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Birmingham Anti-Apartheid

The Anti-Apartheid Movement was founded in 1960, emerging from a group originally known as the Boycott Movement that had been established the previous year. Primarily an organisation that pursued economic forms of protest against the regime in South Africa, the focus of the Movement was broadened to include other forms of protest against apartheid in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960. There was widespread international condemnation, and a state of emergency was declared in South Africa. 1,700 people were detained and the black political parties banned. As a result local anti-apartheid groups were formed across the UK. It is unclear exactly when Birmingham Anti-Apartheid was formed, but the archive contains records dating back to 1966. The records document the branch’s activities and campaigns through minutes, correspondence, administrative files, publicity material, newspaper cuttings and, more unusually, a colourful selection of t-shirts. The collection also includes ANC publications and publicity material.

As one of South Africa’s major trading partners, one of the main means of protest in Britain was through economic channels and this is amply demonstrated by the documents in this collection. The collection includes, for example, material relating to the 1984 campaign in Birmingham which called for consumers to boycott goods from South Africa including proofs of the leaflets handed out as part of the campaign. These were produced in Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi as well as in English in an attempt to unite the city's communities in a common cause.

Following on from this campaign, Birmingham Anti-Apartheid began to push for the wards of Handsworth and Lozells to become an "apartheid free-zone", with none of the shops selling produce from South Africa. This followed on from a similar successful campaign in Bristol. Another important campaign for Birmingham Anti-Apartheid was 'twinning' regional anti-apartheid groups with regional ANC groups in South Africa. Started in 1991 by the British Anti-Apartheid Movement as a way of forging links between the two bodies on a more local level, Birmingham Anti-Apartheid was twinned with the Western Transvaal ANC. The archive contains detailed information on the relationship between the two groups, and some of the fund-raising events organised in Birmingham to support the ANC, such as the yearly Soweto Walks, are highlighted.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement continued to operate in Britain until 1994. Following the first democratic elections in South Africa, and the dismantling of apartheid, the organisation changed its name to Action for South Africa (ACTSA). A Birmingham branch was formed, and continues to operate.


The archive of Birmingham Anti-Apartheid [MS 2209] is available at Birmingham City Archives.





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