Falu Africa Group and Dala-ISAC
In the late 1970´s, Monica Lindh became involved in the local Africa groups in Falun, Sweden. Later she was also one of the people who established the regional ISAC in the province of Dalarna. Here she tells us about the activities that were done by these local groups, together with other organisations. She also tells us about the work on a national level, as well as her experiences from working in South Africa in the 1990’s.
Bertil Högberg: Today is 3 December 2005 and I am sitting in Falun with Monica Lindh. How and when did you become involved with solidarity work for Southern Africa?
Monica Lindh: Well that was a very long time ago. Around 1975 I heard about the Africa Groups for the very first time. But I only got involved around 1979/1980. One of the Swedish volunteers in Mozambique came to a meeting in Falun and told us about the solidarity work. I got interested and joined the newly established Falu Africa Group. So I've been actively involved since 1980.
Bertil Högberg: Was that when the Falu Africa Group was established?
Monica Lindh: No, the Falu Africa Group had already been established in 1979 and had organized that meeting. I just came there to listen. A list was circulated where those interested to learn more could sign up. Several of us got interested and we started what we call a “study circle” to learn more about Southern Africa.
Bertil Högberg: And did you use that book that the Africa Groups produced "The Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa"?
Monica Lindh: Yes, it was a very tough course. I think we had about 15 to 20 meetings, and at that time we were about 20 people at each meeting. We read the book, had homework and discussed all the topics. After the course, if one had been a good student, one could apply for membership of the local Africa Group. I remember that I was a little bit nervous. Maybe I hadn't been studying well enough to be accepted as a member. But fortunately I was accepted and I was very happy to join the Falu Africa Group.
Bertil Högberg: I think that is how it was, at least in the 1970s in most groups but these very strict regulations slowly disappeared at the beginning of the 1980s. How many members were you in the Falu Africa Group in those years?
Monica Lindh: I think we must have been about 30 active members, maybe even more.
Bertil Högberg: Were they only from Falun?
Monica Lindh: I think so, a lot of teachers and health workers.
Bertil Högberg: Can you say what type of city Falun is and how big it is.
Monica Lindh: Nowadays it has about 55,000 inhabitants. At that time I think it was close to 50,000. Falun is about 250 kilometres north-west of Stockholm. It is an administrative town, with some small industrial companies, a big hospital, and it used to have a college for training of teachers. Many of the people that joined the Falu Africa Group at that time were either nurses, doctors or other health professionals, or they were teachers.
Bertil Högberg: What were the activities of the Falu Africa Group in those years?
Monica Lindh: It was important for us to know more about what was going on. In 1980 Zimbabwe got its independence and I remember that that was a big thing. Another task was to raise money and we used to ask for donations from people passing in the streets. I'm a little unsure but I think we already had such activities in 1980.
Bertil Högberg: What did you collect money for?
Monica Lindh: We needed to collect money for the ANC and for SWAPO. And to spread information about what was going on in Southern Africa.
Bertil Högberg: And how did you do that?
Monica Lindh: Well, we wrote lots of letters to editors, to newspapers, to question different things. We got invited to schools to speak to students. We were out in the streets having public meetings, campaigning; we were very much involved in the boycott campaign…
Bertil Högberg: Did you also sell the magazine there, the Africa Bulletin…
Monica Lindh: Yes, yes we used to sell the Africa Bulletin in the streets. Every month we got about 20 copies which we had to sell. Sometimes we managed, sometimes it was a bit difficult. It was also very important to try to convince the cooperative shops and other local shops to boycott South African goods, not to sell fruits from South Africa. Every year at the annual meeting of the consumers’ cooperative we proposed them to stop selling South African products. We made sure that one of the Falu Africa Group members, who was also a member of the cooperative movement, attended and talked on behalf of us. It was very, very difficult. At first they said no to our proposal but gradually, we managed to change their position. Something we often did was to collect clothes and other goods to send to refugee camps in Southern Africa.
Bertil Högberg: Which organization did you cooperate with to send the clothes?
Monica Lindh: “The Bread and Fishes” in Västerås. We used to have a campaign, sometimes twice a year, for two or three weekends plus a few days during the week. We advertised in the papers and people brought us clothes which we packed and sent to “The Bread and Fishes”. Once a year members of Falu Africa Group went to Västerås to help “The Bread and Fishes” to sort the clothes. This campaign was a very good way of getting publicity and becoming known in Falun, and we got a lot of support from and contact with the local people. When Falu Africa Group was mentioned, some people linked us to the collection of clothes.
Bertil Högberg: Did you have any ISAC group locally here in Falun?
Monica Lindh: Yes we established one but that was later on in 1986.
Bertil Högberg: The campaign around the boycott, was that done under the name of the Falu Africa Group?
Monica Lindh: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: Did you have any cooperation with other organizations that on the national level were part of ISAC and that you worked together with here in Falun before the establishment of ISAC?
Monica Lindh: We did collaborate with local organizations and organize campaigns, for instance one that was organized by the Falu Africa Group in conjunction with the Sharpeville Day. We used to light a fire at the main square in Falun where we had speeches, sometimes singing, and distribution of pamphlets. People from different organizations joined and helped guarding the fire. Sometimes the fire was on for 24 hours and at least two people would stand there for one hour or two hours each. And some people had to check the fire from 2.00 a.m. until 4.00 a.m.! So we did collaborative work long before Dala-ISAC was established.
Bertil Högberg: Can you remember which organizations?
Monica Lindh: Political parties for instance the left communist party, a local environmental group which was also selling food and other goods from Southern Africa and the local UN organization.
Bertil Högberg: What about the churches?
Monica Lindh: Yes, I think so too. As far as I can remember they became involved before Dala-ISAC was established. We also used to have a special week, a national week for Southern Africa with local activities.
Bertil Högberg: That was in October every year, wasn't it?
Monica Lindh: Yes I think so. We used to have one week of activities in October and one week in March to commemorate the Sharpeville Day. Our campaign for collecting clothes was usually in April/May and sometimes also in September/October, when the people wanted to get rid of their old clothes and buy new ones for the season.
Bertil Högberg: Then you started Dala-ISAC. What was your role at first and what was your role within the local Africa Group in those years?
Monica Lindh: Initially I was an ordinary member of the Falu Africa Group, then the chairperson for some years, and later on a member of its board. So I had different roles over the years.
Bertil Högberg: Who took the initiative to form Dala-ISAC?
Monica Lindh: Well, we the local Africa Group organized a few national activities like a summer camp for members and supporters of the Africa Groups. People from all over Sweden took part. We also organized national Africa Group-meetings that were held in Falun. When it came to the establishment of Dala-ISAC, “the People's Parliament Against Apartheid” held in Stockholm in February 1986, became important. In May 1986 the Falu Africa Group held a seminar in Falun for local people representing different organizations in “The Peoples Parliament”. And we discussed how we might be stronger in the work against apartheid if we joined up to form an umbrella organization in our region. We decided to create a working committee of four people. It was myself on behalf of the Falu Africa Group, and Henry Blid, I think he was on behalf of the teachers and the Brunnsvik Folk High School. Then it was Sigge Nivong, a teacher at the Folk High School in Borlänge, representing the churches and the UN-organization if I remember correctly. The fourth person was a woman. Unfortunately I can't remember her name right now or what she represented. The working committee drew up some plans, and in September 1986 we held a workshop in Borlänge at the Folk-High School. Various organizations and people from the liberation movements were invited. Nilo Taapopi took part on behalf of SWAPO, Namibia, and there was also someone on behalf of the ANC. That was the launch of the Dala-ISAC, the regional umbrella organization of the Isolate South Africa Committee. At the beginning I think we were about 15 - 20 member organizations. At the peak we were close to 40 member organizations representing a wide range of local or regional organizations like trade unions, political parties, the youth wing of political parties, the women's wing of political parties. There were peace organizations, church organizations and many others. We had a board of about six, seven members and we had a lot of activities.
Bertil Högberg: Can you mention some of the more important activities you had?
Monica Lindh: Dala-ISAC was established in 1986 and the following year in January 1987 was the 75th anniversary of the ANC. We organised a very big event in Borlänge, a town close to Falun. We invited the ANC and Mendi Msimang came We had an ANC choir and a lot of local musicians.
Bertil Högberg: The ANC Choir, was that…
Monica Lindh: The ANC Riot Squad Choir.
Bertil Högberg: It came from where?
Monica Lindh: Well, Mendi Msimang came straight from Lusaka where he was based at that time. He told us that when he left Lusaka, it was about plus 30-35 degrees and when he arrived here it was minus 25-27. Later on the same evening it was close to minus 30. So he experienced a change in temperature of 60 degrees in 24 hours. The ANC had asked us to be very strict about safety and security. We did contact the local police beforehand, and told them that we needed some safety and security measures to be taken as there were some very prominent people coming. They told us it wasn’t necessary. Then suddenly the police changed their mind. And a police escort followed my car around for that entire day and evening because they realized we had to be careful. I can't remember what had happened but it was something very special.
Bertil Högberg: There was an incident, that the ANC office was bombed.
Monica Lindh: It could have been.
Bertil Högberg: Because I remember that, after the 75 year party in Stockholm I was driving around with Lindiwe looking out for a certain car. She didn't dare to go home because there had been a strange car outside her office.
Monica Lindh: But in this case something had happened in Borlänge that changed everything. Anyway, we had a lot of activities, big celebrations! And what was fascinating was that everyone was contributing. The school children made drawings which they exhibited. There were traditional musicians from our county that played fiddles dressed in the traditional clothes, and a group of traditional dancers. We had prominent local jazz musicians and other musicians as well. There were speakers, the local politicians took part, and we had fund-raising. It was a huge event!
Every year Dala-ISAC had many campaigns and we organized seminars andworkshops etc. Naturally we had a lot of campaigns concerning the boycott. We contacted the local radio stations and asked them not to play music by certain musicians. That was very tricky, at first they refused and then suddenly things started to change. We also voiced a lot of complaints against the Shell oil company with picketing activities outside their fuel stations, standing there saying to people “Please don't buy your petrol here, go to the next one” and so on. And we continued with the commemoration of the Sharpeville massacre with the fire in the main square, which I mentioned earlier.
Bertil Högberg: The slogan for that campaign if I remember correctly was "Light the fire under your anger" or something, or "Fire up your anger".
Monica Lindh: We also had a special campaign about four weeks before Christmas at the time of “Advent” when we usually drink a certain hot drink called “Glögg”. The campaign was called "Glögg against Apartheid". We approached people who were strolling in the streets looking at all the fancy things for sale and offered them “Glögg” for free. While they drank the hot liquid we tried to inform them about what was happening in Southern Africa and especially in South Africa. We also distributed pamphlets; and we held speeches etc.
In addition, we organized many seminars and workshops to educate others, and ourselves where representatives from the ANC office and the SWAPO office were invited. And we had a lot of visitors from Southern Africa. Some came from South Africa, where they were actively involved in for instance COSATU or in the Student Youth Organizations like Patrick Flusk from SAYCO. Many people from within South Africa were working more or less underground. We held public meetings, tours and visits to schools and other places. We also had several visitors from Lusaka because of the collaboration between Sweden and the ANC in Lusaka that helped with the education on local democracy and community development. All together there were seven or eight groups of about eight to ten people coming from Lusaka. They spent three months in Sweden and each group spent the first few weeks at Brunnsvik's Folk High School. We tried to have a meeting and activities with each group. So we met a lot of visitors. Some of them stayed in Borlänge for the whole period. Others went to other parts of Sweden.
Bertil Högberg: You mentioned you had musicians for this jubilee; did you have other activities where South African musicians were performing?
Monica Lindh: Yes there were lots of cultural activities. Even before the Dala-ISAC was established, we had a cultural exchange. For example several singing and dancing groups came from the ANC school in Tanzania. We organized tours where they performed in schools. There was also a big campaign named “from North-Kap to South-Cape”, a tour through Sweden with Swedish and South African musicians.
Dala-ISAC was also involved in fund-raising activities.
And we campaigned for the release of political prisoners. For instance, shortly after Patrick Flusk from SAYCO visited Sweden he was put in detention. He was held for a very long time and we organised a local campaign, in which people were very keen to help. We sent signatures to the South African Legation in protest. After being released he came back to Sweden and he told us that while he was detained, he heard about our campaign and it had helped him to endure the time in detention. That was great feedback for us.
Other activities included writing letters to ministers and other people within South Africa and to the South African legation in Stockholm. When we complained about the detention of children, we got a reply saying that there were no detained children in South Africa. We were happy that they at least replied because it meant that they had read our letter. And they had realized that we were concerned.
Bertil Högberg: There is a choir here that has been singing South African freedom songs for a long time. When was that established?
Monica Lindh: The choir Falu Fredskör (“the Falu Peace Choir”) was established in 1984, before Dala-ISAC.
Bertil Högberg: But they became active members of the Dala-ISAC…
Monica Lindh: Yes, the choir was one of the members and very actively involved. I have been a member of that choir since the start.
Bertil Högberg: And it still exists?
Monica Lindh: Yes, it recently had its 20th anniversary.
Bertil Högberg: Last year.
Monica Lindh: Yes, last year. And the Falu Africa Group had its 25th anniversary, the Africa Groups at national level its 30th and it was also ten years of democracy in the New South Africa. It was really a year of celebrations.
Bertil Högberg: So the singing of the South African freedom songs became quite important as well?
Monica Lindh: It was very important. Whenever the Falu Africa Group or Dala-ISAC organized meetings, whether it was public meetings out in the streets or indoors, at rallies and demonstrations, we always tried to use music. Because it is much easier to get people to listen if one uses culture and music.
Bertil Högberg: What was your role within Dala-ISAC?
Monica Lindh: I was in fact the chairperson from the start in 1986 until about 1993. We had a very good executive board with a lot of very active people.
Bertil Högberg: What happened to the Africa Group here in Falun when Dala-ISAC was formed? What was the relationship between the Falu Africa Group and the Dala-ISAC?
Monica Lindh: Well, it was a good relationship; Falu Africa Group always had a member within the executive board of Dala-ISAC and there was a lot of collaboration. As much of the activities were done under the umbrella of Dala-ISAC, things done in the name of Falu Africa Group slowed down a little bit. But the Falu Africa Group still continued with the collection of clothes that were sent to Mozambique and there were still activities concerning Mozambique, Angola and other countries. For instance Mozambique was not an issue within Dala-ISAC.
Bertil Högberg: Were there any conflicts between different organizations that were involved in ISAC about what to do, prioritize, because it was quite a different group of organizations.
Monica Lindh: Not really. Maybe a few felt a bit uncomfortable when it came to the Shell boycott, and maybe also some uneasiness when it came to the issue of approaching the local radio regarding the boycott of music and musicians. But there were practically no conflicts, as far as I can remember.
Bertil Högberg: Okay there were some other activities as well that you did during the boycott.
Monica Lindh: Yes, the Isolate South Africa boycott had different parts to it. One was the boycott of musicians who had performed in South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: What type of musicians?
Monica Lindh: Well, for instance Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, who we thought should be boycotted because they were collaborating with Apartheid South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: Where did they perform?
Monica Lindh: At Sun City and other places. We had a list of international musicians to boycott. That list was distributed to the local and the regional radio stations. The local radio station in Borlänge agreed to this boycott, but the regional radio station refused at first. But when Bishop Desmond Tutu got the Nobel Peace Prize it changed. After that it was far easier to get support for this boycott. Suddenly the politicians and everyone said "Oh yes this is the right thing." But earlier on it was difficult.
The boycott of the Swedish companies was a difficult one. There were a lot of Swedish companies in South Africa at that time like SKF and ASEA (now renamed ABB). There was also a company in the north of this province that produced knives and other things that were exported to South Africa. We had a lot of activities concerning the boycott of Swedish companies supporting apartheid South Africa. We approached all those that were present in our area and asked them to withdraw from South Africa. That was not popular among the Swedish companies and the Swedish politicians. But it changed after Desmond Tutu got the Peace Prize, suddenly it was more in fashion to work with these issues.
Bertil Högberg: But did you manage at all to get any company to relinquish their links with South Africa?
Monica Lindh: I don't think we did, but this was a national campaign and I think it helped in that they at least reduced some activities. I am sorry but my memory is not so good, I am sure yours is better. I think we had some success at national level, but whether we contributed at all locally I don't know. But one had to work on various levels.
Another campaign, a very, very successful one in our area, was the children's campaign.
Bertil Högberg: Children Against Apartheid.
Monica Lindh: Yes, many people, even crèches, schools, and youngsters got involved. It was really a big success. We had musical activities, exhibitions of drawings and a lot of other things.
And yet another highly successful campaign was the so called “the black township”, an exhibition and performance by South African musicians, at the museum in Falun. I think it lasted for a week. The local schools took part, worked on the same themes, and even produced small exhibitions themselves. Then there was the very successful event of the cultural Southern Africa Festival. Musicians from various countries, like Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, etc were touring Sweden. They came to our area at least twice or maybe three times and we had big activities. The musicians from Southern Africa and local musicians performed in the spacious “People's House” and the “People’s Park” in Borlänge. Hundreds of people came.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, you must have been very active here in Falun, with all these campaigns. Have you been involved on the national level of the Africa Groups or ISAC?
Monica Lindh: Yes, I have. My first involvement in the Africa Groups at national level was as a member of the top secret group that supported projects within South Africa. One couldn't do it openly because it was Swedish national money that was being sent into South Africa. As a member of the very secret group, we were not even allowed to bring home papers from the meetings. All papers and documents were locked up in a safe. When we were called to a meeting, we were called to a ”S-A-M-U-T meeting”. It was very very secret. We were not allowed to tell anyone anything. That was my first national involvement…
Bertil Högberg: And that was because you as a medical doctor had the medical experience we needed. Health was one of the areas we worked with.
Monica Lindh: I had heard about and met medical professionals coming from South Africa to Sweden and I wanted to know more, and why we couldn’t support projects etc. At that time I didn't know that there already was Swedish support going on. I tried to learn more and I even went to South Africa on my own, using my own contacts. That was in April/May 1990. It was my very first time in South Africa. I visited a lot of projects, met a lot of people and I was asked to look for Swedish support. Beforehand I had discussed my trip with the ANC-office in Stockholm. But I applied for and travelled on a tourist Visa. At some stage I was told by someone within the Africa Groups about the secret group dealing with projects inside South Africa, and after my trip I joined S-A-M-U-T. That is how I became involved.
Bertil Högberg: That was the group I had started many years before. But you became involved when I was working in Namibia, so I wasn't in the group at the time.
Monica Lindh: It was Ingvar Flink, Anna-Karin Karlsson and Anders Molin who now works at SIDA.
Later on I was a member of the national executive board of the Africa Groups for a few years.
Bertil Högberg: Coming back to Dala-ISAC, what possibilities did you have as a regional ISAC group to influence the national ISAC work?
Monica Lindh: I don't know whether we were able to influence their work. But we were influential in that we were not only a small local group but regional. As far as I know ours was the only region in Sweden with that level of activity. The other local ISAC groups were located in one town while ours covered the whole province or region. We organized many activities and we got a lot of publicity in the papers and on the radio. For instance when something happened in South Africa the regional radio station would sometimes contact me and ask "Could you please give a comment on what is happening now?" We were really very active. I know that ISAC at national level, used to say that when there had been a national Swedish campaign they were flooded with press clippings from our region. They received far more press clippings from this area than the others. I think it was because we managed to get good publicity.
Bertil Högberg: Do you have press clippings from that time or other documentation?
Monica Lindh: Yes, a lot of documentation.
Bertil Högberg: And tapes from meetings?
Monica Lindh: Yes I do, I was very keen to collect things. If we had been interviewed by the radio station, either myself or some visitor, musician or other people, I tried to record on tape what was said on the radio. I also used my own tape-recorder which I brought along to meetings and seminars. There is music and speeches, and we also have photos and all types of documents.
Bertil Högberg: What happened after 1994 with you and with the organization?
Monica Lindh: In early 1994 I left to work in South Africa. I had a long-time wish to be in South Africa when it became a democracy. I managed to get a job and left Sweden together with my daughter. I was there at the time of the first democratic elections, where I was one of the volunteer observers; in a prison and in various townships, a coloured township, and a black township.
Bertil Högberg: In which area?
Monica Lindh: In the Pretoria area and outside.
Bertil Högberg: You worked and lived in Pretoria for how long?
Monica Lindh: For six years.
Bertil Högberg: And worked where?
Monica Lindh: At that time it was called Ga-Rankuwa Hospital and MEDUNSA, Medical University of Southern Africa, and I worked as a medical doctor and as a family practitioner.
Bertil Högberg: Were you sent by an organization?
Monica Lindh: No, I was locally employed. I tried to get employment through Swedish organizations but it wasn't possible. I had to pass a medical examination in order to get a South African qualification. It was something I organized completely on my own. The Africa Groups had decided that South Africa was quite a rich country with a lot of basic resources compared to the other countries. What they really needed in South Africa weren’t the volunteers, the “gap fillers”, because there was educated personnel. They needed other types of support to help to develop certain aspects within the South African society. It was different from Mozambique where you needed “gap fillers” as there was a lack of teachers, nurses, and doctors. But that wasn't really the case in South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: So what became the strategy in South Africa for the Africa Groups? You were involved in that process.
Monica Lindh: Yes I was involved while I was still in Sweden. We had a task group looking at how the Africa Groups could best support South Africa in the future. One of its members went to South Africa to do some field work. The decision was that we especially needed to support the development of local democracy, the land issues, and also to work in poorer areas, which is why it was decided that we should work in the Eastern Cape. It wasn't really the case of needing “gap fillers”.
Bertil Högberg: That is why then East London became the centre for the Africa Groups in South Africa.
Monica Lindh: Yes, that was one of the effects of that group. There were other people involved in that task group, for instance Magnus Walan.
Bertil Högberg: And myself.
Monica Lindh: Yes and yourself as well.
Bertil Högberg: The things we were doing in the medical field in South Africa in those years, do you remember what we supported and what happened to that support?
Monica Lindh: Yes, I do. I visited South Africa at least once a year from 1990 onwards including some of the projects that the Africa Groups were supporting. One of these was the Alexandra Health Clinic, a big health centre based in the Alexandra township in Johannesburg. There were also other health projects, one of them linked to MEDUNSA and the students went to the rural areas having Saturday clinics. Another one, the Muldersdrift Clinic based west of Johannesburg, was linked to the Medical University at Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and students and doctors worked there voluntarily on Saturdays.
So there were various health projects. But those were more or less closing down and finishing already in the early 1990's. I think most of them had stopped at the time I moved to South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: SIDA already withdrew funding for the medical projects in 1993.
Monica Lindh: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: But we continued with the Muldersdrift Clinic until 1999 with our co-funding money.
Monica Lindh: Oh yes, I know Muldersdrift was an exception and I visited it several times and also the Alexandra Clinic. There was also a lot of support for the Centre of Health Policy, a very important institution in Johannesburg. People from that Centre were invited to Sweden, for instance Cedric de Beer who was the director. He visited our area and met people at the hospital and at the College in Falun. I think that tour was organized by the Falu Africa Group.
Bertil Högberg: That visit was part of the Africa Group support; we had some money for these exchanges with the organisations we supported.
What is your impression of the new South Africa?
Monica Lindh: That is a tough question. There are so many impressions. A lot of aspects of joy and happiness but there are also aspects of sadness.
Bertil Högberg: Can you mention examples of both of what you experienced then.
Monica Lindh: What I think is great about South Africa is that despite the very, very tough struggle and fight against apartheid the country didn't get into any major open violence. There were many clashes and a lot of fighting but when thinking of how people had suffered, you might have thought that they would have a lot of hatred and wanted revenge, to fight back. Instead they have been focusing on other issues. To me that is really a greatness of South Africa. I think that has to do with the South African culture, but of course I think that Nelson Mandela and other people have had a very positive influence.
Bertil Högberg: And on the negative side?
Monica Lindh: I can of course understand that it takes a lot of time to make a change. I mean apartheid has really separated people. There are poor and rich people, and to solve that takes a lot of time; to improve people’s living conditions, better housing, employment, schools and everything. But what is sad is that I wish some of the decisions could have been a bit tougher, to try to correct these differences a bit more.
Bertil Högberg: What about the Aids issue?
Monica Lindh: Oh yes of course that is also a big thing. All the time there has been a lot of local activities all around South Africa. Local amateurs, drama groups, teachers, and youth volunteers have been involved and done a lot of very good work. But what is negative is that there has not been a holistic campaign throughout society. If there had been national strategies and work at national level in close collaboration with people at local level, comprehensive work aiming in the same direction, I think one could have achieved far more.
Bertil Högberg: And where lies the problem?
Monica Lindh: I think it lies in various areas, and that it has to do with some very influential people with certain ideas, influencing others. I’m talking about the advisors to the present government, not necessarily the government itself. It depends on the advisors, their ideas and influence.
Bertil Högberg: I remember when we were at a conference a few years ago around the ten year celebration in London, and you met the minister of health and came out and you were furious about her approach to Aids. Is she one of the problems?
Monica Lindh: Well she is, but it can't just be one person, other things in society contribute as well.
Another negative experience that I wish to mention relates to foreigners. During apartheid, South African refugees were well cared for by local people in Zambia, Tanzania etc. Now South Africa, a very rich country compared to the neighbouring ones, attracts people including refugees from for instance Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Some of those people have not been well treated in South Africa; there’s a growing negative attitude, not hatred but…
Bertil Högberg: Xenophobia?
Monica Lindh: Yes. For instance Mozambicans have sometimes just been put on a train and sent back to Mozambique. And there were many foreign doctors working mainly in rural areas of South Africa, where South African doctors did not want to work. Then, towards the end of the 1990s, the government started to refuse to prolong the working contracts of many foreign doctors. And doctors, who had worked for a long time and were needed in the rural areas, left South Africa to work elsewhere. When I think of the support that the South African refugees historically used to get in the neighbouring countries, and comparing that to what has started to happen in South Africa, I feel a bit sad.
Bertil Högberg: If we go back to the ISAC organization, what happened to that? You left of course in 1994 but what happened?
Monica Lindh: Well, the purpose of the regional ISAC was to work against apartheid and to see a democracy be born in South Africa. Now that it had happened it was decided that we should continue our support for the newly born democratic South Africa. There was an attempt to establish some kind of collaboration and twinning between South Africa and our area, partly with the help of “ABF” which is the workers study organization. Dala-ISAC was transformed into a solidarity group, “ABF-Falun South Africa Group”, between 1995-1998. For example people were travelling from this part of Sweden to South Africa and vice versa.
Bertil Högberg: Which area in South Africa?
Monica Lindh: I think they mainly travelled to the Bloemfontain area. But there was also another new project initiated at national level by SIDA. It was an official twinning project between the local governments of Falun and Borlänge and Kimberley. In that official twinning project, they definitely did not make use of the experience of the old Dala-ISAC.
Bertil Högberg: And you were never involved?
Monica Lindh: I was in South Africa at that time. Dala-ISAC was dissolved in 1995, and I think that the twinning project between these local governments and Kimberley started later on. This new project didn't make use of the expertise, the contacts, and the knowledge that already existed here, apart from a few exceptions. It was established according to a top down approach, in contrast to Dala-ISAC which started at grass-root level building upwards. There is still collaboration between the local governments here and Kimberley. Once I was invited to a meeting; a group of Swedish people were going to visit Kimberley and they wanted me to come and give them information, on how they could prepare themselves for the trip. My impression was that they were more interested in the practicalities of the visit than to actually know and understand South Africa.
Later on when people from Kimberley visited Falun and Borlänge, I was never invited. I felt it was a bit funny, after all I had been working with these issues for many years. I once tried to invite myself to one of their meetings but was told that it was just for people that were involved in the twinning project and that they could not invite anyone else.
The collaboration between Dala-ISAC and South Africa, with SANCO, the civic organizations in the Free State, lasted for some years, but the reason it didn't continue was partly due to the civics in South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: The Falu Peace Choir went to South Africa when you were there. Was there any connection to Kimberley at that time? Did you go there with the choir?
Monica Lindh: No, I don’t think they went to Kimberley. The choir visited South Africa around Easter time in 1997. They visited the Pretoria area where I organized some activities. They performed in a church in Mamelodi township and representatives from the Swedish embassy also took part. The Falu Peace Choir also performed in the Pretoria Central Prison, in the section for prisoners sentenced to life-imprisonment. We were told that it was the first time ever that any external people were allowed to enter for such an activity in that prison. It was really an experience! It was organized with the help of Vusi Mahlasela, a South African singer and musician, as he had contact with the prison director. Vusi also performed as well as a band of prisoners and prison-wards.
Bertil Högberg: Vusi has been here in Sweden many times?
Monica Lindh: Countless times yes, touring and also taking part in meetings and campaigns, mainly as a musician and cultural worker.
Bertil Högberg: What happened to the Falu Africa Group after 1994?
Monica Lindh: It still exists.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, but activity wise?
Monica Lindh: Well, the highest level of activity was from 1979 up to about 1986 when Dala-ISAC was established. After that we had a lot of activities both on our own and together with Dala-ISAC. But as from 1994 things have slowed down for various reasons. Firstly it was easier to raise support for South Africa while apartheid was still there. It is a bit strange but it was an issue which could really get people involved and engaged. After South Africa had achieved its new democracy there was less publicity. Secondly, solidarity was still so to say popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Later on in the 1990's, solidarity was in some way a bit out of fashion. Anyway things slowed down. We still have a few activities but more commonly we are a resource of information. Local students in need of information for school projects have contacted the Falu Africa Group and asked for assistance. But there is a recurring public activity. Every summer since the very start, Falu Africa Group has organized a quiz walk. We are responsible for setting the questions and we take this chance to raise issues we think people should know more about, for instance the Africa Group activities, which countries we send solidarity workers and volunteers to etc. Usually about 100 people turn up, and after the quiz walk we are given time to inform the participants about the work of Falu Africa Group. The summer quiz walk has become an annual tradition.
Bertil Högberg: Anything more you would like to add?
Monica Lindh: There is one more thing. At national level ISAC had a prize called the Amandla Prize given each year to a group or individual that had contributed exceptionally in the solidarity work. When Nelson Mandela came to Sweden for the very first time in 1990 I got the prize on behalf of Dala-ISAC. The award was signed by Nelson Mandela. It was a recognition and thanks to all the people that had been working very, very hard in this area.
Bertil Högberg: When were you given that prize?
Monica Lindh: It was at a big cultural event at the “Globen arena” in Stockholm.
Bertil Högberg: Oh there were about 13,000, 14,000 people.
Monica Lindh: Yes, there were lots of people.
Bertil Högberg: Welcoming Nelson Mandela when he came the first time to Sweden.
Monica Lindh: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: And that was just five weeks after his release or something.
Monica Lindh: Yes it was really a huge event.
Bertil Högberg: Were you also singing in the choir there?
Monica Lindh: Yes, I was part of the large choir along with many members from the Falu Peace Choir.. I think there were about 350 people in that choir, which was led by Anders Nyberg who has done a tremendous job spreading South African music in Sweden and internationally.
Bertil Högberg: Thank you.