FINN THYBO ANDERSEN:

About the anti imperialistic solidarity group " Clothes for Africa Løgstør".
The association Clothes for Africa Løgstør (TTAL) was a practical, working anti imperialistic solidarity group that worked in the Vesthimmerland and Aalborg areas from 1975 to 1987.

 


Eritrea 1985. The artists at EPLA´s Cultural Department.

 

It seems strange using these words twenty-four years later. Looking back, I think the activity was great but the underlying thinking kind of square. "How to improve the world" is the name of an essay by the experimental composer John Cage, and that was in all modesty what it was about: " How do we improve the world we live in?"
That we thought for a period, that with Marxism we had a tool to understand and improve the world is one thing, another thing is that in our own way and through discussions removed ourselves from it. What remains is what we actually did.
As an artist I know that the thoughts behind a work and the work itself, are two different things. But I haven't found any way to narrate without using that time's terminology, so the reader must consume the story the way it is.

The expression "practical work" should be understood literally, since the group's main activity was collecting, sorting and mailing goods for the liberation movements that were fighting for independence in the third world.

During the 12 years the group functioned, the following was sent from Løgstør to liberation movements in the third world, mainly to ZANU( liberation movement in Zimbabwe) and to ERA(the help organisation of Eritrea):

112 tons of clothes and shoes
30 sewing machines
one dental clinic
3 operating tables
15 hospital beds
17 wheel chairs
27 packages of other hospital equipment
39 packages with toys
30 packages with teaching material

If you set the price for one kilo of clothes at 30 Danish kroner it would correspond to a value of 3.373.260 Danish kroner.

During the same period the group raised a cash amount of 447.911 Danish kroner for our support. It all amounts to 3.829.171 Danish kroner or almost 4 million Danish kroner from the solidarity group in Løgstør to the liberation movements in the third world.

These means were obtained by different forms of ragpicking activity such as:
household collecting
inquiries at the hospital and other relevant places
people who handed in goods
clearing up of estates
sales from thrift stores at Grøntorvet in Aalborg as well as at markets and town festivities in the local area.
Last but not least by having flea markets.

 

Who and how many were we and the daily work
The number of members differed between 7-8 to 14-15 members. Being a member meant that one paid a membership fee. We wanted to be able to say that of all means that were collected, the whole amount went to our supported causes. Therefore we paid administrative expenses with our membership fee (an exception was our flea markets that had separate accounts). Besides the members, there was a circle of sympathisers that we could draw on for the larger arrangements.

The members were recruited among friends and colleagues and friends' friends. Others had heard about our work and volunteered. They were locals and new residents, teachers, farmers, unskilled laborers, assistant nurses, one occupational therapist, one secretary, one nursery-school teacher etc., that politically ranged from Venstre [conservative-liberal-party] to the Left Socialist party.
The work consisted in :
1. A weekly sorting- and packaging evening on our premises at Løgstør old school.
2. Once a month we had a sorting weekend.
3. Market day. In shifts we went to the market in Aalborg on Saturday mornings to sell used clothes. For each person that meant once a month.
4. Study circle every second week.
5. Lecture activity. We held lectures about the countries we supported, e.g. Eritrea, and about our own work. These took place mostly at folkehøjskoler - [a kind of boarding school for adults] and were often combined with recruitment of people for specific purposes, e.g. a collection.
In addition to this there were the flea markets at Hornum. Beside the planning work, a flea market like that meant working four weekends in the spring, handing out information and collection plus 14 days extra in the summer for sorting, preparation, the holding of and the cleaning up after the flea market.

TTAL held five very big flea markets: One in 1978 in the old dairy in Bislev at Nibe ( in collaboration with UFF) and five in the period 1982 to 1986 at the market hall in Hornum at Aars in Vesterhimmerland. These flea markets, biggest in northern Jutland, were great events in the area. Customers came from far away and there was entertainment by different music groups, jesters and whoever we could make come.
These flea markets demanded a great effort of 30 to 40 people for four weekends during spring and a week in the beginning of the summer holidays, besides the planning and preliminary work. This was more people than the group itself could muster, therefore there was pressure put on friends and acquaintances. Friends from the Ollerup ragpickers and Eritreans living in Denmark also came to help.
For the collections, we borrowed 6 to 10 lorries from the local contractors and business people.
Normally, we collected from all households in the small communities of Aars, Løgstør and Farsø. In addition to this came smaller towns like Hornum, Ranum, Strandby and Aggersund plus some rural areas in Løgstør's surrounding area, as we considered that this area contained particular treasures (like farm-hand cabinets and similar things) even if there was some distance between the households and therefore we couldn't reach so many.
In all, about 5000 to 7000 households, which can't be compared with an equivalent number of households in a densely populated area.
After the collections in the spring, the goods got carefully sorted. It was all nicely arranged in different sections for furniture, clothes, kitchen utensils, books, radios and televisions, antiques and so on.

 

Conditions for the Anti imperialistic Solidarity work
The anti imperialistic work had two conditions:
Partly the anti imperialistic movement that came up in Europe and in the U. S during and after the Vietnam war. Partly the Abbé Pierre ragpickers- a humanitarian movement that came up around the priest Abbé Pierre after the second world war. The first ragpicker group Abbé Pierre organised was among the homeless and unemployed in Paris after the war. With the increasing welfare, the ragpicking aimed at relieving the need in the third world and the idea spread to the whole of Europe, also to Denmark.
It was preferred to provide "aid to self-aid", and it was at this time, in the middle of the 70's, also a tendency among the Emmausgroups to support liberation movements in the third world, because then one could collaborate with organisations that tried to take care of the oppressed population of a country, and at the same time fight against the reasons for the oppression.

Among these groups was Emmaus Björkås1 in Sweden. Emmaus Björkås became the direct inspiration for our work.

 

Clothes for Africa Løgstør is founded
Kirsten and I had left the art scene and the squatter scene in Copenhagen and now were living in a cottage at the village outside the town of Løgstør by Limfjorden. The Copenhagen milieu had exploded with the founding of Christiania, Thylejren, the attempt to squat Livø and the Hjardemålaction. Nothing of it really suited us. We had left the town to get out of the ghetto and to try to establish a relation with people. It was important for us to get an activity started that suited our way of thinking and our situation.

We read about Emmaus Björkås in a magazine about alternative ways of living and housing. We saw here a possible practice that could function in our local surroundings. The district had local traditions for Christian aid and we saw a possibility to take root and establish a network on our own conditions.

We wrote to Emmaus Björkås and offered our help. They directed us to Emmaus in Denmark and to Clothes for Africa in Copenhagen. We contacted both. We didn't get much response from the Danish Emmaus's groups that we turned to. On the other hand, TTA in Copenhagen sent us a representative immediately that profoundly got us into the practical solidarity work and the theoretical considerations that were behind it. This meeting got us started rapidly with the solidarity work i.e. collection of clothes and sorting and little by little we got a small group to function. At first with friends and acquaintances and new residents, later also local participants. We collected, sorted and pressed the sorted clothes together into square bales that became packed for transport in categories as agreed with the receivers. First in the stable and the barn in our small holding place, but it was cold and humid and too small. Later Løgstør community made some excellent premises available at a former school. Some of the premises we didn't get without a fight: at one point the community wanted to throw us out, upon which we contacted the members of the board of the community council. Not until we reached a representative of the Venstre, we suddenly and very unexpectedly got great support. They brought up the case and changed it to the fact that we could stay. That we were right in our point of view, that a group like that would function well in this area became apparent when TTAL at one point had collected and packed more clothes than the group in Copenhagen.

 

The collaboration with Clothes for Africa in Copenhagen and the break with them.
The representative from TTA who had reacted so fast on our application was also a member of KAK, communist working circle2. TTA was an organisation founded by KAK with the purpose of supporting the national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As there was no claim of loyalty toward KAK and as we agreed in the practice it resulted in, which was to support the liberation movements MPLA in Angola and FRELIMO in Mozambique, that at the time struggled against the Portuguese colonial power, we had no problems in founding a local society of TTA in Løgstør.
Shortly after we began our work, the liberation wars in the Portuguese colonies came to an end and Angola and Mozambique got their independence. TTA then decided to start a support work to the benefit of ZANU3.

When we turned to respective liberation movements and asked how we could help them, the answers were almost the same: money, food and clothes. By concentrating on clothes, we chose the subject by which it was easiest for us to transfer great values to the liberation movements. (Used clothes of good quality had a concrete market value in Africa at this time). At the same time this (the fact that the liberation movement needed clothes) was a guarantee that the movements we supported had a support by the people. Hence the name Clothes for Africa.

There were no problems in the relationship toward TTA in Copenhagen and KAK in these first years. But in 1978/1979, something happened:
After a split in KAK in 1978, KAG - Communist Working Group-was founded and wanted to take over the control of TTA. In the beginning we pursued a wait-and-see policy, but the discrepancy grew on several occasions and in the end of 1979 we in Løgstør decided to get independent from KAK and TTA in Copenhagen.
It was our intention to find another name for the group, but we never succeeded to find one that we were satisfied with and since the name TTA had become well established in the local area, we decided to keep it. Strangely enough this has never been a source of complication.

One of the problems was that KAG mixed up their own political work with the solidarity work. For us it was enough that the participants agreed upon the objects clause: To support the national liberation movements in the third world. In addition to this one could have any conviction. It was important for us to stick to this even if we were reading Marxist literature in study circles and many of us saw the world through Marxist glasses at that time.
Another problem was that we, in opposition to KAG, were of the opinion that the Soviet Union was as imperialistic as the US at this time (1979).
Finally, there was a conflict at a nationwide ragpicker meeting by the Ragpicker Group in Ollerup in 1979, that to me had more of a basic difference in the attitude to people than a political/ideological state of discrepancy. The Ragpicker Group in Ollerup had developed a democratic way of discussing where everyone could make themselves heard and opposite point of views became respected. A way that made it easy for other solidarity groups to join in, but which was in strong opposition to KAG's Leninist elite conception of themselves, which therefore provoked strong reaction.
It was our last meeting with KAG.
Later, KAG got known under the name Blekingegadebanden and it turned out that the group started their illegal activities about the time when they got isolated from the rest of the practical working solidarity movement (and maybe because of that).

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