The Nordic Africa Institute

Pär Granstedt

Centre Party—Association of Western European Parliamentarians Against Apartheid African European Institute

Tor Sellström: How did your involvement with Southern Africa begin?

Pär Granstedt: As a matter of fact, my entire political involvement started with South Africa. It was when I was at secondary school in Södertälje in the early 1960s. My first political act, I would say, was to sell anti-apartheid badges in the school-yard. Out of that grew a political interest in Third World issues and in issues related to justice between the North and the South. I later joined the Centre Party Youth League. So, my South African involvement is older than my involvement in the Centre Party.

Tor Sellström: Were you then a member of a solidarity organization?

Pär Granstedt: I was not a member of any structured organization. I think that it was the National Council of Swedish Youth (SUL) that distributed these badges. People were approached in the schools to sell them.

Tor Sellström: Was that part of the 1963 SUL boycott campaign?

Pär Granstedt: Yes, it was.

Tor Sellström: In the 1960s, the Centre Party— particularly the Youth League—advocated support to the national liberation movements in Southern Africa. These movements waged armed struggles and they were supported by the Communist countries. How would you explain that a Swedish non-socialist party took this position?

Pär Granstedt: I think that it is important to understand that the Centre Party—although a bourgeois or non-socialist party—is based on the underprivileged segments of society. When founded, it was in itself a kind of liberation movement for the smallholders in Sweden and interest in questions related to social justice have therefore always been fundamental to the Centre Party. It was natural for the party to side with the underprivileged in the Third World. I think that that is the main ideological reason. In fact, in most Third World countries the social movements have been based on small farmers with a similar socio-economic base as the Centre Party.

Tor Sellström: Was it not controversial that the liberation movements were supported by the Communist countries?

Pär Granstedt: It was to a degree, although it was part of a more general controversy in the 1960s. The Centre Party Youth League was to some extent part of the Left wave in Sweden. Of course, more conservative groups within the party were rather opposed to that, but much less when it came to the situation in Southern Africa. It was more politically correct to support the liberation movements there. Apartheid was considered so horrendous and memories from the Nazi period made action against racism generally accepted.

Tor Sellström: At that time, the Centre Party also strongly advocated Swedish support to Zambia. Do you think that Kenneth Kaunda played a role for the involvement of the Centre Party in favour of the liberation movements in Southern Africa?

Pär Granstedt: I have no memories of my own from that process. I was not involved in the Centre Party at that time. But, I imagine that he did play a role. It is obvious that a number of individuals were important for this process, both Swedes who created an awareness about what was happening in Southern Africa and people from Southern Africa visiting Sweden.

Tor Sellström: In the early 1960s, it seems that liberal intellectuals and people from the churches were the most active in the formation of the Swedish solidarity opinion with Southern Africa, while the organized labour movement joined much later. Would you agree with this?

Pär Granstedt: Yes, in a way I believe that it is a true picture of what happened. I once studied the debate about development aid in the Swedish parliament and I found the same pattern. The Liberal Party and the Centre Party were pushing very hard for increased aid, while the Social Democrats were a bit more careful. One of the reasons, I think, was simply that the Social Democratic Party was in government and therefore felt that they had to be careful not to spend too much government money. They also had to consider the reactions in other countries, especially in the West. At the same time, the youth and women’s leagues within the Social Democratic movement have always been much more progressive than the party itself.

Tor Sellström: Do you think that the early contacts established with leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Eduardo Mondlane and others helped the Swedish politicians to understand the nationalist core of the struggle in Southern Africa, beyond the East-West divide?

Pär Granstedt: I think that that is very true. It was evident from the Swedish debate that most people realized that the liberation movements were not part of the Eastern bloc. The problem was that their main source of support happened to be the Communist countries. We saw it very much as our task to see to it that they also had other supporters, to make them less dependent on the East and more interested in becoming part of the free world in the future. A general opinion in the Centre Party and the Liberal Party—and also among Social Democrats—was that we had a responsibility to try to move the movements towards the West, with more liberal views on democracy and the economy. Looking at the situation today, it proved very successful.

Tor Sellström: In 1969, the Swedish parliament paved the way for direct official humanitarian support to the Southern African liberation movements. Some movements that were recognized by the OAU were, however, never supported by Sweden. This was, for example, the case with PAC of South Africa and FNLA of Angola. What were the reasons behind this position?

Pär Granstedt: Although I was not active in the parliament during that period, my impression is that we doubted the base of certain movements. Our feeling was that they did not have a really strong base at home and that they were not representative of the peoples in their countries. That is mainly why we did not support them.

Tor Sellström: Has the Centre Party given direct assistance to any liberation movement in Southern Africa?

Pär Granstedt: There has been some support to the youth leagues of both SWAPO and ANC. Our women’s league has also given support to the SWAPO women.

Tor Sellström: You have been a member of SIDA’s board, the parliamentary standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs. Were you satisfied that the Swedish support to the liberation movements was used for the humanitarian purposes stated and not for the armed struggle?

Pär Granstedt: I think that we had sufficient control that our support was not used for buying arms or directly financing armed operations. But, of course, it was in a way support for the armed struggle. I do not think that we wanted to prevent that. Giving humanitarian aid to a liberation movement involved in armed struggle was in a way support for that struggle. But, we were satisfied that it was not directly used for arms or military operations.

Tor Sellström: How did the other Western countries look upon the Swedish involvement with the Southern African liberation movements?

Pär Granstedt: I did not encounter any really strong reactions against our involvement. It was not at all as the Swedish support to FNL in Vietnam, which really provoked strong reactions, especially in the United States. The case of Southern Africa was less controversial as everybody was against apartheid.

Tor Sellström: You never experienced any pressure from the British or the Americans?

Pär Granstedt: No. The discussions in which I was involved with the British concerned economic sanctions against South Africa, where we were on the offensive, asking them why they did not do anything.

Tor Sellström: In 1976, after a long period of Social Democratic rule, a non-socialist coalition government took over, led by the Centre leader Thorbjörn Fälldin. Many expected that it would change Sweden’s policy on Southern Africa. Instead, the official support to the liberation movements increased and as the first Western country Sweden legislated against investments in South Africa. How would you explain this?

Pär Granstedt: Well, it was rather logical, knowing the position of the Centre and Liberal parties. What is important to note is that there was only limited influence on foreign policy by the Moderate Party at that time. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were from the Centre Party and the Minister for Development Aid from the Liberal Party. In fact, the Moderate Party was very much an outsider in this field. They were not as strong in that coalition as in later non-socialist governments.

Tor Sellström: Humanitarian assistance is, of course, support for human rights and in this respect there were instances of abuse within the liberation movements. Do you recall if these problems were discussed by the SIDA board or the Foreign Affairs Committee and if they were taken up with the leadership of the liberation movements?

Pär Granstedt: Yes, they were definitely discussed. Not as a reason to stop the support, but rather as an embarrassment as it weakened their case. Of course, it did have a negative political impact. I suppose that it was taken up in the official contacts between Sweden and the liberation movements. I was not involved in that, but on the youth side I remember, for instance, participating in discussions with representatives of SWAPO on these questions. It definitely did play a role. We were eager to point out how much it hurt the case of the liberation movements and how counter-productive it was for the struggle.

Tor Sellström: Since its foundation, you have been closely involved with the Association of Western European Parliamentarians Against Apartheid, which was the original name, and you are still the treasurer of AWEPA. In the Swedish parliament, did AWEPA have members from all the parties?

Pär Granstedt: All the traditional parliamentary parties have been, and still are, represented in AWEPA. Even very prominent Moderate MPs such as Carl Bildt, who later became Prime Minister, and Margaretha af Ugglas, who became Minister for Foreign Affairs, were mem bers of AWEPA. In fact, the first member from the Moderate Party was Carl Bildt and Margaretha af Ugglas was also among the first. AWEPA has always had a broad political base. The only political party that was never represented in AWEPA was New Democracy during its short period in the Swedish parliament. I think that it was our fault as much as theirs. We never asked them. We did not consider that their ideology was in tune with AWEPA’s.

Tor Sellström: Looking back, what would in your view constitute the most important contribution by Sweden to the process of national liberation in Southern Africa?

Pär Granstedt: I think that it was very important that we, as a Western democracy, played an active role. It would have been disastrous if the liberation movements had been seen to have friends only among authoritarian Communist parties and countries in Eastern Europe. That was very important. Another factor was, of course, that we in the long run managed to persuade other Western countries to support the process towards democracy, maybe not so often the liberation struggle as such, but through sanctions. In the end, there was a kind of international consensus to force the apartheid regime to give up. I think that it played an important role for the rather peaceful transition that we have witnessed.

Tor Sellström: Would a similar Swedish active involvement be possible today?

Pär Granstedt: Yes, I think that it would be possible. Of course, in the present situation the Swedish priority would be to try to get the EU member countries to do the same as we do. But I am sure that we would also be prepared to work unilaterally if necessary. It is interesting to look at Denmark, which was almost as active as Sweden. Denmark was a member of both EU and NATO, but played a very constructive role. The EU membership might put some restraints on our freedom of action, but at the same time it also adds more tools to our palette of possible actions.

Tor Sellström: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Pär Granstedt: Yes, I think that it is important to stress the role of the neighbouring countries—not least Zambia—for the liberation struggle, what they have done and what sufferings they had to undergo. I think, in fact, that the support we gave to the Frontline States was about as important as the support we gave directly to the liberation movements. These countries took many risks and sacrificed many economic possibilities in favour of the regional struggle.