Comments relating to the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in Australia

Audrey McDonald

The following are the opening remarks made at Social Protest Movements and the Labour Movement, 1965-75″, Sydney Labour History Conference Session on the Anti Apartheid Struggle in Australia.

Apartheid – the brutal system of institutionalised racism imposed for decades on black South Africans – the overwhelming majority – brought immense suffering.

The great injustice and treatment of black South Africans by the hated South African Apartheid Regime aroused magnificent international solidarity which was extended by the Australian working class movement and others such as the churches and those that made up the anti Apartheid movement at various times in past years.

The book Australians Against Racism contains testimonies by 24 people recording their experiences and activities that contributed to the overall movement against Apartheid. Although much is about the period of establishing the ANC Office in Australia during the 80s and the growth of the Anti Apartheid Movement and ANC support in Australia, many contributions reach back and record the period under review of this conference.

The period 1965-75 were volatile times. It was a period when many of the organisations of the Australian labour movement were linked into the various arms of the International movement such as the unions with the World federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the peace movement with the World Peace Council (WPC) and the Union of Australian Women (UAW) (with whom I worked) with the World Federation of Democratic Women (WIDF).

This linkage and experience in meeting with like mined representatives from numerous countries around the world enabled co-ordination of campaigns such as the world wide campaign against Apartheid. It was at these world meetings that Australian organisations for example met people from South Africa and support was developed and co-ordinated.

For example unions such as the Seamen and Waterside Workers boycotted ships connected with South Africa. The UAW as a result of its close connection with the ANC Women’s Section (later known as Women’s League) met with the ANC women and boycott actions were taken around importation of South African wool and other products. Moral and practical support and solidarity was extended such as sending parcels and letters to those in jail or in exile and direct protests were made to the South African Government.

Many protests were organised by a range of groups and organisations not the least of which was that in relation to visits of sports teams which is a major focus of this session. These actions nationally and internationally were steps towards the overthrow of Apartheid. The struggles over decades came to fruition in the 90s when the ANC finally won through and the Apartheid Regime was forced to dismantle and a new Democratic Government led by Nelson Mandela was established with overwhelming support for the ANC.

Locations associated with the Aboriginal resistance to settlement, convict resistance to the military government of the colony, including Irish convict resistance, are not dealt with at all. The Catholic stream in the Australian labour movement gets almost no representation. The popular democratic agitation against transportation, and for representative democracy in the colony, which can be encapsulated in a number of physical locations, is not treated at all. The big, bitter class struggles and strikes of the last 200