We all have a common history that crosses borders in terms of both country and time. Together with black and white in South Africa, we acted forcefully, taking a stand against apartheid and defining the evil and the good. We became part of a historic decision, a decision that was made by an earlier generation and led to many today being able to feel pride over our common history.
Today we can unfortunately read analytical reports showing that the evil remains in other parts of the world. Today we should therefore again react forcefully when this appears, when it becomes visible. Tor Sellström has, in his work, documented what Sweden did to fight apartheid in southern Africa. South African researchers have now found signs of apartheid in Palestine. But how do we use this knowledge? How does the world react?
Most surfaces are covered with post-its; yellow, green and pink. Each post-it has its place. Not carelessly posted on the wall, but consciously placed an exact distance from the rest. I look around and see a pattern, but do not understand all the codes: countries, persons, events, years, money.
The shelves are covered with books and folders, alphabetized, based on a library structure but with the artist’s own codes; everything in its place, always in the right place. I am actually not allowed in here; no one is allowed in. Tor Sellström does not want anyone to mess anything up, change anything, move a book, a paper, a green post-it, a pen or a message.
Tor is the artist, the artist who paints a painting; an endless painting, a painting in text, art in words. Who paints to make us understand, remember; to never forgot what just was.
During the days he composes what has been thought during the night. The art of work took seven years to make. It began as a sketch in broad brush strokes. Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mocambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa. Seven years in a basement, in a dark room behind a closed door. Seven years, day in and day out. Weekday as holiday, day as night, hour by hour. The work of art becomes larger, longer, broader and higher. Color is added to color, scraped off, new shade, words are added to words.
No one is forgotten. Everyone who was there, the renowned as the unknown, gets their place. The smallest organizations as well as the large ones are referenced. Everyone gets a value, their own value. The palette contains all colors, even colors that do not exist.
Then I could see how the work of art was almost ready. Six years were completed, just one year remained. The first book, ”Sweden and National Liberation Southern Africa, I Formation of a popular opinion 1950-1970” had just come out, 540 pages. Tor was starting to become impatient. The round the clock work, the loneliness, the sleeplessness, the constant search for facts began to take out their right. It was as if the struggle — what he described, the fight against apartheid — became part of Tor’s inner struggle. It came to be about the large political currents but also about the artist’s own inner storms. Tor waits anxiously to complete the last work of art with the subtitle, “Solidarity and assistance 1970-1994” (912 pages).
Tor writes about the struggle against apartheid and about everyone who supported the resistance; everyone who did not wait for someone else to act, everyone who did not wait for something to over time disappear into the sand. No, the work of art describes everyone who decided that the evil must have an end; that the evil could not be handed over to the next generation.
The work of art became large since the portrayed were many and the events countless. Most of the churches participated in the struggle, but not all. Most of the political parties were there to break the grasp of evil, but not all. Many companies acted with force, but not all. In this work of art, however, all sides are included; no one has been passed over. We should not be able to forget.
Through Tor’s work, we have an encyclopedia over apartheid and colonialism in our hand, who acted and how. You can also dicipher who did not act and why some stood by the side. Three volumes. Two thousand pages of text with thousands of footnotes. Words, lines, pages with an unambiguous message. A message to us that as Swedes we should be proud, that we should not forget. And at the same time the artist requests us to always, in each time, in each place, resist all forms of colonialism and apartheid.
I was living in Shuafat in East Jerusalem when I finished reading the last volume, the dense, ungainly, tedious volume. Have often told Tor that if someone says he has read all of the volumes he can assume that the person is lying. Thousands of pages of scholarly text just becomes too strenuous. But Jerusalem, the place where I found myself in May 2009, gave me strength. I read about something that had been, that I long had tried to understand, but which is also still going on. Then and now merged and became one.
I walked along the wall, from the south to the north. 520 km long it winds through Palestinian villages, destroyed olive groves, pasture lands. It winds through a rolling landscape, cutting off roads and paths and precluding the continuation of a social and economic life. When it is completed, another 200 km will have been built. In total, when the building of destruction is ready, Israel can boast with 720 km of separation, of killed dreams, killed hopes, destroyed lives.
It is being built on Palestinian land, on occupied territory, to steal land, to protect illegal settlers. The thousands of visitors who every year visit the holy land, who walk in the footsteps of Jesus, could see the afflicted, listen to the voices, hear the stories. The visits could give a unique possibility to understand the ordinary and commonplace oppression. Unfortunately the visits are often aimed at something else, something that happened long ago. Focused on the time when the area was occupied by the Romans, unlike today when the occupying power is called Israel.
And then in May 2009 I was invited to a report launching in Ramallah. The report was called “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law. Cape Town, South Africa, May 2009.”
I felt both happiness and sorrow when I got the report in my hand. Happiness that somebody dared to begin telling the truth, but also sorrow over my own silence, that I had hid behind my own cowardice, my own lie; that I had not been able to see what during many years had appeared so clearly. The truth on paper came from Cape Town.
If somebody wants to try to understand apartheid, colonialism, you should seek yourself to South Africa. Rent a car, go out to Mamelody, sit at a Shibin or in a small jazz club. Listen to the music and ask the questions. Here you can trust in that your questions will get answered. If there is anything a South African understands, it is apartheid. As the mother has breast fed her child, the child has simultaneously received apartheid’s whole system. As a Swede, I can never understand this. What recently happened was too disgusting and at the same time too consistent in its science. But this also implies that researchers in South Africa see, know, and perceive if there are tendencies of apartheid and colonialism elsewhere.
During my years in Palestine I worked for short periods close to persons who were near President Mbeki and the Mandela couple. We worked in the Gaza Strip, spoke to the fractions, laughed and cried together with Hamas and Fatah. Often my South African colleagues cried out that apartheid in South Africa was a picnic compared to the West Bank and Gaza. This comparison was something that a South African often repeated verbally. What now was new was that I held in my hand a scientific report about the same thing, which processed what I so clearly felt.
After 15 months of research, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, declares that what is happening in Palestine is not only occupation but also colonialism and apartheid.