Articles

Three Decades of Anti-Apartheid Activism Now Available Online

by Allison Meier on March 17, 2014

1949 protest outside London's South Africa House (courtesy AAM)

1949 protest outside London’s South Africa House (courtesy AAM)

Three decades of activist material from what is one of Great Britain’s most intensive international grassroots political organizations is now online. The posters, documents, photographs, and other materials from the British Anti-Apartheid Movement that concentrated on South African politics and human rights from 1959 to 1994 were digitized in collaboration with Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Poster for the March Month of Boycott, 1960. (courtesy AAM Archives)

Poster for the March Month of Boycott, 1960. (courtesy AAM Archives)

Called Forward to Freedom: the History of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement 1959-1994, the site was launched last week. Previously you had to journey all the way to the Bodleian Library to access the footage, letters, and ephemera from the AAM. The pressure group ended after South Africa’s first democratic elections and transitioned into the ACTSA that continues to devote itself to issues in southern Africa. Along with the digital materials, the site also hosts interviews with over 50 activists who were involved over the years.

Christabel Gurney of the AAM told the Guardian:

“I hope this will interest a new generation in what was achieved. I think there are lots of places and situations in the world now, which may not be quite as straightforward in a way, but where small things that don’t seem very successful for a long time […] can build up and achieve something.”

Free All South African & Namibian Political Prisoners (1983) (courtesy AAM Archives)

Free All South African & Namibian Political Prisoners (1983) (courtesy AAM Archives)

Like the Interference Archive in Brooklyn and other efforts to make activism materials available, hopefully there will be some inspiration for contemporary groups in how to structure a movement for a country that might be totally disassociated from it. Nelson Mandela was an unknown name when the group began — now there’s a statue of him in Parliament Square. It is also an opportunity to evaluate the impact of groups like this in the broader history of politics, and look at some of the more controversial sides of activism that was dedicated so far from home. Some critiqued the AAM during its existence for not devoting the same energy to domestic racial issues.

Nevertheless, the materials online, particularly the posters and pamphlets, are a vivid representation of political graphics from the most radical decades of the 20th century (even Kenny Scharf has a contribution to the AAM). Every material was constructed as tinder for what the activists hoped would be a fire to catch the country in a passion against injustice.

Demonstrators in Trafalgar Square in 1990 (photograph by Cameron Brisbane, courtesy AAM)

Demonstrators in Trafalgar Square in 1990 (photograph by Cameron Brisbane, courtesy AAM)

View the complete archive of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement on the Forward to Freedom site.  

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