No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000

Read on-line: excerpts from the book | interviews
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Edited by William Minter,
Gail Hovey, and Charles Cobb Jr.
Published by Africa World Press.

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Research Updates


From Cape Town to Uptown
22-minute documentary by Lance Hill, 1984
New Orleans and apartheid South Africa. Includes interviews with New Orleans activists including Selby Semela.


Canada/Africa - In Memoriam, Brian Murphy


Cape Verde - Ray Almeida chronology

Cape Verde - Salah Matteos interview

Guide to Sources of Liberation Posters


"Anti-Apartheid Solidarity in US-South African relations"
by William Minter and Sylvia Hill, 2008, in SADET, The Road to Democracy in South Africa htm | pdf

Work a Day for Freedom
A Short History of the Bay Area Free South Africa Labor Committee
by David Bacon, Feb. 2008

Southern Africa Liberation History - Guide to Sources of Liberation Posters

Both within Southern Africa and among solidarity groups around the world supporting the Southern Africa liberation struggles, posters, buttons, and other visual media played an important role in communication and mobilization. Through the efforts of a number of groups, there is now a rich assortment of posters available as images in print and on-line. Some of these collections show up in an internet search, but others are harder to find. The listing below compiles those that I am familiar with.

Corrections and suggestions are welcome, and should be sent to wminter@igc.org

Books | Websites | Copyright Issues

Giorgio Miescher and Dag Henrichsen, eds. African posters: A catalogue of the poster collection in the Basler Afrika Bibliographien. 2004.

This collection consists primarily of posters from and about Namibia and South Africa, but also includes a sampling of posters from other places. A total of about 900 posters are included. Preview on Google books. Images from the collection are also available on-line (see below, Basler Afrika Bibliographien).

Giorgio Miescher, Lorena Rizzo, and Jeremy Silvester, eds. Posters in Action: Visuality in the Making of an African Nation. Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2009.

In this richly illustrated volume, the action of posters historically in Namibia is analysed and documented. The essays by scholars from Switzerland and Namibia consider the extent to which public visual aids were distributed, displayed, seen and appropriated in the context of campaigns of persuasion, protest and resistance. The Photographic Poster Archive included in this book documents and reveals a century of contested visuality which shaped the visual communication of Namibia. - Publisher's description. Preview on Google books.

Judy Seidman, Red on Black: The Story of the South African Poster Movement. STE Publishers, 2008.

Containing more than 240 of the most powerful resistance posters from the South African apartheid era, this resource examines their purpose, why certain symbols were chosen, how illegal materials were made, and what emotions were behind the artists' statements and willingness to risk arrest and death. This collection covers the entire movement across race, gender, and age, and rovides a stunning visual history of the South African struggle against apartheid. - Publisher's description.

South African History Archive, Images of Defiance: South African Resistance Posters of the 1980s. STE Publishers, 2004 (2nd edition).

This visual record of grassroots mobilization and resistance reveals the struggle to shatter the silence imposed by massive state repression. Posters celebrate the Congress movement and the principles it has fought so long to uphold: racial equality, democracy, and an end to economic oppression. Produced by ordinary members of community-based organizations during the 1980s, these symbols of defiance are the work of a people confronting the present with courage and determination, and facing the future with strength and hope. - Publisher's description.

Books | Websites | Copyright Issues

African Activist Archive, East Lansing, Michigan

Contains 93 posters as of August 2009. The advanced search allows browsing by country, organization, and date.

Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB), Basle, Switzerland
Description: http://www.baslerafrika.ch/e/plakatsammlung.php
Database access: http://www.ifaust.de/bab

Of approximately 3000 posters in the BAB collection, some 900 were catalogued and reproduced with color images in the printed catalogue, cited above. Many of the images can be viewed in the pages included in Google books. As of May 2009, there are 2,669 records in the database of the Plakatsammlung (Poster Collection).The database navigation is rather confusing, but if you persist you can reach metadata records for each poster and then view the poster by clicking on a thumbnail image.

Digital Innnovation South Africa (DISA)
South African Historical Archive (SAHA) Poster Collection

As of June 2009, this collection contains 143 posters from the South African History Archive poster collection (http://www.saha.org.za). This is the same collection featured in the books by Judy Seidman and the South African History Archive cited above.

International Institute of Social History (IISH/IISG), NiZA Collection

The Institute now houses the archival collection of the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NiZA), including posters, and also has posters on Southern Africa from other sources. Almost 3,000 of these posters, approximately 85% of the total, are already available on the website. A listing of those from NiZA is still being prepared, but they can already be accessed through the collections search. A search for "poster NiZA" under "visual documents," for example, turns up 908 posters, "poster KZA" turns up 257, and "poster FRELIMO" 77 posters.

Inkworks Press Archive

This site contains 548 images, organized by date, of political posters from the Inkworks Press, a progressive printshop in Berkeley, California, founded in 1974. The images also appear in a book published by the press in 2007, Visions of Peace and Justice. It includes a number of posters related to African liberation struggles.

JSTOR/Aluka Namibia Poster Collection

As of August 2009, this collection contains 30 posters digitized by the National Archives of Namibia. Additional posters may be included after resolution of possible copyright issues.

Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden
Nordic Documentation on the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa

The posters on this site include posters from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Mozambique. They are organized with smaller images (9 images a page) with links to larger images with explanatory text. Among the 283 images, Sweden and Mozambique are the countries with the largest number of posters

Northwestern University, Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Evanston, Illinois

The site includes posters on Nigeria and on HIV/AIDS, as well as on liberation history. It is possible to search by topic. Topics include "anti-apartheid movements" (118 posters), the 1994 South African election (105 posters), South Africa under apartheid (96 posters), and Lusophone African liberation movements (48 posters).

OSPAAAL - Organization in Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America

This collection from the Cuban-based international solidarity organization contains 91 posters relating to Africa and African liberation struggles, out of a total collection of 342 posters.

University of California, Santa Cruz, McHenry Library
A Luta Continua: African Liberation Movement Posters from the Collection of David H. Anthony

Images of 12 posters with accompanying text and references.

Books | Websites | Struggle Posters and Copyright Issues

Three of the websites above make explicit statements about copyright, justifying the non-commercial use of the posters even if individual or organizational rights holders are not identified (see below for citations). Other sites, such as the Nordic Africa Institute and the UC Santa Cruz McHenry Library, lack explicit statements, but in practice seem to share the view stated by the African Activist Archive and the South African History Archive, namely that these documents were not created as individual artistic works, but as part of a collective public movement. Of the four books cited above, two make use of the same collection of posters used by Digital Innovation South Africa, namely that from the South African History Archive.

The two books published by the Basler Afrika Bibliographien contain no explicit reference to copyright on the posters. But the African Posters catalogue states that the BAB poster collection "is open to all interested individuals: users have access to electronic research options, as well as to photographs and slides of the posters" (page 11) In Posters in Action, it is stated that "Every effort was made to trace the copyright holders of photographs" (page 2), but there is no similar reference to the creators of the posters.

To date none of the book or website publishers cited here have reported any protests lodged by claimants to copyright of the posters displayed.

African Activist Archive

"Some organizing materials were created for public dissemination in order to publicize events or campaigns, so we regard these types of objects as being in the public domain: press releases, leaflets, public testimony, buttons, posters, and T-shirts."

Northwestern University

"The images on this web site, from posters in the collections of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University, are provided to Northwestern University students, faculty and staff, and other researchers who visit this site, for research consultation and scholarly purposes only. Further distribution and/or any commercial use of the images from this site is not permitted."

South African History Archive
Excerpts below. For full text and possible updates see above link.

"SAHA is committed to identifying rightful copyright holders to archival materials in our collections. However, the question of copyright on struggle materials remains a highly contested and uncertain arena. Our current work with the SAHA poster collection provides a telling case study. The copyright problems raised by the poster collection, as delineated below, apply to many of our archival collections."

"It has proven difficult-if not impossible-to identify copyright-holders for most of these images. The vast majority of these graphics were made anonymously, by collectives rather than individuals, working with commonly agreed symbols and words, with intent for mass public distribution. "Creative origin" cannot be determined. Many works were produced under the aegis of organisations which were illegal and many of which are now defunct. Moreover, the Copyright Act of 1978 grants intellectual property rights over artworks to organisations only when the organisation commissioned and paid for the works or employed the artist(s) formally. Most, if not all, of the poster-makers volunteered their artistic services free of charge, and in the name of cultural activism. So, these organizations (even when identified) may not own intellectual rights to the artwork either. Many of the artists involved in making posters believe that in principle no copyright should be claimed, or assigned, for these works given the notions of collective conception and public use which underpinned their creation. The provisions of the copyright law are currently under review in order to address these and other shortfalls."

"Given this lack of legal, logistical and technical clarity on copyright ownership of these posters, SAHA believes that use of these works for non-profit, heritage, educational and public cultural development purposes should not constitute an infringement of copyright law. Individuals or parties interested in using these materials for such purposes may wish to consult their own legal advisers on the matter before proceeding."

This page is part of the No Easy Victories website.