The history of the Norwegian Council for Africa

From the starting point in 1967 and to the change in 1994 The Norwegian Council for Southern Africa managed to achieve something few other solidarity-organisations in Norway have achieved - to become a peoples' movement with a broad base and influence on the Norwegian political agenda and with credibility in the media.

The Norwegian Council for Africa (hereafter called NCA) reached its main objective by the liberation of South Africa in 1994. At that time the umbrella-organisation had fulfilled its objectives both in Norway and in Southern Africa. By the change and the organisation's name-change in 1994, a successful chapter in the history of Norwegian organisations could therefore be concluded. How then, did this happen?

Both activism and a broad base
The interest for South Africa in Norway grew with the Sharpeville-massacre in South Africa in 1960, and the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to the president of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, in 1961. NCA was founded in 1967 as a merger between the two organisations Norwegian Action Against Apartheid (NAMA) and The Crisis-fund for Southern Africa.

NCA started as an umbrella-organisation mostly for the youth-groups of the political parties ranging from right represented by Young Conservatives of Norway, to left represented by Red Youth. The Young Conservatives of Norway later withdrew as a result of NCA's criticism of Nato's policies towards Portugal's colonial wars in Africa. Red Youth also resigned during a period in the 1970s as a protest against NCA's policy towards Angola. In spite of this, NCA managed to keep its profile characterised by a broad political base throughout its existence. This was also coined in its convention.

Other solidarity-organisations have either been dominated by single activists from the left of the political spectrum, or have been slow-moving, cross-partisan umbrella organisations. NCA succeeded in combining the strong elements of both the member and the umbrella models. An important change occurred in 1976/77. At this time it was decided to include individual memberships and local branches in the structure. The activists thus gained more influence, but to avoid the political problems this might entail, the organisations were given the right to veto at the general assembly.

New organisations were included during the 1980s. Perhaps the most important of these were the many trade unions from The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions. At the peak NCA had 45 member-organisations and more than 2.000 individual members. The secretariat grew from consisting of one part-time secretary on minimum wage in 1976 to nine full-time employees towards the end of the 1980s.

The influence of the liberation struggle
The success of NCA in Norway was linked to the progress of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. NCA would likely not have expanded the way it did without the resentment created in the public by the apartheid-regime and the oppression from the colonial powers in Southern Africa. The liberation-movements Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo) and Partido Africano da Indepêndencia da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) in the then Portuguese colonies Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, documented that the NATO-member Portugal was responsible for massive encroachments. This became a strain on the relationship with many of the Portugal's allies, and in 1974 it led to a democratic military coup against the fascist-regime in Lisbon.

The white minority rule in South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the apartheid-regime in South Africa and its occupation of Namibia also provoked the international community. In these countries the liberation movements Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), African National Congress (ANC), and South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) gained increased international support along with the increasing oppression. This was also the case in Norway.

All these liberation movements frequently had NCA as their host and pathfinder for support in Norway. A large number of people (later to become high ranking politicians in Southern Africa) visited the rather unstructured campaign offices of NCA many years before they were received by The Foreign Ministry or other institutions. One should not forget that, for example, as late as in the mid 1970s the ANC were described as an «uninteresting exile-movement» by some Norwegian politicians and personalities who today are in line to get their picture taken with Nelson Mandela. NCA was not the only - but for a period the most important - means the liberation movements had to collect broad political and financial support in Norway. The amounts from NCA's own fund-raising were modest, but throughout the time the official Norwegian financial support given to the liberation struggle was significant.

Enemies in our own country
It is not sufficient to create sympathy for the struggle against injustice in distant places to mobilise the masses at home. For many people it became easier to get involved by the fact that there emerged some political enemies to fight in Norway.

President of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, advocated a boycott of South Africa when he visited Norway in 1961. After the Soweto-uprising in South Africa in 1976, the struggle for a boycott gained broad political impact. The Norwegian Wine and Spirits Monopoly and the shops of The Consumers' Cooperative in Oslo were among the first to implement the boycott, but most companies had to be pressured to stop the trade. In most Norwegian communities one could find South African fruit in the shops, and there was a strong, local mobilisation to stop the trade. The sales of South African goods were reduced, and exports of Norwegian goods to South Africa decreased even faster. Schools, trade-unions, student groups and local groups of NCA were involved in this task.

From 1980 there was a lot of attention around the exposure of Norwegian ship-owners and their transportation of oil to South Africa. The oil-transportation did not represent the bulk of the ship-owners trade with South Africa, but it gained a large symbolic value. The transportation of oil to the South-African warfare in Southern Africa became politically impossible to defend in the public opinion.

At the initiative of NCA, the main portion of Norwegian municipal authorities decided in the 1980s to support a boycott of South Africa, and in a while this political pressure also made the Storting (parliament) react. NCA contributed to the establishment of a cross-partisan contact-committee in the Storting. A law against the trade of Norwegian oil to South Africa was passed in 1986. In 1987 a law which in principle banned Norwegian trade with South Africa - including transportation of oil - was passed. This boycott-law was weak and full of loopholes, and it didn't prevent the trade between Norway and South Africa from actually increasing in the following years! Anyhow, it represented a political victory for NCA. Strong political and economical forces worked alongside eachother against any kind of boycott laws, but they had to give in.

Credibility in the media
The contact with the mass-media was a vital part of NCA's work. Many of the activists, board-members and employees in The Council became journalists. Many of these started their journalistic career in NCA's own magazine Afrika-Informasjon. Knowledge of, and friendships with journalists in newspapers, radio, TV and professional papers were used.

The newspapers were tipped about stories, and all this in turn led to the fact that many newspapers and The Norwegian State Broadcasting Company (NRK) became aware of NCA. The exposure of secret trade with South Africa, discreet visits by South-African delegations, and violations of the Norwegian and international boycott-policy gave a lot of media attention. The Councils breakthrough in the media came with two important events: The South Africa-hearing in the fall of 1977 and a larger hearing of South Africa's aggression towards its neighbours in 1984. Both events were large tasks for NCA which put a lot at stake and risked the organisation's economy if they had failed. However, both hearings became big media-successes, and contributed to the fact that «everybody» became aware of the organisation.

The organisation was viewed as solid and to-the-point in its contributions to the public debate, in spite of the fact that NCA was accused of being propagandist by some.

The cultural work
NCA's cultural work made an impact on a larger audience than the traditional solidarity-activities. Through our own events and with the establishment of Artists Against Apartheid (KMA), the cultural work became an important field of our efforts.

Violations of the UNs cultural boycott against South Africa gained a lot of attention, and own events featuring Norwegian cultural personalities and musicians, dancers and artists from Southern Africa often drew big audiences. Through events like «The Mozambique-manifestation» in 1987 NCA contributed to the spreading of a positive image of African culture in Norway.