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SCI Involvement in Africa, 1983

by H. Gabathuler (Jul 8, 2018)

I recently got approached by a student from England who is writing her Master Thesis on SCI’s past involvement in Southern Africa. She was interested in a brochure by Franco Perna with the title "SCI involvement in Africa" – and luckily enough I found an extra copy of the brochure I could send to England by post instead of scanning all of its content. This inspired me to take a bit a closer look at this booklet, published by the International Secretariat, based in Canterbury in 1983.

The author, of Italian origin, had held several functions in the movement at international level, first as a European secretary, then as International secretary, based in Luxembourg (this probably being the reason why the brochure was printed in Luxembourg, even though published in England) and from 1983 on as International President.

The publication consists mainly of text which is layouted in a comparably professional way – at least for the 1980s standards which in SCI were often rather spontaneistic also when it came to design (see e.g. accompanied by some African-style (or may I rather say "Africanizing"?) drawings, and some black-and-white photographs from workcamps in Africa as well as in Europe – showing volunteers who collect and repair tools for self-reliance to be sent to Africa.

In a first section, SCI’s general approach to the Third World (especially Africa) is being explained., mentioning, as it was typical for that period, both practical action / volunteer exchange and awareness-raising: "We believe that it is one of our tasks to inform and influence public opinion in our own countries [...]" A footnote gives details on SCI’s doctrine regarding the support of liberation movements – a few years actually before SCI started its campaign in favour of the Namibian liberation struggle (see : "The [liberation] movement itself must be firmly based on and responsive to the exploited people in question; its policy making structure, strategy, methods and activities should demonstrate responsibility and popular participation [...]" (p. 7)

Then follows a country-by-country description of activities carried out by SCI and its various partners from the Maghreb region down to Southern Africa – and to some of the island states in the Indian Ocean. Among the latter we also find the only SCI branch in Africa at that period, SVI Mauritius. South Africa, still under apartheid rule and boycotted by progressive movements in the Global North, is not on the list. It is noteworthy that in the 1980s, unlike nowadays, SCI’s involvement in Africa was not co-ordinated by a Working Group, dominated by Europeans, but by an Africa delegate who was based in Ghana. Furthermore, the British branch had a few field offices in Southern Africa – surprisingly not only in former British colonies (Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland) but also in Portuguese-speaking Moçambique (or Mozambique according to the brochure).

The text ends up with some more practical considerations, e.g. on Volunteers and tourism: "Now, most short-term volunteers – even if well prepared and aware of this situation – are easily considered in the same fashion as tourists. At best they could be classified as special or alternative tourists. In this field one needs a great deal of common sense and do things within reason, keeping a certain balance, trying to appreciate those aspects which may contribute to inter-cultural learning, while exposing and refusing other refusing other features of tourism which clearly lead to exploitation of certain groups and destroy the environment." (p. 33f)

This statement still seems pretty accurate to me...

Heinz Gabathuler, International Archives Coordinator


The copy which has not been sent to England continues to reside as 11109.12 in the International Archives in Switzerland.

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