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Per Wästberg (1933 - )

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Per Wästberg (1933 - ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to the fight against colonialism in Africa and apartheid in South Africa.

Profile of Per Wästberg

Per Wästberg was born on 20 November 1933 in Stockholm, Sweden. Wästberg has campaigned extensively for human rights. He was chairperson of the International PEN from 1979 to 1986 and founder of the Swedish section of Amnesty International (1963). Fired up with the passion to see all humanity free from the bondage of colonialism, he was involved in the anti-colonial movement. He was especially active in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Wästberg was expelled by the government in the then Rhodesia in 1959, and after publication of his anti-apartheid book, På Svarta Listan (On the Black List), in 1960, he was banned from entering both Rhodesia and South Africa. The banning was the consequence of his exposing to the international audiences the torrid experiences the apartheid state visited on South African humanity.

His ban from both Rhodesia and South Africa lasted until the unbanning of the liberation movements and the release from jail of Nelson Mandela.

He returned to South Africa only in 1990, after Mandela’s release. Wästberg was a particularly precocious grammar-school boy. With the 15-year-old Wästberg as an example the publishers went out and – in Wästberg’s words – “picked up writers in the school playgrounds”. They were looking for a new type of literature, the young, affirmative, direct literature as an opposite of the dominant, “difficult”, angst literature of the 1940s. Per Wästberg in a certain sense symbolised rebirth after the war.

Wästberg become a travel writer and the most important introducer of African literature to Sweden. The following two books from 1960 are important period documents: Förbjudet Område (Forbidden Area) from Rhodesia and På Svarta Listan (On the Black List) from South Africa. They mix genres such as diaries, portraits and political analyses to illustrate the shock when a neutral Swede encounters everyday life under apartheid. The books reached far outside the Nordic countries and gained great importance for Swedish commitment to southern Africa.

In the rich anthology of 1961, Afrika Berättar (Africa Tells), which came out in an expanded version in 1970, Wästberg managed to point out the most essential African writing. A summary of his South African commitment came in 1995 in the voluminous I Sydafrika – Resan mot Friheten (In South Africa – The Journey towards Freedom).

In 1964, Wästberg started Swedish Amnesty together with the solicitor Hans Göran Franck. In 1967, Wästberg became chairperson of the Swedish PEN, and later also of the International PEN for some 10 years. In an article in the evening newspaper Expressen on 4 August 1967, written together with Thomas Hammarberg, he coined the idea of “converting Sweden into a multicultural society”.

Through his writing and his active involvement in the struggles of the ”third world” people, as well as his undying love for humanity, Per Wästberg subjected the brutalities of apartheid to the glare of the international arena. His establishing of the Swedish Amnesty International amply demonstrated his concern with the plight of the rest of humanity, especially the section facing the terrors of oppression.