The Nordic Africa Institute

Yngve Sunesson

Centre Party Youth League

The interview was held by Madi Gray on 16 September 2005.

His interest in Africa started with a project on decolonisation in upper secondary school. Became active in the Centre Party Youth League (CUF) in the early 1970’s and participated in protests against apartheid South Africa. He was a board member of CUF between 1975-1984, Chairperson for the last three years. He travelled to southern Africa and amongst other places, visited the Swapo refugee camp in Kwanza Sul in Angola. Yngvesson was a board member at the start of ISAK (Isolate Africa Committee) in 1978.

Yngve Sunesson

Madi Gray: Tell me, Yngve, how did you become involved in the struggle for Southern Africa's independence?

Yngve Sunesson: I think my interest in Africa started quite early, I did a special project in upper secondary school about African decolonization and that was the beginning of my engagement. Then I got active in the Centre Party Youth League (CUF) and we carried out some protests about international solidarity mainly in Southern Africa and that is when I got involved. It was in the early 1970s.

Madi Gray: So you were there, not from the very beginning, because we can trace that back to the mid-1950s, but right from the start of the new upswing?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes, you can say that.

Madi Gray: Could you tell me something about your role and role and activities of your organization? Were you in the city? Were you in the country? Where were you active?

Yngve Sunesson: I was active from the beginning in the country in Växjö in southern Sweden. In 1975 I became a member of the Central Board of the Centre Party Youth together with Helena Nilsson and some others and was also on the international committee of the Centre Party Youth. So I was mainly active in the international work.

Madi Gray: And what did the Centre Party Youth do?

Yngve Sunesson: Well we made political statements and had those kinds of activities. I think it was in the mid-1970s that we also started a solidarity fund where we collected money for different kinds of solidarity projects. The first project that I remember was to the JMPLA in Angola.

Madi Gray: The JMPLA was the Youth Organization of the MPLA?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes, the youth organization in Angola. I am not sure of the year but I think it was soon after 1975, after independence, and that was the first project of the solidarity fund. I think we bought sewing machines and materials that we sent to a school in Angola. I am not quite sure, but I think there were some problems with distribution and contacts, so we got more into cooperation with SWAPO of Namibia. That was the main subject for solidarity work for several years.

Madi Gray: What kind of work did you do for SWAPO?

Yngve Sunesson: We spread a lot of information within our organization and to other youths and the public about SWAPO’s struggle and their refugee camps and we collected as much money as we could to help them with different requests.

Madi Gray: What kind of things did you do to collect the money?

Yngve Sunesson: Well we had collections at our own meetings, and our local clubs or branches had different kinds of collection activities, I am not sure of all they did.

Madi Gray: No, but what were you involved in?

Yngve Sunesson: I was mostly involved in the central committee with planning what we could do. We had lots of activities in the schools at that time, mostly information. The youth made collections for those who wanted to donate money. We had activities out in the streets, both information and collecting money, but perhaps the main collection was at different meetings in the youth organization and in the Centre Party. We had a congress every year both in the youth league and in the Centre Party, and we always had collections.

Madi Gray: So a lot of money came from Centre Party members?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes, a lot of money came from the members.

Madi Gray: During which time period were you involved?

Yngve Sunesson: I was a member of the Centre Party Youth Board from 1975 to 1984. For the last three years I was chairman of the youth organization, so that’s the time when I was most active.

Madi Gray: What happened after 1984? Did you stop your activities?

Yngve Sunesson: Well I moved from Stockholm down to Markaryd, where I live now, and started working at a small daily newspaper. I didn’t have very much time, or the contacts in the area so I could be active and especially not in a youth organization. I became too old. Of course I follow developments and I write sometimes about these matters, but not very much.

Madi Gray: Didn't you work in the Centre Party there?

Yngve Sunesson: Not very much, I was a member and not very active.

Madi Gray: Okay, during the time that you were active, were there any highlights? Were there things that you really remember with joy and what can you tell me about them?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes of course. Maybe the greatest highlight was when I travelled together with the Council of Swedish Youth Organizations, LSU, as a group to Southern Africa to visit youth organizations. I think it was 1980. We travelled to Lusaka in Zambia first. Then we split into three groups and I went to Angola to visit the SWAPO refugee camp in Kwanza Sul and it was a great experience.

Madi Gray: Can you tell me about it because we are looking for more information on solidarity with the refugee camps.

Yngve Sunesson: We were there for one or two days and met some youths. We could go round and talk to people and see how they lived in tents and perhaps see something we had delivered. We didn't know exactly what to look for, so we had to find it, so we could inform people when we came back to Sweden.

Madi Gray: Who did you meet there? What were people doing there? Were there other Swedes involved in Kwanza Sul at the time? Do you remember?

Yngve Sunesson: I don't think we met any Swedes in that camp. The MPLA or the Angolan authorities had arranged our stay in Angola and they arranged the trip to Kwanza Sul and we were taken care of there and then we went back to Lusaka. We also flew down to Lubango in the south of Angola to see the results of South African bombing raids and the destroyed houses and so on. It was not so dangerous to go there, but we saw that South Africa had been bombing.

Madi Gray: Were there things that led to friction, to controversy during the time you were involved in the work in the Centre Party Youth?

Yngve Sunesson: I don't think so. We had a very large youth organization and we were united to support the projects.

Madi Gray: Did you any have conflicts with anyone outside the Centre Youth or didn't you bother about others?

Yngve Sunesson: No we didn’t bother. I don't think it was so controversial to support SWAPO in Namibia and I don't remember any controversies.

Madi Gray: Did you work together with any other organizations, maybe on a Nordic level?

Yngve Sunesson: We have an organization for the Nordic Centre Youth and we had at least discussions and a seminar about South Africa. The collection work was only in Sweden, we had our Solidarity Fund and the other countries had their own projects that they worked with. We didn't actually have close cooperation, only some contacts and some discussions. We had some cooperation sometimes with the Africa Groups, mostly about information and we were part of the Isolate South Africa Committee. I was a member of the first board when it started.

Madi Gray: That would be early 1978?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes. ISAK was a very good organization because almost every interested organization was part of it and we had a common information pool and some contacts with the ANC and SWAPO through ISAK.

Madi Gray: You mentioned that you initially collected money for the JMPLA and then for the SWAPO Youth, did you work with any other organizations in Southern Africa?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes we had contact with the ANC of course.

Madi Gray: Did you have direct contact here in Sweden with the ANC and SWAPO offices?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes, we had a lot of contact with the Chief Representatives, Hadino Hishongwa of SWAPO and Lindiwe Mabuza of the ANC.

Madi Gray: How did these relationships function?

Yngve Sunesson: I think they functioned very well. We had an International Secretary named Anders Öberg, I don't know if you have talked to him, you should, and he and Hishongwa were very good friends. I was in Namibia a year ago and met Hishongwa and talked to him, during the election campaign. He’d been Deputy Minister for Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation in President Sam Nujoma’s government. He was very glad to meet me.

Madi Gray: Yes, I can believe that.

Yngve Sunesson: We had no conflict with them at all but I know the Africa Groups had some difficulties sometimes but for us it functioned very well.

Madi Gray: So there were no problems? And with the ANC?

Yngve Sunesson: No, no, there were no problems.

Madi Gray: Within your organization, were there discussions relating to the use of weapons or the armed struggle? Did you have these kinds of discussions in the Centre Party Youth?

Yngve Sunesson: No, we were very clear that our aid and collections were only for schools and refugee camps, and not for the armed struggle.

Madi Gray: So they were for humanitarian purposes?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes, and we had no objections. It was their struggle in Namibia. I suppose at meetings there may have been some discussions raising those kinds of objections but not affecting our main course.

Madi Gray: You mentioned that you developed a relationship with Hadino Hishongwa. Were there other people? Were there visitors from Southern Africa? How did your motivation stay alive for all these years?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes I think that was one of the important things. We often met young SWAPO members who perhaps studied in Sweden or Finland who visited our conferences and congresses. They talked about their situation, their experiences when they escaped from Namibia and how they moved to Finland or Sweden. That was a very important part of the motivational work and also to get information from young people in the organization.

Madi Gray: Did you arrange tours for them, to go and meet people in Sweden?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes. Sometimes we had tours to different places in Sweden to meetings arranged by the Centre Party Youth in those parts of the country. I suppose sometimes there were public meetings in the streets.

Madi Gray: Do you know what happened to the relationship between SWAPO and the Centre Party Youth after independence in 1990?

Yngve Sunesson: Yes, I know the cooperation continued for a long time. I know that the solidarity fund financed part of a school in Okahao in northern Namibia. I think that the Centre Party had volunteers at the school for some years and that it was built after 1990. I wasn't directly engaged but I heard about it. Now the school exists and the local authorities run it, but I think there still are some contacts between the Centre Party Youth and the school.

Madi Gray: What do you think that your support meant to people in Angola, Namibia and South Africa?

Yngve Sunesson: Well I think the moral support was important for their struggle. Not only ours, but all the Swedish and international support.

Madi Gray: In what way?

Yngve Sunesson: I think that they felt that they had international support for their struggle, that their struggle was accepted, it was legal and that I think was encouraging for them. The money we collected was not very much, but it was a contribution to their work and every dollar or pound you could give them was needed. I saw it for myself in the refugee camps and we heard so much about it. I think we felt it was meaningful to work with them.

Madi Gray: You said you felt it was meaningful, did your engagement in Southern Africa affect other work within the Centre Party Youth?

Yngve Sunesson: I think this concrete solidarity work increased the international interest and the international debate in the party.

Madi Gray: We have gone through my questions. I'd like you to take a look at your notes, see if there is anything there that you'd like to add.

Yngve Sunesson: I was in Namibia and South Africa last year for some weeks and I met Hadino Hishongwa and his former wife Ndeutala Angolo. I felt they were still grateful for what we did 20, 25 years ago and interested to keep contact. Both were busy with the presidential election, yet they took the time to meet me and my wife and discuss whatever was interesting. Maybe that is some kind of proof that what we did was meaningful.
They didn't say so, but I think they are a bit disappointed that Sweden as a country does not have more contact with Namibia, because Sweden was leading in support for Namibia during the 1970s and 1980s.

Madi Gray: Your viewpoint is important. Thank you very much.