Social Democratic Party—International Secretary—Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Minister of International Development Cooperation
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Stockholm, 28 June 1996.
Tor Sellström: When and how did your long involvement with Southern Africa begin?
Pierre Schori: My first contact was in 1965, when I started to work at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party in Stockholm. At that time, the party had relations with SWANU of South West Africa, today Namibia. There were a number of SWANU students in Sweden and you could say that they opened the eyes of both the party and of the public opinion to the situation in that part of the world. They participated in meetings and at our annual First of May rallies. We also had a person by the name of Tom Nässbjer engaged in certain projects on South West Africa. So, my first contact was with SWANU, although at that time I did not know where South West Africa was. Zedekia Ngavirue, who is now Namibia’s ambassador to Brussels, had to show me on the map.
We had a very personal relationship. We were more or less of the same age and we all lived in students’ homes. When I came to Stockholm, I stayed in Bernt Carlsson’s room, on the floor. We went jogging together, Zedekia Ngavirue, Charles Kauraisa—who later became a Rössing man in Namibia—Bernt and myself. They were not used to jogging, but Bernt and I told them: ‘If you are going to be guerrilla soldiers, you must be in good physical condition!’ From that time I also remember an article that Kauraisa sent to Peking Review. It was entitled ‘Long live the correct line!’ and was signed Charles Kauraisa, Studenthemmet Nyponet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Tor Sellström: You participated in the first international conference on South West Africa, held in Oxford, England, in March 1966?
Pierre Schori: Yes, I did. The Swedish delegation to the conference was very big. Olof Palme was the chairman. This was when Palme said that he had noticed that the International Court of Justice was not competent to take a decision on South West Africa. He said that the court was very ‘impotent’. At the time of the Oxford conference, the International Defence and Aid Fund, IDAF, had just been banned in South Africa, but Palme declared that Sweden was going to continue to support it.
Tor Sellström: It was around that time that the Social Democratic Party and the Swedish government shifted the support from SWANU to SWAPO. What motivated this change?
Pierre Schori: Well, there was an initial transition period, but we came to believe that SWAPO had more roots and that it was more anchored in the people. Of course, via the OAU the African states were at that time also in favour of SWAPO, and in the late 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s it was natural for us to follow the advice of the OAU Liberation Committee. I visited the committee several times.
There was no particular incident behind this development. It was simply based on reality. But we kept our contacts and our friendship with the SWANU people, because they had played such an important role by opening the eyes of the Swedish public to the African question. The first close contact that the Swedish Social Democratic Party had with any liberation movement in Southern Africa was really with SWANU. They came to Sweden as refugees, worked to raise an opinion and kept us informed. Initially, SWANU also formed part of the South African United Front together with the ANC and the South African Indian Congress. So, there was coordination between SWANU and ANC.
Tor Sellström: Would it be fair to say that Tanzania and Zambia played important roles as bridge-builders between Sweden and the Southern African liberation movements?
Pierre Schori: Yes, especially Tanzania, where Olof Palme, Ingvar Carlsson, Thage G. Peterson and other leading social democrats who were active in the Social Democratic Youth League (SSU) at an early stage had initiated support to the TANU Youth League. For many of them it was their first international involvement and it stayed with them all the time. You always remember your young loves, so to speak. And, of course, Tanzania’s role in the OAU Liberation Committee and Nyerere’s international standing also helped us very much.
Tor Sellström: In 1969, the Swedish Parliament paved the way for direct Swedish official support to the Southern African liberation movements and humanitarian assistance was subsequently extended through SIDA. These movements were backed by the Soviet Union and/or China and waged an armed struggle. How did you look upon this?
Pierre Schori: At an early stage, we saw that there was a contradiction in the Western approach to the liberation struggle. On the one hand, some of the Western countries cooperated closely with the apartheid state and the colonial powers and simply ignored the liberation forces out of economic interests. On the other, the West stood for democracy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, there was a worldwide power struggle and it was both obvious and logical that the super powers involved themselves in Southern Africa, trying to extend their influence and make the best out of the situation. At the same time, the liberation movements looked for support wherever they could get it. Sometimes they got that support from the Soviet Union and sometimes they did not.
Some of the movements—like Amílcar Cabral’s PAIGC, for example—were very proud and did not accept any support that had strings attached to it. In that situation, support from Sweden was very handy. It had no strings attached and we knew—through studies and contacts with these people—that they were not Communists. Instead, the main ideological force was nationalism. They wanted to get rid of dictatorships and colonialism. Over the years, we heard many stories from the liberation movements about the problems that they had with the Soviet Union regarding political conditions and so on. The support from the Soviet Union was, so to speak, a necessary evil for the liberation movements. Of course, at the same time they appreciated it, because—as Nyerere said—’you cannot fight the colonial powers’ jet-fighters and tanks with bows and arrows’. But, I would not support the expression ‘Soviet-backed movements’ and sion ‘Soviet-backed movements’ and they themselves would never use that. You could as well call them ‘Swedish-backed’.
Tor Sellström: How about political pluralism? The Socialist International, for example, supported political parties that embraced political pluralism. With the exception of Zimbabwe, the Swedish Social Democratic Party—both in and outside government—advocated support to one liberation movement in the countries in Southern Africa. Why?
Pierre Schori: Well, we closely—but not slavishly— followed the recommendations of the OAU Liberation Committee, because we thought that the Africans were the best judges of their own situation. The United Nations General Assembly also followed the recommendations by the OAU. In some cases, like in Namibia— where we had old links with SWANU—we tried to make SWANU and SWAPO work together. Sometimes they did that from their own free will and sometimes due to our friendly advice. In other cases, like in Zimbabwe, we refused to give unilateral recognition to one movement. We thought that both ZANU and ZAPU were authentic movements and that there was no reason for us to follow the demand of one or the other. When one of them asked for unilateral support we said that ‘we do not give you unilateral recognition, because that is not up to us to do. We see two movements and we hope that you can work together.’ But we understood that we could not force them to work together just because we stood for pluralism in Sweden. So, in some cases we made our own choice.
Would it be fair to say that the Social Democratic Party and—by extension—the Swedish government looked upon the Southern African liberation movements as governments-in-waiting?
Pierre Schori: Yes, that was the attitude that we took all along. In those days, Olof Palme and I worked very closely together. Writing his speeches, we always went a bit further than the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. We had the same approach on Latin America under the dictatorships in Chile and Uruguay, where we told the political refugees that came to Sweden: ‘We see you as the true representatives of the democratic forces of your countries. The others are going to disappear.’ For us it was a matter of identifying those that we believed were the forces of the future and of democracy. Of course, in a liberation struggle the forces of liberation and of democracy are not always identical. But, unless there are obvious anti-democratic forces from the beginning, that is a question that has to be dealt with later. In Vietnam, we all along stood against invasion and aggression and supported the right of the people to self-determination, in accordance with international law. This did not mean that we supported the Communist Party.
Tor Sellström: In the case of South Africa, was it difficult to extend exclusive support to ANC in a situation where other actors—both in Sweden and internationally; Nyerere, for example—also advocated support to PAC?
Pierre Schori: No, it was not difficult. Old, personal links influenced us, of course. We knew that Oliver Tambo and the other ANC leaders were truly democratic and that they had a vision of the future South African society as a mixed, pluralist and tolerant society. As for PAC, we saw them as an opposition and resistance movement against apartheid. But, their vision was more blurred. Contrary to ANC, they never approached us other than for very political purposes or for funding. For some reason they never tried to develop a political dialogue with us. Maybe they thought that it was a lost case, but they did not even try. They visited Sweden a couple of times, but it was always a matter of trying to incriminate ANC. We had more faith in ANC. We knew them better and we trusted them.
When Nyerere and others asked us to see PAC, we did so. We never refused. And although Sweden did not extend bilateral assistance directly to PAC, some humanitarian assistance went to them through the United Nations system.
Tor Sellström: In the case of Zimbabwe, it appears that ZAPU enjoyed less general support in Sweden than ZANU. How would you explain this?
Pierre Schori: I think that it also had to do with personal contacts. In general, there developed a relationship of trust and respect with the political representatives who first came to Sweden. In the case of Zimbabwe, we did not choose between ZAPU and ZANU, but I think that when Joshua Nkomo came to Sweden it was often through the churches, while Robert Mugabe was more of the pure freedom fighter.
I also think that it had to do with the way in which the leaders of the liberation movements dealt with the international scene. Amílcar Cabral of the PAIGC was a master of diplomacy. At an early stage, he saw the importance of creating personal links and, in addition, he carried an extremely good message. He was a formidable person and a great international figure. Herbert Chitepo of ZANU also represented his movement very well.
Finally, the image of the liberation movement also had to do with the quality and the personality of the people that they sent here as representatives. In general, they sent good representatives.
Tor Sellström: Would it be correct to say that Amílcar Cabral brought the Swedish Social Democratic Party into contact with MPLA of Angola?
Pierre Schori: I think that Cabral was important for the ideological analysis of the situation in Southern Africa in general and for the liberation struggle against colonialism in particular. He helped us to understand that it was not an East-West confrontation. Of course, it was something that we could understand ourselves, but he developed it very clearly. Anyone who met Cabral knew that he was an authentic leader who fought for freedom. And he had a vision beyond liberation.
The liberation movements from the Portuguese-speaking colonies had a coordinating organization called CONCP. They organized meetings and at one time I was asked to chair a meeting. That was in Rome in 1970. I was very honoured. There I met Agostinho Neto, who was another person of Cabral’s standing. In a way you could say that Amílcar Cabral initiated our contacts with MPLA, but we had developed those contacts even earlier. For example, I remember when we tried to mediate between Neto and President Senghor of Senegal. Senghor said: ‘Well, I think that Neto is a very good poet, but I do not like his politics.’ After that I went to Neto and told him that I had talked to Senghor. He then said the same thing: ‘Well, I think that Senghor is a good poet but a bad politician.’
Tor Sellström: Was this mediation difficult for the Social Democratic Party? Senghor’s party was an observer member of the Socialist International, while Neto’s MPLA was quite close to the Soviet Union?
Pierre Schori: Well, the Senegalese did not count very much in our relations with the liberation struggle. Senghor had his own ideas and he was not very influential.
Tor Sellström: At an early stage, you established contacts with Eduardo Mondlane of FRELIMO and asked for his opinion regarding the political scene in Portugal. What was the background to that?
Pierre Schori: When we had supported the liberation movements in the Portuguese-speaking colonies for a number of years, we found that they lacked substantial international support, except from the Soviet side for technical and strategic reasons. We realized that there would not be a change for many years, because Portugal was strong and there were no international sanctions against her. On the contrary, Portugal was a member of NATO. We then thought that there must be a change within Portugal and that was the reason why I was sent there in 1967. I carried out under-cover work and made a kind of X-ray of the political opposition The first ever, I think. That was also when I met Mário Soares for the first time, in his lawyer’s office. He had defended many of the liberation movements in court.
Before I finalized my report, I asked Mondlane about people and political forces in Portugal that he thought would be of importance. My report was written to the Socialist International and was entitled ‘Portugal: Colossus on Clay Feet’. In the report I described the different political forces in the country and my recommendation was to support the small Socialist Party, which at the time was called Acção Socialista. It had only about fifteen to twenty active members around Mário Soares, but they had a vision for the future and contacts with democratic people all over the country. My recommendation was to invite them to the congresses of the member parties of the Socialist International. Mário Soares then started to be invited and when the dictatorship fell in 1974, he was the only politician with solid international connections.
Tor Sellström: In 1974-75, at the time of the coup in Portugal and of the independence processes in Angola and Mozambique, things were often strained between the Portuguese Socialist Party on the one hand and MPLA and FRELIMO on the other. This must have been a delicate situation, as you had been supporting both the build-up of the Socialist Party and the nationalist struggle of the two liberation movements?
Pierre Schori: Yes, but I trusted Mário Soares all along. It was inevitable that Portugal with her colonial
background had to take responsibility for tens of thousands of Portuguese at that time. It was a duty. There was also the refugee problem of the retornados. The political situation in Portugal was difficult and could have turned against the government, bringing the conservatives back into power. It was also a national, domestic question for Portugal and we fully understood that. What we tried to do was to get the different parties together. For that purpose, I acted several times as a go-between, sending messages back and forth between Soares and some African leaders. I think that it was important. For me personally, it was a positive experience. I trusted both sides and Mário Soares really tried to work things out. Of course, at some stage he was very disappointed, with Samora Machel for example. He thought that Machel was an extremist, but then he changed his mind.
Tor Sellström: Turning back to Sweden and to the Swedish labour movement, you find that LO—the Swedish trade union congress—was much more cautious than the Social Democratic Party when it came to relations with the liberation forces in Southern Africa. How could this be explained?
Pierre Schori: The policy that LO developed during the turbulent years in the late 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s was to work through the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in Brussels. Of course, there you had all kinds of views represented. Those of the former colonial powers and also the policy of the United States, which was very aggressive at the time. In that context, it was difficult for the Swedish labour organization to get its views through. However, they had chosen to work through the international confederation as a point of principle. We talked a lot about this, but it was not until later that the policy was modified. We then created our own Solidarity Fund and—still later—the Olof Palme International Center, through which the Swedish labour movement could channel direct, bilateral support.
In the case of South Africa, the cautious position was also explained by the fact that SACTU was not considered to be entirely trustworthy by the ICFTU. SACTU was affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and therefore LO could not cooperate with them.
Tor Sellström: Did you at any time experience any threats against Sweden because of its support to the Southern African liberation movements?
Pierre Schori: There were protests by the Portuguese. They organized demonstrations outside the Swedish embassy in Lisbon and they also threatened to boycott Swedish goods and so on, but it did not work. The reaction was not very strong and it had no effect.
Tor Sellström: Denmark and—particularly—Norway followed Sweden and supported the Southern African liberation movements. Do you think that their membership in NATO limited their space for manoeuvre?
Pierre Schori: No, I do not think so. I think that Denmark and Norway worked as much as they could inside NATO, sharing views on these issues. Of course, to a certain extent they had to be loyal to the overall goals of the alliance, but we were very much on the same level. We worked together, for example when it came to organizing visits by African leaders to the Nordic countries.
Tor Sellström: Humanitarian assistance to the liberation movements was, of course, support for human rights. However, there were cases of ‘struggles within the struggle’ in the liberation movements, often coupled with human rights’ abuses. The so-called Shipanga affair in SWAPO is a case in point. How did you react to these developments? Did the Social Democratic Party or the Swedish government discuss them with the leaders of the liberation movements?
Pierre Schori: When such excesses became clear, we raised our voices. For example, when the Social Democratic Party started to support SWAPO for the election campaign in Namibia, we raised it very strongly. But we did not know about human rights’ abuses and we had no ways of certifying what was going on. The liberation struggle was a situation of war and we did not get very much information about it. It was like the French resistance during the Second World War. In that situation, it was natural for us to support the movement as such.
The Shipanga affair was a different story. It was a personal case. Shipanga had his own ambitions and his story was not entirely credible.
Tor Sellström: Together with its sister parties in Denmark and Norway, the Swedish Social Democratic Party had close contacts with the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), led by Lars-Gunnar Eriksson. The IUEF was infiltrated by the South African spy Craig Williamson and dissolved in 1980. Did the IUEF/Williamson affair tarnish the relations between Sweden and ANC? Did you discuss it with Oliver Tambo or other ANC leaders?
Pierre Schori: No, I only recently discussed this with the Swedish documentary journalist Boris Erson. ANC never raised it with me or with anybody else that I know of. We were all fooled by Williamson and I can only deplore that he has not been charged and taken to a court of law. After the exposure of Williamson, some said that they had warned Lars-Gunnar Eriksson about him. That might be true, but apparently not clearly enough.
Tor Sellström: Through the IUEF, the Nordic governments extended support to the Black Consciousness Movement and to PAC in South Africa, and it was not until 1978 that the organization recognized ANC. It would appear that Lars-Gunnar Eriksson and the IUEF had a different political agenda than that of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. How could this difference be explained?
Pierre Schori: At the time, some ANC representatives used to ask why we supported different forces in South Africa. We thought that it was good to have a pluralistic approach. We did not want to focus entirely on ANC. The IUEF gave scholarships to democrats from different forces or to independents, which was very much in line with Lars-Gunnar Eriksson’s policy. He had worked like that with Angola when he started in the international student movement. ANC questioned this approach, but after the Williamson affair they never raised it again.
Tor Sellström: Do you think that the long period of Swedish involvement with the liberation struggle in Southern Africa constitutes a unique chapter in Sweden’s foreign policy? Would a similar expression of international solidarity be possible today?
Pierre Schori: Well, apart from POLISARIO and FRETELIN there are very few liberation movements left. Times have changed and you could say that our efforts were fruitful.
For Sweden, South Africa is without any doubt the great success story. What made it possible was the long, sustained effort, the broad popular involvement and the innovative and pioneering work of the government. Because it was the Swedish government which stood against the others and took a pioneer position. All of this has left a lasting impression on the Swedish society. Today, there are no colonial powers to fight, the Cold War is over and the third way between the super powers is no longer an alternative. We now see a North-South relationship where the focus is no longer on confrontation, but on confidence-building. However, if there had been a similar situation today, I am sure that we would have mobilized with the same force, dedication and popular involvement as we did in our solidarity with Southern Africa.
As a concluding remark, I would like to say that in the case of South Africa we have had a continuation of solid support, channelled in different forms. When Nelson Mandela came to Sweden for the first time in 1990, he asked the Social Democratic Party—given our old involvement—to help ANC with the preparations for the forthcoming election campaign. There were many with a lot of money who wanted to do that. All over the world. But Mandela wanted Sweden to be the main sponsor, politically as well as practically. We then set up one of the largest popular education projects ever in South Africa. According to the figures that I have, Sweden assisted with the training of some 80,000 people for the election process. And after the elections we have trained tens of thousands of municipal councillors. The continuation of our commitment can also be seen within the European Union, where Sweden is among those countries that fight for better terms for South Africa, radically opposing those who put narrow national economic trade interests in focus.