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Some important developments in the movement for a Cultural Boycott against South Africa

25 November 1983

The cultural boycott of South Africa became an important aspect of the anti-apartheid movement in 1961 when the British Musicians Union adopted a policy decision that its members should not perform in South Africa as long as apartheid exists.

In 1963, forty-five prominent British playwrights signed a Declaration announcing that they had instructed their agents to insert a clause in all future contracts automatically refusing performing rights in any theatre "where discrimination is made among audiences on grounds of colour." Subsequently, the Declaration received adherence from many playwrights in other countries.

The boycott in the United Kingdom was encouraged in 1964 when Marlon Brando, on a visit to London, took part in a vigil outside the South African Embassy for the release of South African political prisoners and launched an appeal to actors, producers, directors and script-writers to write a clause into all future contracts forbidding the screening of their films before segregated audiences.

Also in 1964, the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement promoted a declaration signed by 28 Irish playwrights that they would not permit their work to be performed before segregated audiences in South Africa.

In 1965, the British Screenwriters Guild called for a ban on the distribution of British films in South Africa. The British Actors’ Union, Equity, invited individual members to sign a declaration pledging not to work in South Africa: it was signed by many of Britain’s most prominent actors.

Also in 1965, the American Committee on Africa sponsored a declaration which was signed by more than 60 cultural personalities. It read:

We say no to apartheid.

We take this pledge: in solemn resolve to refuse any encouragement of, or indeed, any professional association with the present Republic of South Africa, this until the day when all its people shall equally enjoy the educational and cultural advantages of that rich and beautiful land.

Many others signed the Declaration when it was revived ten years later.

In 1969 the British Writers Guild proposed a co-ordinated policy by all film unions to prevent their films from being shown in segregated cinemas in South Africa. That was accepted by the Association of Cinematography, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) and the British Musicians Union in 1971.

In 1972 ACTT passed a resolution, concerning television, declaring "a black in South Africa as a place of employment." (This policy does not apply to news and current affairs). In 1976 it voted to block material emanating from South Africa, especially advertisements for television.

In 1976, Equity in Britain decided to introduce a policy of refusing permission to sell programmes featuring its members to South African television. The Council of Equity also reaffirmed its policy to advise its members not to work in South Africa.

In October 1977, it voted, in a referendum among its 4,000 members, to maintain its ban on the sale of television programmes to South Africa. It also confirmed that performers who go to South Africa should not be covered by Equity contracts and should be asked to sign a declaration that they would refuse to perform if they were prevented from doing so before multi-racial audiences. But a move to extend the ban to sales of radio, film and cassette and other recorded material was defeated by a narrow margin of 1,921 votes to 1,909.

In 1976, anti-apartheid groups in New York demonstrated against and brought about the closure of "Ipi Tombe," a South African theatrical production.

In 1978, anti-apartheid demonstrations in New York brought about the closure of "Umbatha," a South African play.

In October 1981, the board of the Associated Actors and Artists of America - an umbrella organisation of all major actors’ unions with a total membership of over 240,000 actors - took a unanimous decision that its members should not perform in South Africa.


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