United Democratic Front timeline 1983-1990

Reverend Allan Boesak, speaking at the Transvaal Anti-SAIC Committee, at which he first mooted the formation of the United Front. Photo by Omar Badsha, SAHO

1983

On 23 January, Allan Boesak makes a call for the formation of a ‘united front’ at an anti-SAIC Committee (TASC) conference in Johannesburg. Boesak calls for civic organizations, trade unions, student organizations, churches, sports and other bodies to unite and collectively oppose the state’s constitutional reforms.

24 January, 25 selected activists hold a commission, Chaired by Cas Saloojee, and decide on the general form of the front as a loosely constituted broad front, that will seek to involve political and non-political organisations, as long as they follow the principles of non-racialism, as proposed in the Freedom Charter, and non-collabortism with the apartheid state.

25 January, The next day the commision releases a statement outlining the ‘broad principles’ on which the new front would be constituted.

  • A belief in democracy

  • An unshakeable belief in the creation of a non-racial, unitary state in South Africa, undiluted by racial or ethnic considerations as formulated in the bantustan policy

  • An adherence to the need for unity in struggle through which all democrats, regardless of race, religion or colour, shall take part.

  • A recognition of the necessity to work in consultation with, and reflect accurately the demands of, democratic people wherever they may be in progressive worker, community and student organisations.

Soon after, a steering committee is formed to take the process further. The committee consists of members from the Transvaal TASC, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the Release Mandela Committee. The steering committee was to maintain inter-regional coordination, while in each region, individuals and organisations were being canvassed so regional structures can also be formed.

May, Natal UDF region is launched and a Regional Executive Committee (REC) is elected in Durban

June, Transvaal UDF region is launched. REC is yet to be elected

July, Eastern Cape and Border committees are set up

Late July, the Western Cape UDF region is launched

The formation of the regional UDF structures resulted in the national steering committee, which comprised of a few committed representatives of a few organisations- evolving into an ‘Interim Steering Committee’, which now consists of delegates from the UDF regions. The Interim Steering Committee members included Popo Molefe, Frank Chikane and former president of NUSAS, Andrew Boraine- amongst other members.

20 August, National Launch of the UDF takes place at the Rocklands Community Centre, in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town (view footage), attended by about a 1000 delegates and 500 observers, from over 500 different organisations. Later doors open to the public, and a reported 6000-15000 people join to rally for the newly formed UDF.

At the national launch the Advanced Planning Committee finalise the Declaration and Working Principles, and reach an agreement on a set of national officials. The Working Principles structure the UDF as a federation of regional structures, with the national UDF being controlled by the regions.

The UDF National Launch is set up to coincide with the government's introduction of the Tricameral legislation being passed in August.

29 October, violent confrontations occur at the University of Zululand (Ongoye) after students aligned to the UDF and African National Congress (ANC) oppose an attempt by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), to use the campus for a ceremony to commemorate the death of King Cetshwayo. Five UDF students are killed by IFP supporters, in what is referred to as the ‘Ongoye Massacre’. This also occurs in a political climate where UDF poses a threat to IFP's hold on popular support in KwaZulu.

Following the Ongoye Massacre, and after months of avoiding directing public opposition to the IFP, the UDF publicly denounces the IFP as collaborators with the apartheid state

November/December, The UDF begins to focus on the planned elections for the Black Local Authorities (BLAs) and other local government in the townships. The UDF calls for a boycott of the elections, but the campaign is run mainly through affiliates and the UDF only plays a coordinating role. The UDF interprets low voter turnout as a victory.

1984

22 January, UDF Border region launches the bold Million Signature Campaign, with the aim of collecting one million signatures from the public, declaring opposition to apartheid and the government’s constitutional reforms, and support of the UDF.

April, West Coast UDF and Southern Cape region launched

June, the Million Signature Campaign comes to an unsuccessful end, only managing to collect 1/3 of the targeted signatures. The campaign was, however, the best attempt at a nationwide, non-racial opposition since 1961.

July, the UDF turns its attention to the tricameral elections happening in August and launches the Anti-tricameral Parliament Campaign. Utilising what the organisation learnt from the million signatures campaign, the UDF, along with affiliates and extra-parliamentary groups, commence vigorous campaigning- holding mass meetings and rallies, in towns and cities across the country- to promote an election boycott and opposition to the apartheid state and its reforms.

Late-August, senior leaders of the UDF and its affiliates are held in detention by the apartheid government. The Supreme Court declares the detention notices invalid, and the government is compelled to release detainees- however, after release, the government immediately attempts to redetain them with revised detention notices.

Mid-September, shortly after the detainment and attempted redetainment of UDF leaders and affiliates- six UDF and NIC leaders take refuge in the British Consulate in Durban, in a very public protest against the state’s practice of detaining it’s opponents without charging them for any criminal offence. While British officials make it clear that the ‘fugitives’ are unwelcome; they could not evict them. The protest garners media attention which allows struggle demands to be publicised internationally.

While it is still up to affiliates to initiate local campaigns and function sovereignly, the UDF starts taking a more active role in campaign organisation. However, involvement during 1984 remains low.



School boycotts occur in the Eastern Cape and other regions.

September, the apartheid regime hold elections for the tricameral parliament amidst a massive boycott

3 September, The Vaal Uprising starts in what will be the longest sustained uprising in South Africa. Conflict erupts over rent boycotts; four local authority councillors killed.

October, UDF and End Conscription Campaign (ECC) hold ‘Troops Out’ campaign

5-6 November, between 300 000- 800 000 workers stage a stayaway, centrally organised by COSAS, The Soweto Youth Congress (SOYCO) and the RMC, and supported by the UDF. This stayaway is the largest labour protest since 1961.

December, UDF leaders charged with treason in Durban

December, formation of the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW) as a UDF affiliate

10 December, the government withdraws all the preventative detention notices. Some detainees are released, others were still held in custody, but will be formally charged and brought before a court.

December, the house of regional UDF Vice-President, Fikile Kobese, is petrol bombed, and his nephew is killed in the bombing.

16-26 December, UDF leads Black Christmas campaign. The public are asked to refrain from public celebration and from spending money on luxuries, as the “nation is mourning” the loss of many lives lost in the struggle against apartheid.

1985

January, U.S Senator Edward Kennedy, invited by Allan Boesak and Archbishop Desmond Tutu- who are both members of the UDF, visits South Africa. The UDF contenciously endorse his visit, but decide not to meet with him formally. Some affiliates, especially in the Western Cape, are critical of Kennedy’s visit and denounce him as an American agent of Capitalism and Imperialism.

February, isolated protests give way to general and nationwide confrontation between civic protesters and state police forces.

February, the UDF holds its biggest ever function to celebrate Tutu winning the Nobel peace prize, in Soweto. While there, Zindzi Mandela reads Mandela's response to the government's offer to release detainees.

18 February, UDF offices are raided countrywide; over 100 arrested, including Albertina Sisulu, Saloojee and Frank Chikane. Seven of these detainees, leaders of the UDF, are charged together with the previous six treason trialists in what will become known as the Pietermaritzburg Treason Trial.



Despite the context of heavy repression, the UDF continues to hold regional and national conferences.

16-17 March, the UDF has peripheral involvement in the “Black Weekend’, a consumer boycott and stayaway that is taking place in the Transvaal and Port Elizabeth, and is followed by a full stayaway on Monday 18 March.

21 March, on the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, 20 people are killed on the way to a funeral of struggle victims in Uitenhage. This becomes known as the Langa Massacre. The UDF immediately condemned the killings and called for a national day of mourning. The massacre prompts a violent reaction from the public. The escalation of violence also forces the UDF to restate its commitment to non-violence, with the exception of what it called ‘defensive’ violence.

April, the UDF holds its first full national conference or National General Council (NGC) in Azaadville, Krugersdorp. The conference theme is, “From Protest to Challenge, From Mobilisation to Organisation.” Decisions made at the conference ratify and accelerate the transformation of the UDF from merely a coordinating front for affiliates to an organisation operating with an ever-increasing independence from affiliates. The front’s focus shifts largely to building organisation and training activists.

In accordance with the International Year of the Youth, as proclaimed by the United Nations (UN)- the UDF also concentrates organisation building on youth. Another important focus of organisation building is on the civic sector.

April, at a major funeral in KwaNobuhle, outside Uitenhage- Charterist Youth, many affiliated with the UDF, order Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) supporters to remove their t-shirts and refuse to read out a message from the AZAPO national president. Violent clashes occur between the two sides. UDF and AZAPO leaders denounce the actions and emphasise their common opposition to the government- however tensions continue to swell on the ground and violent outbreaks between the rivals continue.

Mid-April, State President PW Botha declares that the UDF is an extension of the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP), in Parliament.

Late April, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC make the statement, “Make apartheid unworkable! Make the country ungovernable!”. This statement is printed on a pamphlet and thousands of copies are distributed in South Africa.

Molefe, Terror Lekota and Transvaal regional Secretary, Moses Chikane are detained. Later, together with 20 activists from The Vaal Triangle, they are charged with treason in the Delmas Treason Trial.

Early May, three Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO) leaders, Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela and Qaqawuli Godozi, go missing after leaving a UDF regional meeting in the Eastern Cape. It is later revealed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), that they were abducted and executed by the state’s security forces.

June, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sicelo Mhlauli and Sparrow Mkhonto (the Cradock Four) were abducted after leaving a UDF regional meeting in the Eastern Cape, and murdered by state security forces, as later revealed in the TRC. At the time there was little proof, but the UDF voiced the widespread belief that the government and the police were involved in the assassinations and abductions of these and other activists around the country.

20 July, UDF leaders, mourners from all over the country and even foreign diplomats attend the mass funeral for the Cradock Four. The crowd was estimated at 70 000 people.

21 July, State President PW Botha declares a State of Emergency in 36 magisterial districts; 136 UDF officials are known to be detained. The Emergency does not quell resistance, but it does succeed in weakening the UDF’s ability to provide direction. The UDF is not fully equipped for ‘underground’ operations.

July-August, consumer boycotts supported by the UDF spread across the country’s major urban areas.

Early August, UDF Natal activist and regional Treasurer, Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge, is murdered allegedly by the police.

11 August, activists all across the border region, attend a funeral for Mxenge in King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape. This weekend, eight of nine schools in the area were burnt down, 38 people were killed and township councillors flee for their lives.

28 August, as announced by Allan Boesak- a non-violent march of immense symbolic significance is meant to take place this day from Athlone Stadium to Pollsmor Prison in Cape Town. The police prevent the march from happening through substantial force, resulting in substantial clashes in townships and various coloured areas. At least 28 people are killed in the following 3 days as protests continue to escalate.

Early September, almost 500 schools and colleges are closed by the government in coloured areas. The UDF calls for a two day stay away.

IFP supporters, attacks on UDF supporters, and on Indians in the Natal region intensify.

Congress of South Africa Students (COSAS) is banned by the apartheid government

October, communities continue to use consumer boycotts to protest black local authorities and national repression; UDF launches the Forward to People's Power campaign

December, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) launches

December, the National Education Crisis Committee (NECC) is formed in association with the UDF

1986

January, UDF has first meeting with the ANC in Stockholm

8 January, the ANC releases a statement, emphasising that the struggle must be expanded outside of the townships and into the whole urban area.

Mid-January, UDF officials in the Eastern Cape emphasise street committees as the first step towards replacing official state structures.

Parliament claims that the UDF and the ANC have taken over 27 townships in the Eastern Cape. While both the ANC and UDF play an important role in resistance, neither can claim full credit for the manifestation of people’s power in townships.

The UDF publishes its second edition of Isizwe, called “The People Shall Govern”, and in it discusses street committees and people’s courts as the ‘organs of people’s power’. From the outset, the UDF promotes discipline and organisation with regards to the ‘people’s power’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

January, Murphy Morobe detained and later released, March 7

15-21 February, Six Day War in Alexandra. 27 people killed

Northern Transvaal region UDF launched

March, the State of Emergency is lifted

The UDF and the NECC publicly back Cosatu’s call for a national stayaway on May Day. This will be the first nationwide stayaway called since the 1960s.

May, the South African government deploys troops into Alexandra and KwaNdebele

May, Campaign against public safety bill

UDF Call to Whites campaign

June, National State of Emergency reimposed

12 June, SAPS carry out raids in townships across the country. The next day newspapers estimated that 1200 people had been detained.

16 June, an estimated 1.5 million workers participate in a national stay away.

UDF launches 'Unban the ANC' campaign

August, White City, Soweto massacre

October, UDF declared an affected organisation by SA government and is restricted from legally receiving further funding. The state also imposes restrictions on media, prohibiting filming or taking pictures of any unrest situations, or of police and military forces.  

Campaign for 'National United Action' is jointly taken up by the UDF, Cosatu, NECC, South African Council of Churches (SACC). The aima of the campaign were listed as,

  • To fight back against the repressive conditions imposed by the state of emergency; to open up space to organise further, in order for the progressive movement to take the political initiative.

  • To engage in joint action between various sectors of our people, locally, regionally and nationally.

  • To build organs of people’s power in the townships, factories, schools, universities, etc

  • To deepen the political consciousness of both the masses and our activists

December, 'Christmas against the Emergency' campaign

1987

January, the theme for the UDF for 1987 was 'Forward to People's Power

March, UDF affiliated South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) is launched

Valli Moosa is detained and released on April 12

April, UDF Women's Congress formed

May, the UDF calls for the formation of national organisations in the women’s, youth and civic sectors, at a UDF conference

5-6 May, the UDF and Cosatu call for a 2 day stay away that is subsequently supported by over 1 million workers

May, the UDF wins its case in court against the State to be declassified as an affected organisation. This allows the organisation to legally receive funding again

29-30 May, the UDF holds a National Working Committee (NWC) conference in Durban, attended by an estimate of 200 delegates from all nine UDF regions. National leadership present a 28-page secretarial report assessing the UDF. The conference provides the first opportunity for a full-scale assessment of the UDF’s performance during the State of Emergency.

May, Cosatu headquarters bombed

June, as anticipated, the State of Emergency is lifted

National action and protest are taking place

Day of national protest against whites-only elections

July, Sayco 'Save the Patriots' campaign

22 July, two leading members of the Front, Murphy Morobe and Valli Moosa are seized in a pre-dawn raid by police in Port-Elizabeth. 22 UDF NEC members are in detention

'Friends of UDF' launched

Cosatu union National Union of Mineworkers hold strike to demand living wage

UDF formerly adopts the Freedom Charter

November, UDF calls for boycott of black local authorities

September, UDF and the ANC initiate the formation of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA)

2 November, Cosatu lawyers, in association with the UDF, serve key Inkatha leaders interdicts against acts of violence

December, UDF leader, Molobi is detained

1988

24 February, the Minister of Law and order effectively bans the UDF and 16 organisations, and restricts Cosatu and 18 individuals from doing political work

Despite being banned, the UDF continues to work through a coalition with Cosatu. This relationship is formalised with the launch of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). The MDM organises and implements regional and national campaign

21 March, a National Day of protest is called by unbanned UDF affiliates

May, Cape Democrats launched

May, Nelson Mandela embarks on a series of talks with with a team of government officials and is given a phone to maintain contact with the ANC while in exile

May, Cosatu holds a Special Congress at the University of Witwatersrand, which also includes 120 UDF affiliates with full speaking rights

6-8 June, as decided in Special Congress, a ‘National Peaceful Protest’ called by Cosatu and supported by UDF and churches, results in a mass stay away of about 2.5 million workers

September, Security police bomb Khotso House, national headquarters of the UDF

September, Murphy Morobe, Mohammed Valli Moosa and Vusi Khanyile escape from prison and take refuge at the US Consulate, Kine Centre, Johannesburg

October, Anti-municipal elections campaign

November, ANC veteran, Govan Mbeki is released from prison

November, judgement is delivered on the Delmas Treason Trials; the judge found that the UDF had acted as the internal wing of the ANC, and had sought to make the country ungovernable and overthrow the apartheid government through violence. Lekota was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Molefe and Chikane to ten years each.

December, after being transferred from Pollsmoor Prison to Victor Vester Prison, Mandela meets regularly with UDF and other political leaders inside the country

1989

February, the MDM releases a  condemning statement on Winnie Madikizela Mandela

May, David Webster assassinated

June, UDF, ANC and Cosatu convene a meeting in Lusaka

July, Mandela meets with P.W. Botha

June, a UDF delegation, led by Albertina Sisulu, meets British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, new American President George Bush, the French President, Francois Mitterrand and the Swedish Prime Minister.

August 31, Five days before the general election in which only White South Africans could vote, South Africans all over the country organise a defiance campaign, similar to the 1952 Defiance Campaign, against the election. Various organisations from the Anti-Presidents Committee to students' organisations, Trade Unions, UDF, and many others, successfully organise protest action for this day, the day was labelled 'Day of Rage' by the Weekly Mail and Guardian newspaper (now Mail and Guardian). The police reacted by detaining at least 100 people, banning protest marches and all meetings organised by anti apartheid organisations.

September, F.W De Klerk takes over presidency from Botha

October, De Klerk orders top ANC leaders to be released from prison, except for Mandela  

National Reception Committee formed

December, the MDM hosts a conference for a Democratic Future, in response to the rapidly shifting political climate

1990

January, the UDF’s NEC declares the UDF unbanned- the UDF essentially unbans itself

January, the UDF associated, Kagiso Trust hosts a conference entitled, ‘From Opposing to Governing: How Ready is the Opposition?’

February, the apartheid government unbans the ANC and 72 other liberation organisations. Restrictions on the UDF are lifted and Mandela is released from prison

March, UDF and Cosatu hold a national women’s workshop

May, First meeting between ANC and apartheid government

July, Week of 'National Mass Action' against violence in Natal

August, Bantustan conference

1991

20 August, the UDF officially disbands, in solidarity with the ANC

 

Last updated : 24-Aug-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 20-Aug-2018

Support South African History Online

Dear friends of SAHO

South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.

SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.

Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.



Make a donation here and send us a message of support.