From a 2018 Hamburg conference called "Perceptions of Apartheid in Western Europe 1960–1990," and an earlier German-Danish researching consortium, comes this compendium about the contestation of apartheid via rhetoric, financial and cultural means. Apartheid and Anti-Apartheid in Western Europe addresses the West's anti-apartheid movement (hereafter AA), argued by Hakim Thörn to be the first and breakthrough transnational political mobilization, comparable only to the worldwide anti-slave trade and anti-slavery movement. Debatable as that is – the temperence movement after the Great Awakening comes to mind – there is no denying the significance of opposition to apartheid as a vehicle that brought widely disparate forms of rhetorical or material support on both sides of the Cold War together on a single issue.
The Introduction joins other work following Thörn in seeking to grasp the world's AA movements, and not so much "apartheid" in the West as such despite the title (almost all essayists discuss its opposition, with some attention to its apologists). The aim is to understand AA movements as a totality, even as their instantiations also conformed to local concerns, from student cynicism to Black unionism. This latter dynamic cut two ways in Poland and the GDR, and a third in Labour's anti-racism campaigns in the U.K. in the 1980s with the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). The editors recognize that churches, trade unions, and companies, "by addressing apartheid, [...] also pursued their own goals, which were directed at their country's politics and culture" (p. 14). This is the way interest in such a worldwide phenomenon built, as seen throughout the book.
The book's editors are concerned also with the making of Western Europe as a battlefield of ideas for Africa and apartheid, and the return home of the colonial struggle. The positive case is made that these efforts initiated the global (or transnational) affinities that are so familiar to us today with the internet and social media. If anything, given the lack of a metric of success, more skepticism is called for in retrospect than is shown. One might ask how world AA served hegemonic interests, as states and corporations engaged in configuring themselves as apparently responsive to social change in their own countries.
In this regard, Andresen shows that internal AA corporate communications by Swedish affiliated companies often reassured white managers their jobs were safe (p. 31). He looks at West German AA, its complex relationships in Bonn, and the position of labor therein. Material anti-racist practices were installed in worldwide labor discussions through opposing South Africa's segregated white "unions", but such reformist activism ran against the liberationism of MK and the African National Congress (ANC). Möckel in "Shopping against apartheid" delves into the world of AA self-advertisement in T-shirts and mugs that bring in people at the margins of AA. A narrowly focused chapter on how British television framed apartheid (p. 103) is followed by Detlef Siegfried’s examination of the famous Mandela concert at Wembley in 1988. He deftly unpacks the relationship between the sacred focus of AA and the profane matter of capital (p. 150), even if he does not quite know how to handle Jonny Clegg or Paul Simon, credible artists who rejected boycotts in favor of cultural and musical engagement.
Kahrs' treatment of West Germany and AA begins to get at the difficulties of dealing with the major Left student groupings in one part of Europe, itself the subject of a recent Ph.D. dissertation. The authors also address functions AA fulfilled beyond politics. Justke, in a chapter about Christians and AA, discusses the experiences of a particular, prominent, Black Namibian pastor traveling in the Federal Republic of Germany, and also touches on the way identification with suffering South Africans provided an outlet for righteous guilt among Germans. Neither approach, however, sums up the New Left position comprehensively.
Rhetorical activism against the apartheid regime was the rule, no doubt irritating to the apartheid regime, initially involving direct secret support by the British for the actions South African Communist revolutionaries. The same movement accommodated shipments of weapons and guidelines for businesses already invested in South Africa to keep making a profit. This coalition was then permeated by agents of the apartheid state, by Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and ANC factionalism, and differing lineages of power moving in different ways.
Pitched as expanding an understanding of the Western European actors involved in such a complex network against evil, the current volume mostly achieves its objective in sketching out, with concrete examples, important aspects of the West's engagement with apartheid. Andresen et al. do, however, skate over the ANC's and PAC's efforts to mobilize against the state in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the state's crushing of them. Nor does their work engage what we already know about the integration of the funding of arms in relation to world AA from 1971, particularly from the East, although other scholars are making a strong start there. AA also helped keep alive the ANC and the MK (its army) during its long decades in exile, a topic not addressed by the book. AA did not however prevent Western governments or even Egypt from dealing with the apartheid National Party regime, pursuing trade, hosting ministers, permitting air flights and buying diamonds. Finally, the book does not explain the sheer persistence of a movement that did not see itself attaining its aim any time soon. Skovgaard on the British AA movement and the campaign against Shell Oil, demanding withdrawal from South Africa, gestures in this direction. The question arises of what "success" was in a campaign against what appeared to be an adamantine monolith.
Skovgaard writes of the boycott that it offered "opportunities for mobilization and visibility", i.e., for organizing people further, but this is not clearly shown. In fact, as of 1985, Shell "doubled down" on "constructive engagement," being present in South African industrial production, and the result was an internal Shell document pledging certain practices (p. 54, p. 60). Sweden, in the years of its greatest efforts on behalf of AA, vastly increased its economic relationships with South African companies. Was there a new understanding in the West of how companies had to behave, as is claimed? Why does this not extend to purchasing from China, Vietnam, the Marianas, or other producers, as no such scruples are observed?
Burki discusses the situation surrounding the ANC and major AA presence in Paris, Dulcie September, whom apartheid agents murdered in 1988. She was the last among several leading Left spokespeople associated with the original MK, white and Black, whom state agents firebombed or booby-trapped and killed. Future efforts might illuminate the relationships between secret police collaborations and such illegal oppression further, the role of international anti-racism and world Blackness, and finally, the unintended functions for activism that anti-apartheid activism facilitated. As of now, Andresen et al. are to be commended for publishing a fine study contributing to a deepening literature on the West's reception of apartheid.