MOVEMENT MATTERS: AMERICAN ANTIAPARTHEID ACTIVISM AND THE RISE OF MULTICULTURAL POLITICS
Hostetter, David L.
Gilbert, James B.
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American organizations that opposed apartheid in South Africa extended their opposition to racial discrimination in the US into world politics. More than three decades of organizing preceded the legislative showdown of 1986 when Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan's veto to enact economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. Drawing on the tactics and moral authority of the civil rights movement, the antiapartheid movement mobilized public opinion with familiar political symbols while increasing African-American influence in the formulation of US foreign policy. Three conflicts in particular shaped American antiapartheid activism: the debate between those holding an integrationist vision of the civil rights movement versus the advocates of a Pan-Africanist view as expressed in the Black Power movement; the tension between the antiracist credibility American leaders sought to project to the world and the anticommunist thrust of American foreign policy which led to a tacit alliance with South Africa; and the dispute over whether nonviolence or armed liberation provided the best strategy for ending apartheid. Three antiapartheid organizations that debated and dealt with these conflicts were the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and TransAfrica. Each group worked against apartheid for more than a decade, combined direct action with other tactics, and included antiapartheid activism in larger efforts concerning Africa and US foreign policy. The efforts of these organizations provide a window through which to examine the conflicts that marked the antiapartheid struggle. Cultural expressions reinforced public sentiment against apartheid. Novels, plays, movies and music provided a bridge for Americans who strove to understand the struggles of those who lived under apartheid. Via the page, stage, screen, and recording studio, apartheid's opponents found a platform to transmit their message to a broad audience of Americans. The similarity of apartheid to American racial segregation provided activists with metaphors to mobilize constituencies that had opposed American racism. Direct action in particular helped dramatize American entanglement with apartheid. By extending the moral logic of the civil rights movement, the antiapartheid movement was able to invoke the themes of equality and freedom central to American civil religion.