Cultural relations between Switzerland and South Africa, 1948–1994

This multi-ethnic, multilingual project will conduct the first-ever investigation of cultural relations between Switzerland and South Africa up to the end of apartheid.

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The relationship between Switzerland and apartheid South Africa has been the focus of extensive research over the past two decades, most notably in the large-scale National Research Programme NRP 42+ funded by the SNSF in the early 2000s. However, the focus has consistently been on the role that Swiss business and politics played as enablers for the apartheid state. The current project aims instead to shed light on cultural relations between the two countries from the beginnings of apartheid in 1948 through to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. The various stances adopted by both ‘official’ state actors and private individuals, institutions and organisations will be mapped out in hopes of elucidating understandings and misunderstandings in fields where meanings and intentions became fluid, and where relations existed in a complex process of give and take. On the one hand, Switzerland and Swiss artists gave implicit support to the apartheid regime through organising tours and performances in South Africa, and Swiss apologists for white supremacy lobbied widely to garner support for their stance. But on the other hand, South African exile artists of all races found a second home and enthusiastic audiences in Switzerland, and there were also Swiss artists, administrators and NGOs who themselves endeavoured to bridge the racial divides in South Africa. Altogether, the situation was in interpersonal, social and moral matters highly complex.


There will be five focus areas. One will deal with overarching cultural relations between the two countries across all the arts; the others will engage with classical music, jazz, South African theatre in Switzerland, and Swiss literature in translation in South Africa. Each focus area will encompass a discussion of the cultural boycott of South Africa – its intent, efficacy, and Switzerland’s refusal to participate. The project will be conducted by a multi-ethnic, multilingual team, led by the HKB Bern and its principal project partner, the Africa Open Institute of the University of Stellenbosch. Further project partners are the Universities of Fribourg and of Kwazulu-Natal.


This project will culminate in a doctoral thesis, two books and numerous scholarly articles across the focus areas. The research conducted will be documented on a website housed at the Africa Open Institute at the University of Stellenbosch and thereby made available to future scholars in South Africa and beyond.

Ce projet contribue aux objectifs de développement durable suivants

  • 10: Réduction des inégalités
  • 16: Justice et paix