Because of several reports which have appeared recently about a United Nations "blacklist" of entertainers and other cultural personalities visiting South Africa, I thought it would be desirable to brief the media about the United Nations role in the campaign against apartheid in the cultural field.
Statements by some entertainers and others that the United Nations is attacking their freedoms, have been spread widely by South African propaganda.
It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms - including freedom of residence, movement and employment - to the African majority, which deprives them even of their citizenship rights, and which restricts and jails people without due process or rule of law, should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world.
The United Nations has no "blacklist."
The Special Committee has a list of cultural personalities who have made sacrifices by boycotting South Africa because of their abhorrence of apartheid. They deserve appreciation and honour and we are considering means to recognize their contribution to the struggle against apartheid.
We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime. We also have lists of artists whom we are approaching for co-operation in educating public opinion about apartheid and in organizing performances for the benefit of the oppressed people of South Africa.
And I would like, here, to thank the many artists who have performed for the benefit of the anti-apartheid movements for their campaign in the last twenty years in this country, as well as other countries.
I do not see why artists who go to South Africa, in spite of appeals by the United Nations and the black people of South Africa, and whose performances are reported in the media, should object if we keep their names on file. If they believe they have done right, let them have the courage to be counted.
I am not familiar with Spike Milligan who is very much in the press. I understand that he said, he even performed before mixed audiences, whatever that means; he even performed before some black audiences, whatever that means; and he also spoke with a taxi driver who said that things in South Africa are improving. I understand that Spike Milligan is a comedian - so I will leave it at that.
When one refers to blacklists, I think of Paul Robeson, one of the pioneers of the anti-apartheid campaign - and I might say, even before the British Anti-Apartheid Movement was established 25 years ago; he set up the Council on African Affairs in the United States - who suffered from persecution and blacklisting. I think of many South African writers, entertainers and others who are banned arbitrarily; artists from other countries prohibited from entering South Africa - for example, Jane Fonda.
The lists we produce are not lists for persecution, but essentially lists for persuasion. We want the people concerned to be informed of the situation in South Africa, and of the implications of their involvement, so that they can be persuaded not to perform in South Africa. If they undertake not to perform in South Africa, their names are immediately deleted.
If they insist on continuing collaboration with apartheid, I believe that all those who are outraged by apartheid are entitled to the freedom and the right not to patronize them.
The choice is between profiting from apartheid oppression and patronage by the opponents of racism.
I recall that the cultural boycott of South Africa was not started by the United Nations, but in fact, initiated by the artists themselves and their unions - by the British Musicians Union in 1961, by the British Screenwriters Guild and British Equity in 1965, by British, Irish and American playwrights between 1963 and 1965 and by the American Equity in the 1960s.
The United Nations in the 1960s commended the boycott and tried to dissuade some artists who were planning to perform in South Africa.
The United Nations Special Committee began taking more active initiatives only in 1980 because of new developments and in consultation with the British Anti-Apartheid Movement.
The South African regime, isolated by the cultural boycott, began to make some changes in the 1970s to deceive world public opinion - such as allowing some mixed performances in a few theatres, on permit.
It began to use secret funds to break the boycott - as revealed in the Muldergate Scandal.
And Sun City - in the bantustan of Bophuthatswana - started to entice artists by paying enormous fees. Sometimes, one wonders where they get the money to pay these artists because when we calculate the number of seats in those theatres against the ticket price, the income is less than what is being offered to the artists. This enticement by Sun City which is owned by private companies - and in one of the companies the South African Government has shares - was coupled with propaganda that bantustans are not apartheid South Africa, but African-controlled territories where there is no apartheid.
I understand that a commercial counsellor of Bophuthatswana wrote a letter to Evening Standard on this cultural boycott. I did not know that there is a so-called "commercial counsellor" or a so-called "Bophuthatswana" in Britain because the British Government has voted for resolutions denouncing the bantustans and undertook not to have relations with the bantustans.
Through bribery and propaganda, South Africa was able to attract several entertainers from abroad - especially because of the problems of employment of entertainers. Those who were enticed included a number of black entertainers, mainly from the United States of America, and even some entertainers who had reputation of being socially conscious - people who would have had difficulty getting visas to South Africa a few years ago.
That is why the United Nations General Assembly adopted a special resolution on the cultural boycott in December 1980. The Special Committee announced that after due notice, it would publish a list of entertainers who perform in South Africa from the beginning of 1981. The first list was published in October 1983, after giving sufficient opportunity to those concerned to undertake not to perform in South Africa again.
The United Nations action was also a response to appeals by black organizations in South Africa which courageously and effectively demonstrated against several foreign entertainers who defied the boycott.
The efforts of the United Nations and of anti-apartheid and other groups have had very encouraging results.
As you probably know, the singing group "O`Jays" in America have not only pledged not to go South Africa again but they have supported the boycott campaign and organized a seminar and they have offered to give performances for the benefit of the oppressed people of South Africa. There are others, like James Moody, Lou Donaldson, and very recently, William Benton who have undertaken not to go to South Africa. In the United Kingdom, I understand, the group "Real Thing," after visiting South Africa, have said that they will never again go to South Africa. The same is true of Jimmy Cliff, reggae singer from Jamaica. I am expecting letters from other entertainers offering not to go to South Africa.
The committee called Artists and Athletes against Apartheid, established in the United States under the chairmanship of Harry Belafonte and Arthur Ashe, is doing good work in persuading their colleagues. Several entertainers have now offered to appear in benefit performances for the black people of South Africa and donate their South African royalties when they cannot completely boycott South Africa, such as in the case of royalties from the sale of records.
I would like to emphasize that the issue in South Africa is not mere segregation of audiences and performers by race. That is only the superficial manifestation of an inhuman system whose character does not change because a few blacks are allowed into concert halls in South Africa on permit and a few blacks are brought into Sun City, even without tickets as they are beyond the means of the blacks.
In fact, these so-called reforms and the enticement of foreign artists are a deliberate cover to divert attention from the entrenchment of apartheid - the forced removals of hundreds of thousands of African people from their homes and the exclusion of the African majority from the political institutions and even citizenship rights, from the manoeuvres to turn an African country into a non-African country.
There is no parallel to this in history, except to some extent under Nazism. The issue in Germany then was not segregation of audiences, but inhumanity and genocide and that is the issue in South Africa today.
Collaboration with the ruling power in South Africa or with the authorities of bantustans when there is national resistance by the oppressed people - is involvement with apartheid.
Performances in bantustans - which are recognized by no country and which are the mechanisms to disposses the African people of their rights - is a particularly serious affront to the black people and their liberation movement.
Some entertainers claim that they are visiting South Africa to educate the whites against apartheid. We feel that this is worse than hypocrisy.
The United Nations has called for pressures and sanctions on the South African regime to change as only pressures and sanctions have worked.
Trade union rights are very precious, but that is not the issue in refusing patronage or taxpayer facilittes to entertainers who are insensitive to the great moral challenge posed by South Africa.
We have confidence that most of the entertainers of the world will join the boycott of South Africa when they know the facts about the situation in South Africa and of the strong feelings of most of humanity.
As regards entertainers like Frank Sinatra who have deliberately chosen to become virtual propagandists for evil, or those who even entertain South African troops on the border engaged in a war, like Geraldine Branagan of Ireland, we can only rely on public outrage.
But, above all, let me conclude not with any criticism, but by paying tribute to entertainers who have made sacrifices because of their opposition to apartheid and racism - like Roberta Flack, who turned down an offer of two million pounds to perform in South Africa.
I thank you.
Posted on 24-11-2010