SAR, Vol 13 No 4, August 1998
FAITH, HOPE AND CLARITY
THE HISTORY OF TCCR
A REVIEW BY LINDA FREEMAN
Linda Freeman is the author of the recent bestseller, The Ambiguous Champion: Canada and South Africa in the Trudeau and Mulroney Years.
Renate Pratt. In Good Faith - Canadian Churches Against Apartheid. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier Press for the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion, 1997, xii and 366 pp. ISBN 0-88920-280-X
Some of the finest memories of the anti-apartheid struggle in Canada come from the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR). Year in and year out, Renate Pratt, Bill Davis, Moira Hutchinson, and a range of church and other leaders braved annual meetings of Canadian banks and corporations, pressing the case for disinvestment or a halt to loans in the face of abuse, condescension and ridicule.
It was the persistence that was awesome; this ecumenical coalition (which included the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United churches) kept coming back. Indeed, the importance of maintaining church commitment "even through periods of public disinterest, government indifference and corporate hostility" is one of the lessons for social action from Renate Pratt's In Good Faith - Canadian Churches Against Apartheid.
A slight demur on the title: this study focuses exclusively on TCCR, and leaves out the broader spectrum of Canadian church involvement in the struggle against apartheid. In particular, a second church coalition, the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa (ICCAF) also liaised closely with African churches and conducted broad development education work on this issue in Canada.
However, a third church organization, the Confederation of Church and Business People, was on the other side. Composed largely of senior business and even some church leaders, the Confederation was established in 1977 to neutralize TCCR. It claimed that Taskforce activities were not representative of mainstream church views. Therefore, the Taskforce was scrupulous to confine its initiatives to those mandated by its member churches, so as not to be dismissed as fringe activists.
Pratt's account of the Taskforce's experience has rightly been called "a primer for others wishing to engage in similar struggles." She was centrally placed to write the history, a task she took on with a "sense of gratitude" that she had lived to see the day that Mandela walked free.
Her active engagement began in the early 1970s with her contribution to a YWCA of Canada study of Canadian economic links with South Africa, Investment in Oppression. Two years later she began an eleven year stint as the first coordinator of TCCR.
It is no exaggeration to say that the detailed primary research which she helped co-ordinate on the Canadian state as well as private sector activity in South Africa provided a treasure trove second to none for the anti-apartheid movement, the press and even, at times, for the Canadian government to draw upon.
The richness of In Good Faith also lies in the detail - the accounts of private encounters with corporate executives which varied "between tense hostility and condescending bonhomie"; and the meeting upon tedious meeting with officials from the Department of External Affairs.
Her deconstruction of the approach in Ottawa is devastating. With a few exceptions, government officials knew less about sanctions and South Africa than Taskforce representatives, and tried to fob them off with evasive, misleading, poorly-researched and contradictory responses. Indeed, for a brief period in 1985, the Mulroney government looked to the Taskforce, rather than to its own officials, for detailed proposals when policy on South Africa began to change.
TCCR's prominence meant that, from time to time, it became the recipient of intelligence from inside the state - with government documents arriving anonymously and a source close to the Privy Council Office offering a private briefing. However, its most important sources, by far, came from its close links with Canadian churches, their South African counterparts, and with South Africa's black majority.
In terms of the last, it added greatly to have a young woman from South Africa's Crossroads settlement drop into the Taskforce office to describe the way Massey Ferguson bulldozers levelled her squatter camp. South African and Namibian workers affected directly by Canadian companies joined the Taskforce in meetings with the Canadian private sector. Pratt herself visited South Africa in January 1986 as a member of a church delegation under the sponsorship of the Southern African Catholics Bishops' Conference.
No wonder the Taskforce came up with such a different analysis than the Canadian government and private sector who relied, for far too long, on the white elite in South Africa as their sources of information.
Indeed, this account pulls out and emphasizes the significance, for Mulroney's South Africa policy, of changing reformist inclinations in South Africa's white community. In Pratt's view, the call for reform by the private sector and white liberals in South Africa was fundamental in motivating the decision of the Mulroney government to impose sanctions, just as their subsequent retreat on reform moved Mulroney to stall on sanctions from 1987 on.
Once the South African state regained control in the mid1980s, bullying white "reformers" back into line, Pratt's Privy Council source confirmed that the Canadian state became extremely pessimistic about change, envisaging a long and bloody struggle ahead.
However, at this point, no-one in senior policy-making circles in Canada was prepared to follow through on the logic of sanctions or to ally wholeheartedly with the black majority. Although Mulroney had promised in 1985 that, unless the apartheid state began to reform, Canada would impose total economic and diplomatic sanctions, the reality was that his government stopped further action once things became worse.
This understanding of the political analysis behind shifts in the official approach in Ottawa on South Africa is a useful addition to the range of other forces - both external and internal - which came to bear as the policy evolved.
Indeed, there is little within this study with which to disagree. At the end, perhaps, Pratt overstates the case in her desire to have the last word with those who had found the Taskforce's campaign for sanctions "an indulgence in self-righteousness." After popular struggle, she concludes, "economic sanctions were the most important reason why that resistance led to the negotiations that ended apartheid."
While there is no question that sanctions played their part in raising the cost of apartheid, the fundamental structural crisis within apartheid itself, its sheer unworkability, must be factored in, along with the fiscal crisis of the South African state, changes in the region, the end of the Cold War, and the transformation of the state and National Party under de Klerk.
However, this is small stuff compared to my general respect and admiration for the Taskforce's activity and now its record. It is somehow a fitting, if perverse, tribute that the Liberal government would not include Renate Pratt on the Canadian team to observe the 1994 elections which formally ended the apartheid state.
Finally, one is left with some sadness that the Taskforce's commitment to the struggle of the South African majority ended with the collapse of apartheid. For many, life in South Africa became more dangerous in the transition, and the post1994 years have not been easy. While the struggle for economic and social rights is a much more complex phenomenon than the struggle for basic civil and political rights, who is better placed than the churches to take it on?
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