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Thörn, Dr Håkan (2006) Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil Society. CCS Seminar Series : -.

This is the intro chapter to the book: Anti-Apartheid, the Media and ‘New Social Movements’ – Beyond Eurocentrism

The long journey
Even through the thickness of the prison walls … we heard your voices demanding our freedom.
(Nelson Mandela, Wembley stadium, London, 16 April 1990).

Soon after he was released from Robben Island on the 11 February 1990,
Nelson Mandela travelled abroad. He visited Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania
and then Sweden, where he saw Oliver Tambo, African National Congress
(ANC) president in exile, who at the time was hospitalized in Stockholm.
Here, he also appeared in front of thousands of cheering people in the
Globe Arena. In April, he went to London, where he attended the second
‘Mandela concert’ at Wembley Stadium, organized by the British AAM
(Anti-Apartheid Movement) and broadcast by BBC on television globally.
This was the beginning of the end of the long journey, or as Mandela
puts it, ‘the long walk’, to freedom from the brutal apartheid system in
South Africa.2 As a prisoner for 27 years, Mandela’s movements had in a
literal sense been limited to walking within an extremely limited space
for most of the period of which the anti-apartheid struggle lasted.
However, for many of his fellow anti-apartheid activists, journeys
across borders were an important and necessary part of the
anti-apartheid struggle (as for Mandela himself before and after he was

In order to defend its system, the apartheid regime did not just
imprison many of its opponents, it also fenced the country in,
attempting at strict 1 control over movements across, as well as within,
its borders, be it of people or information. However, in an era of
increasing cultural, political and economic globalization, this became
increasingly difficult.

Across borders Through the years millions of people participated in the movement to abolish apartheid in South Africa. A large number of them were living in South Africa and were experiencing the violence of the apartheid system as part of every day life. But the struggle against apartheid in South Africa also benefited from the support of large numbers of people around the world who were not sharing this direct experience of the apartheid system. People living in various countries like Japan, Holland, India, Sweden, Guyana, Britain, Ghana, Jamaica, Cuba, New Zealand and the United States made contributions through taking part in collective action. Most of them had not even been to South Africa. Their support was an act that in the context of the movement was defined through the concept of ‘solidarity’. There are a number of different opinions and theories about the causes of the end of apartheid in South Africa – and about the role that the
anti-apartheid struggle played in the process that led to the transformation.

In these discussions, a distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’
factors has been central. On the ‘internal side’, attention has been
paid to the intensified internal struggle during the 1980s, led by the
United Democratic Front (UDF), and in which youth movements and trade
unions played a significant role.3 It is argued that this struggle in
the end made South Africa ‘ungovernable’ from the point of view of the
apartheid regime. Yet others point to the economic decline in South
Africa during the 1980s, and South African big business’ changing
attitudes towards the apartheid regime, leading to negotiations with the
ANC.4 On the ‘external side’, one argument emphasizes strongly that it
was the shift of international power balance that followed the end of
the Cold War that ultimately brought apartheid down. This meant that the
‘communist threat’ that had helped the South African government to
sustain its position internationally was no longer there and that the
Western powers and the Soviet Union started to negotiate about finding
solutions to conflicts in Southern Africa.5 Others emphasize the
pressure of the international solidarity movement, resulting in boycotts
and sanctions against South Africa.6 During my research on the
anti-apartheid movement, I have come across a number of accounts about
how the struggle ‘inside’ South Africa 2 Anti-Apartheid and the
Emergence of a Global Civil Society was constantly influenced by the
‘outside’, just as the struggle ‘outside’ was influenced by, and
dependent on, the struggle ‘inside’. This displays the difficulty to
establish a clear, unambiguous ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of South Africa in
the struggle against apartheid, just as it is difficult to establish any
fixed or clear-cut borders in an increasingly globalized world, where
people and information increasingly are moving across borders, be it
geopolitical, cultural or ‘racial’.

Such an account is for example provided by Michael Lapsley, to many
known as ‘Father Michael’, one of many anti-apartheid activists that
embodied the movements across borders that characterized the
antiapartheid struggle. Lapsley, born and raised in New Zealand, and
trained as an Anglican priest in Australia, was sent by his church
community to South Africa in 1973 to study at the University of Natal.
Here, he also worked as a chaplain to students at campuses, most of them
black, and got involved in anti-apartheid activities. Because of this,
he was expelled in 1976, and went to live in Lesotho, where he also
became a member of the ANC. In the early 1980s he spent nine months in
London, working in the ANC office, speaking at meetings organized by the
British AAM.

He then went to Zimbabwe, where he continued to work against apartheid.7
Lapsley gives the following examples of the important role of both media
and travel, as the anti-apartheid movement outside South Africa also
became present within its borders: To give you an example of a specific
moment, there was a particular day, where three o’ clock in the morning
in South Africa, white South Africa, got up to watch a rugby match in
New Zealand. And the rugby match was stopped by this massive
anti-apartheid movement. And it was electrifying, because we were told
in South Africa, people were being told, look there is a few longhaired
layabouts, and suddenly it’s not a group of longhaired layabouts, but
it’s actually a broad cross section of society in New Zealand. I think
there was enormous appreciation in the majority community that there was
an international movement there. And also the (anti-apartheid)
leadership and many people in prison talked about that.
Obviously, there were always people who travelled, church people loved
travelling. I think that the international church network was often a
vehicle for communication, because often political people couldn’t
necessarily travel, they didn’t have passports, they were detained,
whatever. The churches were having conferences everywhere, so that the
South African connection of the faith community coming back Introduction
3 into the country I think was very significant, a very significant
gateway of communication. And there were people from church networks
visiting South Africa as well, those communications remained throughout,
they never really stopped. So there was that vehicle of communication in
both directions.8 As I see it, these quotes show that an adequate
analysis of the antiapartheid movement has to pay attention to the
construction of networks, organizations, identities, action forms and
information flows that transcended borders. In this sense the
anti-apartheid movement could be seen as a part of a complex and
multi-layered process that could be defined as a globalization of politics.

The globalization of politics
I would like to argue that the global struggle against apartheid must be
seen in the context of the emergence of the ‘new social movements’, that
have addressed global issues in new ways, for example, solidarity,
anti-colonialism, ecology, peace and gender inequality, as well as the
increased internationalization of ‘old movements’ (predominantly labour
and church movements).9 During the last decade, these phenomena have
begun to be discussed and analysed in terms of a global or international
civil society. There has also been an increasing interest in these
issues after the ‘global justice movement’ (sometimes called the
‘anti-globalization movement’) became visible in the the World Social
Forums in the South (Porto Alegre, Mumbai) and in the streets in cities
in the North (Seattle, Genua), as well as in a globalized media space.10
In these more recent discussions, the Internet is often highlighted as
something that has made the construction of an effective global civil
society possible.

However, I would like to argue that more important, the present ‘global
civil society’ has historical links to the post-war, transnational
political culture that the anti-apartheid movement was part of.
This political culture can be understood as part of an increasing
globalization of politics, taking place predominantly after the Second
World War. In this historical context a new, global political space
emerges, constituted by three interrelated phenomena: (a) the new media
which creates new possibilities for global communication, the creation
of (b) transnational networks of individuals, groups and organizations,
made possible not only through the new media, but also by face-to-face
interaction facilitated by the new possibilities of travel. Not the
least important, these networks must also be seen in the context of
de-colonization and 4 Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil
Society post-colonial migration and (c) the rise and consolidation of
new ‘global’ organizations and institutions.

This book emphasizes the importance of a historical perspective on
political cultures, social movements, and political globalization. It
looks at anti-apartheid as part of the history of present global
politics. It analyses the crucial action forms and identification
processes of the antiapartheid movement as a transnational phenomenon,
relating it to relevant political and historical contexts. I argue that
the anti-apartheid movement could be seen as part of the construction of
an emerging global civil society during the post-war era. Consequently,
the transnational anti-apartheid struggle proves a relevant case for
recent theorizing and research on transnational movements and global
civil society.

Anti-apartheid and human rights
Given the number of people that participated in the transnational
antiapartheid movement, as well as its geographical dispersion and its
achievements, there is no doubt that it was one of the most influential
social movements during the post-war era. In addition to the South
African movement organizations, the transnational anti-apartheid network
connected thousands of groups and organizations, including solidarity
organizations, unions, churches, women’s, youth and student
organizations in more than 100 countries.11 For example, only in Britain
more than 184 local groups were affiliated to the British AAM in 1990;
and its list of international contacts included anti-apartheid
solidarity organizations in 37 countries.12 Existing as a transnational
movement for more than four decades, anti-apartheid’s impact was not
limited to the South African context, as it created transnational
networks, organizations and collective action forms that made – and
still makes – an impact on national as well as transnational political

The significance of this movement has often been recognized in the
context of social movement studies and international relations.13
However, little research has been done on anti-apartheid, especially
from the perspective of social movement theory. Further, while one of
the most crucial aspects of this movement was its construction of
transnational networks and forms of action, most research has focused on
its national aspects, looking at the Australian, American, British or
South African anti-apartheid movement.14 In the context of international
relations, Audie Klotz argues that the history of the anti-apartheid
struggle refutes the realist notion of international politics as purely
dominated by the self-interest of states. In an Introduction 5 attempt
to move beyond the debate on realism versus idealism, she argues for
considering norms as a force of change in international politics.15
Although the focus of her analysis is not on the level of civil society,
it nevertheless implies a strong role for the anti-apartheid movement.
Through advocating the global norm of racial equality, initially
emerging in the context of the anti-slavery movement, and through
connecting this norm to demands for sanctions, the transnational
anti-apartheid movement could become a powerful actor in world politics,
influencing the interests and actions of states, corporations and
intergovernmental institutions. Klotz also argues that the transnational
anti-apartheid movement was related to, and supported by, the emergence
and strengthening of issues like human rights and democratization in a
global political context during the last decades.

This analysis might also explain the increasing interest in social
movements among international relations theorists, as well as the fact
that social movement theorists are turning to international relations in
order to borrow theoretical concepts when formulating theories of
transnational social movements.16 An important example in this respect
is Margaret E. Keck’s and Kathryn Sikkink’s Activists Beyond Borders:
Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Advocacy networks are
distinguished from other types of transnational networks through ‘the
centrality of principled ideas or values in motivating their
formation’.17 In the book, the authors identify the anti-apartheid
struggle as one of the most successful transnational campaigns in
history. However, it is not included as a case in their study.
Although emphasizing historical predecessors in the nineteenth and early
twentieth century, such as the anti-slavery campaign and the
international suffrage movement, Keck and Sikkink argue that a major
change regarding the global diffusion of human rights discourse and
practice took place between late 1960s and early 1990s. Before this
human rights had, with a few exceptions, been an empty declaration
rather than a forceful political discourse. It was only through the
emergence of transnational networks, launching successful campaigns
during this period, that human rights became powerful as a discourse.
I would argue that this process started a bit earlier, in the early 1960s.
Important in this respect was not just the forming of Amnesty
International, but also the emergence of the transnational
anti-apartheid movement. In 1956 Canon John Collins formed the Treason
Trial Defence Fund out of Christian Action, which in turn had roots back
to the British Anti-Slavery Society. Later it changed its name to the
British Defence and Aid Fund, and in 1965 the International Defence and
Aid Fund (IDAF) was set up with the purpose of providing legal support
to 6 Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil Society
individuals prosecuted for violating the apartheid laws and to support
the families of ‘apartheid prisoners’.18 It became one of the most
important international anti-apartheid organizations. However, the
broader international campaign against apartheid took off after the All
Africa People’s Conference in Accra made a call for an international
boycott of South African goods in December 1958. Four months later the
ANC, who had been discussing a boycott since the early 1950s, launched a
boycott in South Africa.19 In Britain the anti-colonial Committee of
African Organizations (CAO) responded to the call at a meeting in
Holborn Hall in London. Invited to the meeting as Speakers were Julius
Nyerere, president of the Tanganyika Africa National Union, and Father
Trevor Huddleston.20 A boycott committee was formed, and soon it evolved
into the independent Boycott Movement, which in 1960 changed its name to
the AAM, consisting of South African exiles and a few of their British
supporters.21 In March 1960, the campaign was fuelled by the Sharpeville
shootings, which was reported globally by the media and caused a moral
outrage all over the world. In various countries anti-apartheid protests
occurred, demanding that governments and the United Nations (UN) put
pressure on the South African government to end apartheid.
Partly as a result of this emerging global mobilization, the UN General
Assembly a year later passed a resolution, explicitly referring to the
demands of the ‘world public opinion’. It declared that the ‘racial
policies being pursued by the Government of the Union of South Africa
are a flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.22 The British AAM, which in 1965
decided to pay special attention to co-ordination of the transnational
anti-apartheid network,23 continued to refer to apartheid as a human
rights issue in its internationally distributed AA News in the 1960s. In
the Human Rights Year of 1968, AAM sent a circular letter to all
organizations in the international anti-apartheid network, urging them
to campaign about the apartheid issue as a violation of human rights.24
This might prove a case to conceptualize the transnational antiapartheid
struggle in Keck’s and Sikkink’s terms as a human rights advocacy
network. However, in this book, I will argue that such a
conceptualization is not sufficient, as the anti-apartheid struggle
clearly took the shape of a social movement.

Anti-apartheid and new social movements
In the cases where the anti-apartheid struggle has been analysed in
terms of a social movement, it has often been related to the discourse
on ‘new social movements’ (NSM). In an article on the British AAM,
Introduction 7 Stuart Hall argues that it could be seen as one of the
new social movements, since it ‘cut across issues of class and party,
and organizational allegiance’.25 In a similar mode Christine Jennett
has analysed the Australian anti-apartheid movement as a new social
movement, emphasizing its cultural orientation.26 I agree that the
anti-apartheid movement displayed many of the central features of new
social movements as these have been defined in the context of NSM
theory.27 The struggle against apartheid was as a part of the emergence
of a new transnational political culture during the post-war era, that
also included other solidarity movements, as well as student’s, green,
peace and women’s movements, often conceptualized as ‘the new social
movements’. The anti-apartheid movement was able to unite an extremely
broad ‘rainbow coalition’ of organizations and groups, with a socially
diverse support base and ideological orientation.

Further, the anti-apartheid movement had a strong cultural orientation, it was highly media oriented and the production and dissemination of
information was one of its central activities. Finally, although its
actions often had the purpose of putting pressure on governments and
political parties, it engaged in extra-parliamentary political action,
such as civil disobedience and boycotts, the latter its most important
form of collective action.

However it is not possible to use NSM theory to analyse the
transnational anti-apartheid movement without making a few modifications.
First, ‘old social movements’, predominantly labour and church
movements, and their increased internationalization during the post-war
era, were an integral part of anti-apartheid, as a ‘movement of movements’.

Second, and more important, the case of anti-apartheid as a
transnational social movement reveals some highly problematic
Eurocentric assumptions made in the context of NSM theory. I would like
to argue that this implicit Eurocentrism to a large extent is related to
a lack of a theoretically developed global perspective on contemporary
collective action in the theoretical literature on new social movements.
Although the global dimensions of contemporary collective action has
often been pointed out, Western nation states have been the point of
departure for theorizing on new social movements. Theorists of new
social movements have pointed to the new social conditions of
‘post-industrial’, ‘complex’ or ‘informational’ societies as a
precondition for the emergence of these movements. Consequently, where
no such new conditions are clearly present, no new movements can
possibly emerge.

In spite of this, the concept of new social movements has in a few cases
been applied in analyses of collective action in the South, however 8
Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil Society often without
theoretical debate.28 One important exception is Ernesto Laclau, who has
argued that: is it not the case that this plurality of the social and
this proliferation of political spaces which lie behind the new social
movements, are basically typical of advanced industrial societies,
whilst the social reality of the Third World, given its lower level of
differentiation, can still be apprehended in terms of the more classical
categories of sociological and class analysis? The reply is that,
besides the fact that this ‘lower level of differentiation’ is a myth,
Third World societies have never been comprehensible in terms of a
strict class analysis. We hardly need to refer to the Eurocentrism in
which the ‘universalization’ of that analysis was based.29 The
Eurocentric and evolutionist thinking often implied in NSM theory is
clearly expressed by Christine Jennett as she is applying Alain
Touraine’s theory of social movements in her analysis of the Australian
Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAAM). The organization AAAM, consisting of
predominantly middle-class Australian solidarity activists, is by
Jennett defined as a new social movement, characterized by its
orientation toward participatory grassroots democracy. The exile
liberation movements, including organizations such as the ANC, the Pan-
Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and South West African People’s
Union (SWAPO), are by the same author defined as ‘historical movements’,
characterized by hierarchical forms of organization and nationalist
ideology.30 In a sense NSM theory has often implicitly been reproducing
the Eurocentric evolutionist thinking of classical modernization theory,
in which each country in its development has to pass through similar
stages, and where the ‘underdeveloped’ countries of the South are always
lagging behind the developed countries of the North. This mode of
thinking is also based on what has been called ‘methodological
nationalism’ in the sense that the nation state is always the basic
unity of the analysis, and development/underdevelopment thus always is
related to ‘internal factors’.31 This paradigm ignored the existence of
global power relations and economic and political interdependence. In
the case of theories of post-industrial society, it was often
‘forgotten’ that the transformation to post-industrial economies in the
North presupposed moving industrial production to so called ‘low-wage’
countries in the South. Although few advocates of classical
modernization theory are to be heard today, many of its assumptions are
still implicitly present Introduction 9 in current social theory. This
is the case even in recent globalization discourse, as social conditions
and trends specific to countries in the North are often being
universalized.32 As I see it, this is not to say that NSM theory has not
contributed with valuable insights regarding contemporary collective
action. However, it has to be de-linked from its Eurocentric
implications. Social movement studies could thus benefit from
integrating perspectives from postcolonial theory. Postcolonial studies
have not only emphasized the presence of a colonial legacy in the
context of the latest phase of the globalization process, but also the
presence and influence of the de-colonization process and the politics
of anti-colonialism on present-day politics.33 Applying this perspective
to the transnational anti-apartheid movement, and relating it to the
debate on ‘new social movements’, it is evident that this movement,
displaying all the characteristics associated with new social movements,
emerged out of transnational interactions located in the context of
de-colonization. It was initiated under strong influence not just of
South African anti-apartheid organizations and exiles, but also of the
broader anti-colonial struggle. The de-colonization process clearly
marked established politics as well as the emerging alternative
political culture in Britain at the time when the two internationally
important solidarity organizations, IDAF and AAM, were initiated. These
organizations were part of what in Britain in the late 1950s and early
1960s was called ‘new politics’, as I see it an early conceptualization
of certain forms of collective action, foreshadowing the latter ‘new
social movements’.

In 1952, the same year that Canon John Collins initiated the activities
that would subsequently lead to the formation of IDAF, the British peace
movement initiated a mobilization process influenced by the Indian
anti-colonial movement. It was called ‘Operation Gandhi’, and organized
‘sit-ins’ in central London.34 The founder of IDAF, Canon John Collins,
was also the chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the
dominant peace movement organization in Britain at the time. A public
personality involved in the more militant civil disobedience actions
that the peace movement at this time continued to stage (and which
amongst other things led to the trial against Bertrand Russell, that
gained media attention around the whole world) was Reverend Michael
Scott. Scott had been participating in militant Indian civil
disobedience actions as well as black political activism in South
Africa. Banned in South Africa in 1950, Scott initiated the Africa
Bureau in London in 1952, supporting African de-colonization. Just like
the Movement for Colonial Freedom, The Africa Bureau was an important
part of an emerging anti-colonial political culture in Britain in late

Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil Society
When the Boycott Movement, initiated by the Committee of African Organizations, in 1960 changed its name to AAM, and started to reach outside of the exile circles, it attracted individuals who participated in this political culture.35 To conclude the discussion on the implications of the case of the antiapartheid movement in relation to the theoretical
debate on new social movements: I argue that when using this concept, it
must be recognized that new social movements in the West partly emerged
out of the global context of de-colonization, and that the collective
experiences and action forms of the anti-colonial struggles in the South
were extremely important sources of influence.
I think that the reason for this influence being largely neglected in
the context of NSM theory, is partly due to the methodological
nationalism which for a long time has dominated not just social movement
studies but the social sciences in general. However, as has already been
mentioned, recently a new interdisciplinary field of research has
emerged, dealing with transnational collective action and the changing
role of the nation state in the context of the increasing importance of
processes of globalization. As Keck and Sikkink have showed, this
approach is not only valid in relation to the recent wave of
transnational collective action, but also to historical cases.
Defining anti-apartheid as social movement

I define a social movement as a form of collective action that
ultimately aims at transforming a social order. A social movement is a
process involving as central elements the articulation of social
conflicts and collective identities. It is constituted by different
forms of practices: production and dissemination of information,
knowledge and symbolic practices, mobilization of various forms of
resources, including the construction of organizations and networks, and
the performing of public actions of different kinds (demonstrations as
well as direct actions).36 This means that a social movement should not
be confused with an ‘organization’, or an NGO (although it can include
NGOs), and that it does not consist of the sum of a number of
individuals – that is, it does not presuppose ‘membership’ – but should
rather be seen as a space of action.

For example, by participating in a boycott against South African goods
you performed an action that was a part of constituting anti-apartheid
as a social movement.

While this analytical understanding of a social movement departs from
the so-called ‘identity paradigm’, I will also make use of the Resource
Mobilization Theory (RMT), particularly its emphasis on the Introduction
11 importance of previously established networks for the emergence of a
social movement, and the notions of ‘action repertoire’ (designating the
available, historically accumulated, stock of action forms) and ‘social
movement organizations’ (SMOs).37 Resource Mobilization Theory has also
been reformulated as the Political Process Perspective, an approach that
emphasizes the role of political opportunity structures (POS), often
being used for cross-national comparisons. Although the POS approach
recently has been modified in order to be adapted to the emergence of
transnational social movements that address supra-national institutions,
it still tends to treat the nation state as a ‘pre-given’, largely
unproblematized, context for social movement action.38 Rather than
presuming that explanations for both national and transnational
collective action are primarily to be sought in the context of the
internal dynamics of a nation state, I will shift emphasis, suggesting
that any analysis of the emergence of social movements, national and
transnational, in the twentieth (and the twenty-first) century, must
consider their relations to transnational processes. Further, as a
consequence of its emphasis on political structures, the POS mode of
analysis has in some cases tended to downplay the role of culture and

In this book, I will use a number of concepts that emphasize global
processes, history and culture.

On the most general level of analysis, I will use the concept of
structural context, including the economic, political and cultural
structuring of social action. In its widest sense the appropriate
structural context for the transnational anti-apartheid movement is the
process of intensified globalization during the post-war era.39 Further,
situated in the context of postcoloniality, the issue of anti-apartheid
was articulated as an issue of de-colonization, particularly by newly
independent states and anti-colonial movements, and the patterns of
conflicts and positions taken in the context of international
communities were to a large extent conditioned by the political history
of colonialism. Finally, situated in the context of the Cold War, the
anti-apartheid struggle, like any significant political field during the
post-war era, national as well as transnational, was divided along the
conflict lines that constituted the bipolar political world order. The
Cold War was a crucial factor in the circumstances that made it possible
for the South African apartheid government to sustain its position
internationally. It was also the Cold War that made it possible to
define ANC as part of a bloc that threatened world peace and security.40
Further, in order to emphasize the importance of the cultural dimension
of collective action, I will use the concept of political culture to
signify a 12 Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil Society
more specific and highly relevant context for the analysis of how
national and transnational collective action at any given time is
structured not just by the presence of formal political institutions,

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