Norwegian Ambassador, Trine Skymoen;
Members of the diplomatic corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to say a few words at tonight’s exhibition opening.
The curation of a dedicated exhibit, marking Norway’s contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle and the ending of white minority rule, has been more than a year in the making. Tonight we celebrate the fruits of that labour, in the realisation of a permanent public exhibit that is the result of a collaborative initiative between Liliesleaf and the Norwegian embassy.
In dually commenting on the legacy of Norwegian-South African relations and the significance of Liliesleaf in the South African memory landscape, tonight, I wish to briefly engage with the nature of politics of the archival process, as we journey towards achieving the fullest realisation of democracy’s promises in the national and global contexts.
That the home of this exhibit is Liliesleaf holds meaning and consequence.
As a site of memory, Liliesleaf stands as not only a repository of living history, but simultaneously a source of hope in present day South Africa, being founded on the ideals of a reimagined vision for the future that we must hold onto.
It was this vision, for a democratic South Africa founded on inclusive, equal and just ideals that spurred the national and international movements that sought to end white minority rule and the oppressive conditions of apartheid.
Holding political journals, publications, books, artefacts and documents, among other materials, Liliesleaf embodies the oft-quoted axiom of ‘public memory’, acknowledging the necessary and challenging nature of memory work and its fundamentally collective nature.
The achievement of tonight’s exhibition is recognition of the vital, multi-dimensional aspects of the liberation narrative. It bears witness to the necessary alliance of national and international resistance that brought an end to oppressive rule in South Africa. The South African story, then, is incomplete without an appreciation of the role that the Nordic region, and in particular Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, played in challenging apartheid in the international community and supporting the efforts of liberation movements in the national context.
The positive diplomatic relations that exist between South Africa and Norway today have their roots in the collective support for the liberation movement, received from a broad cross-section of the Norwegian community. This includes, but is not limited to student movements, trade unions, the academic community, civil society and religious movements, jointly lobbying government to officially support our movements, resulting in the decision to extend direct and official support to the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) on the 6th of June 1977.
Additionally, public acts, including the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to the then President of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, sent a strong and imperative message to the Nordic and international community, giving support to and endorsing the moral integrity of the struggle on our shores.
Thus, the multi-channel nature of Nordic and Norwegian support, including the context-sensitive collaboration between Norway and Sweden, substantial financial assistance that amounted to a near R100 million annually and refugee aid, placed indispensable pressure on both the international community to support liberation movements and strive to bring an end to apartheid. As noted by the Nordic Africa Institute, the region ‘was almost certainly the single most significant source of direct support for Southern African liberation struggles in the 1970s and 1980s.’
Tonight, we honour the materiality and spirit of that aid with the establishment of a permanent public exhibit that serves as a contribution to keeping the memory of Norway’s support for the liberation movement alive and in public consciousness.
Emphasising the public-facing nature of this exhibition draws attention to the importance of accessibility in archiving our collective history, in which we share ownership of the South African story. Such accessibility is a cornerstone tenet of Liliesleaf’s philosophy, striving for inclusive practises in housing historical resources.
To quote the late American president Thomas Jefferson on the importance of archiving:
“Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”
This exhibition is created in service of such an approach – emphasising that the heritage of the narrative of resistance stretches beyond national borders, and thus striving to resist and work with the silences that are an inescapable part of the creation of history.
As contemporary generations continue to struggle against the inexorable weight of history, the import of historical memory becomes self-evident. Modern forms of activism continue the legacy of apartheid-era struggle politics, extending these towards a more humane future. Within these, drawing on the diplomatic relations and alliances, that have their roots in the past, are fundamental to achieving non-racial, non-sexist, equal, free and just realities, underscored by peace. Thus memory is fundamental to the democratic project.
Consequently, I wish to congratulate all involved in the achievement of tonight’s exhibition.
In 1998, the late Former President, Nelson Mandela, bestowed the Order of Good Hope upon the Norwegian monarch, King Harald the Fifth. This award marked the comradeship, co-operation and generosity of the Norwegian contribution to the liberation struggle, which underscores the spirit of tonight’s opening and the exhibit it honours. He remarked:
‘We shall never forget the selfless support and unstinting generosity of the Norwegian people. Along with other Nordic countries you made available humanitarian aid without any conditions or motives apart from the fostering of democracy and the upliftment of our people. Without counting the cost you answered our call for a world-wide campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.’
May these words infuse our historical consciousness and inspire the ethos of future relations between Norway and South Africa as we strive towards democracy, peace, equality, freedom and justice for all.
Any entrance into the archival practices engages in the contested and inescapably political domain of history. The Haitian intellectual Michel Rolph Trouilliot tells us that “…Facts are not created equal: the production of traces is always also the creation of silences.” He draws attention to the political and complex nature of memory-making and historical preservation, arguing:
‘Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).’
In closing, exhibitions like the one we celebrate tonight, remind us that the act of archiving is a political one that requires working against silencing our collective pasts in the service of posterity.
Given the limitations of physical space, it becomes clear that the future of archiving rests in interactive digital technologies. Not only do these allow for a collaborative, regional approach to contributions to our liberation, but they also ensure the preservation of memory beyond material circumstances.
Thank you for your kind attention.