Arms Embargo

po186. ‘No Arms for Apartheid’

The Anti-Apartheid Movement launched an ‘Anti-Apartheid Month’ in November 1963 in response to increasing repression in South Africa and the arrest of Nelson Mandela and his comrades in July. This poster, calling for an end to arms sales to South Africa, was part of the publicity for the month. The AAM was asking for an end to arms sales to South Africa, asylum for political refugees and the release of political prisoners. The campaign was launched with a march through London on 3 November. Meetings were held all over Britain during the month, most of them organised by university anti-racialist societies and addressed by recently arrived South African refugees like Joe Slovo.

arm03. No British Arms for South Africa

In the early 1960s Britain was South Africa’s main arms supplier. The call for it to stop supplying arms for apartheid was one of the AAM’s main campaigning issues.

arm04. ‘No British Arms for South Africa’

The Labour government elected in October 1964 continued to supply spare parts for South African military equipment and to train SADF personnel. It also supplied 18 Buccaneer aircraft under a contract signed by the Conservative government. The AAM campaigned against this as a betrayal of Labour Leader Harold Wilson’s pledge to ‘stop this bloody traffic in the weapons of oppression’.

pic6504. Protest against the South African cricket tour, 1965

This young anti-apartheid supporter was asking cricket fans to support an arms embargo against South Africa outside the St Helen’s cricket ground in Swansea in 1965. Inside the ground the all-white South African cricket team was playing Glamorgan.

pic6701. MPs protest at naval visit

A delegation of MPs on their way to 10 Downing Street to hand in a letter protesting at a visit by three British warships to Cape Town in June 1967. A motion ‘regretting the visit’ was tabled in the House of Commons and a lobby of Parliament took place on 31 May. Left to right: Liberal MP and President of the AAM David Steel, Liberal MP John Pardoe, Labour MPs Joan Lestor, Joyce Butler and Hugh Jenkins, Lord Brockway, and Labour MPs Frank Judd, Michael Barnes and Andrew Faulds.

gov03. Letter from S Abdul (Abdul Minty) to Harold Wilson

In November 1967 reports in the British press suggested that the Labour government was about to lift its arms embargo against South Africa. The AAM wrote to Foreign Secretary George Brown, who agreed to meet an AAM delegation, but failed to give assurances that the arms ban would be maintained. After protests from Labour MPs and three crisis Cabinet meetings, Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that the arms embargo would stay. 

arm05. South Africa’s Defence Strategy

This pamphlet detailed South Africa’s arms build-up in the 1960s and argued that Western military support for apartheid could lead to a global racial conflagration. It was widely distributed and ran into several editions.

arm06. Where would Britain’s balance of payments be without them?

This leaflet was issued in the run-up to the 1970 British general election. It accused the Labour government and the Conservative opposition of being equally culpable of giving military support to South Africa.