On the 25th anniversary of former president Nelson Mandela’s famous release from incarceration, the Castle of Good Hope and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands opened a photo exhibition honouring various solidarity campaigns borne in the Netherlands. Titled ‘Signs of Solidarity – the Dutch against Apartheid’, its opening saw well known South African anti-Apartheid stalwarts sharing their stories. Renowned struggle veteran and former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs, poet and theologian Willa Boezak both relayed their experiences of being involved with the Dutch anti-Apartheid resistance in the Netherlands.
“During that time, when international resistance against Apartheid started, you had countries who were officially in opposition against Apartheid. Countries like New Zealand, the Eastern Bloc, the Scandinavian countries, were all officially against Apartheid because their governments were against it. But other countries did not have official stances against it, one such country was the Netherlands who, for some reason, never officially spoke out against the regime, at least in that time, but on the ground the people were so opposed to Apartheid that eventually the government had to listen.,” Sachs said.
despite resistance from within their own country, Dutch supporters of the liberation remain, to him, the most determined protestors against the regime.
“The most passionate, the most dedicated anti-Apartheid solidarity supporters came from the Netherlands. [Unlike New Zealand] they didn’t have a rugby team whose playing with South Africa would tear the nation apart; they didn’t have any direct stakes in South Africa, and I don’t believe it was simply because of the historical ties to South Africa. Officially there were massive amounts of support for Apartheid in the Netherlands, the national socialist ideologies carried over during NAZI occupation were still prevalent in the Kingdom. But the people on the ground were determined to undermine Apartheid and show solidarity.”
He said eventually the support and tenacity shown by the Dutch would shape the end of Apartheid, products like OutSpan fruits and South African wines would not be allowed to come into the Netherlands due to a national boycott installed by citizens and Dutch businesses.
Calvyn Gilfellan, the Castle of Good Hope Control Board CEO said there is a great amount of irony in displaying the exhibition at one of the first structures of Dutch South Africa.
“The venue is a former Dutch fortress. It is viewed by many as a symbol of colonial and racial oppression. This is in direct contrast with the current exhibition that demonstrates the role played by the Dutch to pressurise the Apartheid regime to eventually give in as symbolised by the release of Nelson Mandela on this day’’ he said.
Dutch ambassador Marisa Gerard, who presented the opening, said years of historical ties, sometimes not savoury, linked South Africa and the Netherlands and sparked the Dutch people’s need to engage with Apartheid.
“During those years, a strong bond of friendship was forged between our peoples. It might be confusing but it’s quite profound that we can show this exhibition here in the oldest Dutch built building, the Castle, here in Cape Town. The Castle is symbolic of another, more painful part of our common history. The exhibition shows a story of two peoples that found one another in a common struggle for the freedom of South Africans under Apartheid.”
The exhibition will run at the Castle of Good Hope until the 9thof March, after which it will move to the University of the Western Cape and then the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees. VOC (Andriques Che Petersen)