This paper examines lessons from South Africa’s cultural boycott under apartheid as a tool for social change. The boycott is often held up as a model for non-violent pressure to bring about change, including by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In particular, the paper examines a shift initiated by the liberation movements from a blanket boycott – where no artists were allowed into or out of South Africa – to a selective boycott, where artists could travel with the express permission of the liberation movement. This paper explores a less savoury aspect of this shift in boycott tactics, where the African National Congress (ANC) and United Democratic Front (UDF) introduced political tests for which artists or artworks were allowed to travel, that these organisations then used to pursue a form of sectarian politics that undermined the unity of the oppressed. Underpinning these tests was an approach towards art and its relationship to politics that promoted art with propagandistic intent. The paper concludes by problematising arguments that South Africa’s boycott should be used as a model for cultural boycotts elsewhere.


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pp. 60-83
Launched on MUSE
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