The Boycott Movement’s Month of Action
The Boycott Movement’s Month of Action in March 1960 was launched with a march through central London on 28 February. The march was followed by a rally in Trafalgar Square, at which the main speakers were the Leader of the Labour Party Hugh Gaitskell, Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe and Tennyson Makiwane of the ANC. The rally was chaired by Father Trevor Huddleston.


In 1959 a group of South African exiles and their British supporters appealed for an international boycott of South African products. The appeal was launched at a meeting on 26 June, South Africa Freedom Day, at which Julius Nyerere, later President of Tanzania, was the main speaker. The idea of a boycott came from South Africa, where the Congress movement was boycotting products made by companies that supported the apartheid government.


In March 1960 the Boycott Movement organised a boycott month in Britain, with backing from the Labour and Liberal Parties and the TUC. Eight thousand people attended a rally in Trafalgar Square and heard a message from African National Congress President Chief Albert Luthuli appealing to the British people to boycott South African products.

All over the country supporters handed leaflets to shoppers asking them not to buy South African goods, held meetings and motorcades, and wrote letters to the press. Many local councils and student unions banned South African fruit and cigarettes from their premises. The boycott month was the biggest anti-apartheid protest until the mass events organised by the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1980s.


Then on 21 March, at Sharpeville in the southern Transvaal, the South African police shot dead 69 unarmed Africans protesting against the pass laws. The massacre provoked international outrage. The African National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress were banned and went underground. In Britain the Boycott Movement transformed itself into the Anti-Apartheid Movement, no longer just calling for a boycott of South African goods, but for the total isolation of apartheid South Africa and support for the liberation movements.

pic6005cropMore than 15,000 people marched through central London on 27 March 1960 to protest against the massacre of 69 unarmed demonstrators at Sharpeville. The march was organised by the Boycott Movement, with the Movement for Colonial Freedom and the Committee of African Organisations. Copyright © Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London