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‘Don’t bank on apartheid’: the National Union of Students and the Boycott Barclays campaign

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On 24 November 1986, Barclays Bank announced that they were pulling out of South Africa. News reports in the UK focused on the commercial reasons for the decision and cited the fact that Barclays’ profits from South Africa had dropped from 25 to 8% in recent years. The Times was more sceptical of this view, suggesting that ‘the bank’s decision to quit South Africa has been motivated almost entirely by political reasons’. These ‘political reasons’ were the ‘severe pressure’ that Barclays had been under from anti-apartheid groups, particularly ‘demonstrations outside its branches’. What these British accounts fail to mention was the vital input of students across the UK in staging these demonstrations and maintaining this pressure on Barclays. Reporters outside the UK were clearer about this connection. Writing for the Los Angeles Times from Johannesburg, Michael Parks quoted Vicky Phillips, the president of the National Union of Students (NUS) saying that Barclays decision was a ‘major victory’ in their campaign. Although, even here, the scale of the NUS campaign was misunderstood, as it was suggested that it was a 2-year campaign rather than the 16 years that the NUS had been campaigning for Barclays to leave South Africa. This chapter argues that student activism and the leadership of the NUS were instrumental in the success of the campaign to get Barclays to disinvest from South and Southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. More broadly, this activity is revealing about the nature and effectiveness of transnational solidarity activism and the role of students in social movement activism across Britain and internationally in this period.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudents in Twentieth-Century Britain and Ireland
EditorsJodi Burkett
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages225-245
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-58241-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-58240-5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2017

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