The South African Institute (SAI) on Keizersgracht 141, Amsterdam, was seen as the most important
library on the subject of South Africa in Europe. It had a comprehensive collection of Africana, dating
back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. On January 19, 1984, more than 50 young people,
wearing black stockings over their heads, forced their way into the building. They wreaked havoc.
Bookshelves were pulled over and books and documents, and the building façade were splashed with
“paint and oil bombs”. Hundreds of books were hurled into the adjacent canal. A radical group of
anti-apartheid protestors, calling themselves “Amsterdammers against racism and discrimination”,
claimed responsibility for the library’s destruction. They declared that the institute supported apartheid.
For them the library was primarily a symbol of repressive ideals and hated policy. They destroyed
the library because, according to them, the Dutch government was dragging its feet over the issue of
condemning South Africa and breaking off contact. In South Africa, newspapers responded to the attack
on the library with outrage and moral indignation. Dutch newspapers also decried the incident as
violent and senseless. Even the Dutch anti-apartheid organisations were critical of the vandalism. The
library was, ironically, also used by vocal opponents of apartheid. It also contained works which were
forbidden in South Africa.