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Canadian Co-operators Take a Stand for Peace against Apartheid


I first visited South Africa in 1974 following a UN assignment in Tanzania. My visit was personal--I wanted to see what apartheid looked like.

What I saw was a country whose different races, categorized as white, colored, Indian and black, were kept entirely apart from each other except when business required interaction. Each race had its own communities, schools, beaches, airport waiting rooms, etc. White people lived in mansions, while the others lived in townships, often in poor and squalid conditions.

When I tried to speak with black people, they backed away, saying little. Not surprising—such interaction could have led to their arrest. What a shocking change from 1974 Tanzania where people of all races mixed together freely; even while future South African President, Nelson Mandela, and future credit union leader, Kwedi Mkalipi, languished in prison on Robben Island, near Capetown.

My second visit to South Africa was in the late 1980’s, when I was working for the Canadian Cooperative Association (CCA). I had heard about a fledgling multi-racial credit union movement based in Capetown, known as the Cape Credit Union League (CCUL). It was supported by the Catholic Welfare Bureau who gave me the name of a white Catholic nun to contact if I wanted to visit CCUL. I did so, and she met me at the Capetown airport. In order to get my South African visa, I had to identify her as my girlfriend. I could not mention CCUL.

This nun took me to the office of the CCUL General Secretary, Kwedi Mkalipi, who had recently been released from prison. He was a small, jovial black man, who I soon realized carried a lot of charisma. He was an excellent leader for CCUL, gaining the immediate respect of township dwellers as a person who had stood up to apartheid at the cost of his own freedom. I met his multi-racial staff, visited some CCUL member credit unions, and returned to Ottawa sufficiently impressed to develop a first small CCA-CCUL project.

This project progressed well, and gave me the foundation to propose a much larger CCA-CCUL program. But this time I needed CCA Board approval. Would the Board agree, I wondered, considering CCA’s long-standing requirement for host government endorsement?

I told the Board frankly that, in this case, there was no support from the South African Government, nor could we even inform them about the CCA-CCUL relationship.

Despite this, the Board, chaired by Dr. Ian MacPherson, approved the program without question or qualification. So we were able to proceed with this CCA-CCUL partnership even as South Africa evolved into an independent, multi-racial, democratic society following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

With this transformation, the armed struggle that had been going on in South Africa for decades came to an end, proving that the peace solution in that country was simple and obvious: i.e., the abolition of apartheid.

CCA also helped CCUL lay the foundation for its evolution into a much broader-based credit union movement known as the Savings and Credit Co-operative League of South Africa.

All this was in the best tradition of the co-operative movement’s millions of Canadian members.


By: Jim Carmichael

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