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

The Netherlands and Nelson Mandela

The greatest South African in history, a mythical symbol of reconciliation and leadership: this is how, in the eyes of Dutch public opinion, Nelson Mandela emerges today. One doesn’t have to go back far in history, however, to find quite a few Dutch politicians and commentators who saw him as a ‘terrorist’.

Collecting signatures for the release of Nelson Mandela, Amsterdam, 1980 (photo: José Melo, IISH BG B32/266)

The downloadable pdf file The Netherlands and Nelson Mandela (2.4 MB) tells the story of how the Dutch first heard of Mandela in the early 1950s; how they, in the early 1960, learned of his role as South Africa’s ‘Black Pimpernel’; and the strong impression that he made by his defence statements in 1962 and before he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

It also tells the story of the incessant campaigning for his release by Dutch activists of different orientations; the changing perceptions (‘from terrorist to Teddy Bear’) over four decades; the stances taken by opinion makers, politicians and successive Dutch governments; the visits after his release in 1990; and the tributes paid to Mandela by the Netherlands.

The full story is told in even greater detail in two downloadable pdf files in Dutch: Mandela in Nederland: van terrorist tot knuffeldier (2 MB) and Mandela vrij! Campagnes brengen Mandela voor het voetlicht (2 MB).

Cartoon commenting on the troubled relationship of Dutch governments to South African liberation. In 1992, Dutch ministers planned to visit South Africa without even informing the ANC; the trip was cancelled when it became clear that Mandela refused to meet the Dutch (cartoon by Opland, IISH BG C25/630)