Every once in a while an inspired and unforgettable initiative comes along. In this case, it comes packaged as an exhibition entitled “The EU’s role in overcoming Apartheid”.
Following World War II European governments concluded that pooling coal and steel production would make war between historic rivals France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. It was also thought, correctly, that merging of economic interests would help raise standards of living and be the first step towards a more united Europe. EU values have been central to its evolution and include human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. These values were also what motivated the EU’s decision in 1985 to institute its €450 million Special Programme for the Victims of Apartheid.
While the narrative of this exhibition ends in 1994, it should be noted that the EU not only provided support to democratic forces in the lead-up to South Africa’s momentous transition, but then supported the process of democratic transition. Following the transition, the EU continued to be deeply committed to, and is a close partner of, democratic South Africa.
But back to this exhibition: initial discussions commenced in 2013 between Nic Wolpe (CEO, Liliesleaf Trust) and the EU Delegation. While it took some time to put all the required elements in place, I am delighted that many key players, despite being in retirement and out of public life, were able and willing to assist in capturing the active role the European Union played at the time. Designed as both a permanent and a mobile showcase of the EU’s commitment to the achievement of a democratic South Africa, this exhibition will in time travel to various locations.
I take this opportunity to not only record my gratitude to the Liliesleaf team but to express my delight with a project well done: a public record of difficult times that has been compiled with accuracy, simplicity and clarity, and most importantly with understanding.
Please engage with the exhibition and allow me to invite you, should you be able to further contribute to the Liliesleaf archive on the EU’s role in overcoming Apartheid, to directly contact the Liliesleaf team in this regard.