Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) begins their Defiance Campaign

Wednesday, 2 August 1989

The United Democratic Front (UDF) was a non-racial coalition group that was initially formed in protest to the Tricameral Parliament. It was one of the most significant anti-apartheid movements, and comprised of 400 church, civic and student organisations- with a membership of close to 3 million.

The aim of the UDF, through uniting different organisations such as trade unions, was to make South Africa ungovernable - thereby crippling the apartheid system. Among the leaders of the UDF were Rev. Alan Boesak, Desmond Tutu, Albertina Sisulu and Helen Joseph.

The UDF was launched in 1983, and began its work by promoting protests and boycotts amongst its members. A year later, the Township Uprising broke out, resulting in a partial state of emergency being declared. This was extended to a full state of emergency by 1988. The UFD then started to form closer links with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and formalised their association in 1989 with the launch of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).

On 2 August 1989, the MDM organised and implemented its first major national campaign since the start of the state of emergency. Campaigns differed in each region, but acts of civil disobedience were generally encouraged throughout the country. For example, the segregation laws of hospitals around the country were challenged by protestors, leading to the admission of more than 200 Blacks to former hospitals for Whites.

Permission for the MDM to stage further protest marches was granted, which marked a major turning point in the apartheid government and their reaction to anti-apartheid movements.


  1. A message from COSATU and the UFD
• South African Institute of Race Relations. (1990) Race Relations Survey 1989/90, Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, p. 223.
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.

Last updated : 21-Jan-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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