During a recent BBC radio four program that hosted Rob Harrison, the editor of the ethical consumer magazine, I was left feeling a little frustrated as people phoned in to talk about consumer boycotts (Call You and Yours – 21st November). The host, Julian Worricker, did a fine job in covering plenty of ground in the time allocated. However, there seemed to be a skepticism over what consumer boycotts could actually achieve. This became particularly apparent when Worricker suggested that it might be impossible to know if anti-apartheid boycotts achieved tangible success. Admittedly the show was tailored to fit the consumer topic de rigueure* (boycott action and divestment over tax evasion, by the likes of Google, Amazon and Starbucks), but I felt that a little bit of history would have gone a long way. Sarah Emily Duff, a South African historian, does an innovative job summarizing some of this history on her website on food and power – tangerineandcinnemon.
Over the last two years I have been researching the work of the radical anti-apartheid and anti-racist organization, Boycot Outspan Actie (Boycott Outspan Action). Founded in 1972 in Leiden, Holland, the BOA were led by the charismatic South African exile, Esau du Plessis. After first contacting du Plessis in 2010, I have interviewed many key BOA activists and associates in Sweden and Holland; during this time I have been fortunate enough to have access to a range of compelling sources stored in private archives and correspondence. Much of this research will be published in my thesis in 2013. Here, as a little taster, I would like to provide you with a visual introduction to the organization that reworked the blood-sugar topos into a powerful anti-apartheid weapon.
Boycott Outspan Action were an innovative European anti-apartheid and anti racism organization of the 1970s and 80s. The BOA were one of several widely supported Dutch anti-apartheid organizations that emerged in the period between the Sharpeville massacre (1960) and the Soweto killings (1976). However, among this group the BOA were unique in that they prioritized action and worker solidarity over rhetoric, they were highly critical of Dutch government’s official and unofficial relationship with apartheid South Africa, and they saw apartheid as a terrible but wholly logical extension of European racism.