that the old governments had done, was wrong in a way. So they wanted to open up and take up new contacts etc. and also contact with South-Africa.

Bertil Högberg: What was the result?

Lotta Jonsson: It was very positive. We really managed to meet with the governments at high level, foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers and we also met with the main political parties in the different countries and with some of the main NGOs, and had very good discussions with them. We also had information about what we were doing in our countries and they were really interested and they were very, very good meetings. And then we went and reported to an international conference organised by AWEPA, the Association of West European Parliamentarians against Apartheid.