TCLSAC - the acronym sounds like a choked expletive stumbling over too many consonants. But behind the string of seemingly unpronounceable letters is an active committee of 150 members trying to keep Canadians informed of the shifting political events in Southern Africa.
The Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa is the offspring of a similar group formed in 1972 to focus Canadian attention on Portugal’s African colonies. After Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau won their independence in 1976, the committee enlarged its scope to cover all of Southern Africa.
Life under apartheid for blacks in South Africa means earning a fraction of white workers’ wages, having no political rights, and being detained without trial and beaten for opposing the system. It’s that reality of life in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa that TCLSAC wants to bring home to Canadians.
In June, 1978 the group helped launch a cross-Canada tour by the Patriotic Front to publicize their side of the fight over Zimbabwe/Rhodesia. Other speaking tours by representatives from groups like the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) have been sponsored as well.
According to TCLSAC member Pat Baker, this public education is crucial in offsetting coverage of African issues in Canada’s mainstream media. ‘The Patriotic Front’s case has been badly damaged by the media,’ Baker says. The group also shows films and slide-tape presentations to school and university students.
For two years the committee has fought the lending policies of Candian banks to South Africa. The five major Canadian banks (Toronto - Dominion, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank, and Bank of Nova Scotia) - are involved. The former South African Prime Minister John Vorster once said: ‘Each trade agreement, each bank loan, each new investment is another brick in the wall of our continued existence.’
By demonstrating outside banks and by challenging shareholders at their annual meetings committee members have alerted Canadians to their bank’s support for a fundamentally racist regime. The campaign led individuals and organizations like the Canadian Labour Congress and Oxfam-Canada to withdraw their accounts from offending banks in June, 1978.
‘The bank campaign is something people can relate to’ says Baker. ‘By telling people of their banks’ support for apartheid and by urging them to join credit unions instead, we give people a way in which they can act.’
The group also campaigns against Canadian investment in South Africa by corporations like Falconbridge Nickel Mines, the International Nickel Company (INCO), the Aluminum Company of Canada (ALCAN) and the Ford Motor Company.
TCLSAC tries to offer material aid too. They’ve raised money to send a mobile ambulance to SWAPO in Namibia, farming supplies and medicine for Angola’s independent government and boots and blankets for the Zimbabwe People’s Army.
At the request of the African National Congress (ANC) the group is currently raising funds for books and sports equipment for South African refugees stranded in Botswana. Since 1976, TCLSAC has recruited about 25 skilled Canadians to work in Mozambique for two-year stints on specific projects.
Two paid staff members coordinate the group’s activities. But most of the work is done by volunteers many of whom have visited or worked in Africa. Some financial help comes from the World Council of Churches’ Programme to Combat Racism, and from the Anglican and United Churches of Canada, the rest is from individual donations.