Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Werkgroep Kairos

The Netherlands and South Africa have a longstanding, close and often turbulent bond. This is understandable, since South Africa is the only popular outgrowth that has emerged from Dutch colonialism. The VOC ran the Cape and arranged the exclusive Dutch Calvinist religious services until the end of the 18th century. Preachers for South Africa received their training in the Netherlands until fairly recently. The nineteenth-century parting from the British in an effort to preserve their identity appealed greatly to the vulnerable Netherlands. When the British attacked the Boer republics in the late 19th century, a fiercely nationalist sentiment arose among the Dutch, who were brimming with solidarity for their kinsmen the Boers. Afterwards, interest subsided. Few were interested in running South Africa following the proclamation of independence in 1910.

Only after World War II did some note the injustice of the institutional racism. Within the Protestant congregations, opposition to Apartheid gradually spread. Individuals such as J. Buskes, J. Verkuyl and A.H. van den Heuvel led this movement. The Dutch experience with Nazi repression, the persecution of the Jews and the decolonization later on caused a rift between the views of the Dutch and the South African white, Protestant congregations. This trend accelerated in the 1960s.

The bloodbath at Sharpeville in 1960 marked a turning point. Incipient change became apparent among white South Africans as well. In 1963 Beyers Naudé founded the Christelijk Instituut, which advocated reconciliation between black and white. This institute first crystallized the resistance of the Dutch Protestant congregations to Apartheid. At the Gereformeerde Oecumenische Synode in Lunteren in August 1968, the debate on South Africa took centre stage. The discussions at this International in Dutch and Afrikaans were heated but remained undecided. At this occasion the future chairman Cor Groenendijk established an organization that was named the Werkgroep Kairos [Kairos study group] in 1970. The Kairos study group became one of the three largest anti-apartheid organizations in the Netherlands. It worked with the AABN (Antiapartheidsbeweging Nederland or anti-apartheid movement Netherlands) and the KZA (Komitee Zuidelijk Africa or Southern Africa committee) to pressure the government and corporate industry in the 1970s and 80s. Kairos advocated a programme of disinvestment from South Africa, as advocated by the World Council of Churches in 1972.

From 1973, Kairos representatives authorized by shareholders such as churches and monastic orders attended the Koninklijke Shell shareholders meeting every year to urge the administration to leave South Africa. Following the proclamation of an oil embargo by the UN General Assembly in 1975, this cause became a focal plan of action for Kairos. In 1980 Kairos and the KZA founded the Shipping Research Bureau, which tracked international oil transports to call attention to any supplies bound for South Africa. Until it was disbanded in 2002, Kairos figured prominently in the growing Dutch awareness of a large and important social segment: the Christian centre force. The fact that the Southern Africa movement was the strongest of all Third World movements is undoubtedly attributable in part to the strength of Kairos.

In 2002 the IISH received most of the archive, the vast collection of documentation, the magazines and the books. All these items combined provide an opportunity for exploring the anti-apartheid struggle in the Netherlands. This collection also features a wealth of primary material about campaigns in South Africa.

Text: Huub Sanders