Maverick Citizen


UDF to use 40th anniversary as a call to action to ‘reclaim our democracy’

UDF to use 40th anniversary as a call to action to ‘reclaim our democracy’
Members of the UDF40 steering committee gather at the statue of Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 18 July 2023. From left - Shamim Hargovan, Murphy Morobe, Goolam Aboobaker, Popo Molefe, Cheryl Carolus, Valli Moosa, Titus Mafolo and Neeshan Balton (Photo: Phill Magakoe)

The UDF40 steering committee outlined its plan, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Thursday, 20 July, to harness the UDF’s legacy, principles and practices to mobilise active citizenry.

‘This year marks the 40th anniversary of the United Democratic Front (UDF). The formation of the UDF on 20 August 1983 in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, provided a vital boost for the liberation struggle against apartheid. Its last surviving members and leaders have converged to establish the UDF40 to celebrate and commemorate the UDF’s legacy and consider its lessons for today’s South Africa.”

These were the opening remarks by one of those leaders, Murphy Morobe, at a press briefing to outline the plans for the commemoration and its aim to reclaim the UDF’s legacy, principles and practices within current social and political engagements.  

He said that with non-racialism, non-sexism and democracy for all as its core principles, the UDF broadened the theatre of revolution across the length and breadth of the country through its rallying call: “UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides.”

“Its mass mobilisation campaigns channelled the energies of youths, students, workers and communities, where they collectively embraced their historic mission to liberate themselves from oppression and exploitation.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Remembering the UDF: Renewing, rebuilding and repositioning the ANC

UDF40 aspired to build creative and constructive avenues to recognise, celebrate and memorialise the accomplishments of the unprecedented mass mobilisation of the people during the darkest period in South Africa since the 16 June 1976 student uprisings.

“Beyond celebrating the UDF’s achievements, the UDF40’s strategic intent is to leverage its rich heritage to defend and deepen South Africa’s current democracy, which faces severe threats.

“The UDF40, therefore, calls on all democrats to find once more resourceful ways to marshal their energies toward defending our democracy.”

A call to action

The UDF40 call to action is “Building Active Citizenry for Transformation and Accountability”. The call galvanises supporters’ commitment to celebrate and popularise the legacy of UDF and celebrate key milestones such as the 1989 Defiance Campaign that marked the beginning of the end of apartheid, Morobe said.

“It seeks to use the opportunity of its anniversary to reflect on this legacy, not for its own sake, but on the extent to which the current situation in our country has deviated from those core principles as our driving force against apartheid,” he said. Morobe said they were also seeking to rearm themselves with those values and use them to constructively critique current political practices and tendencies that are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The September 1989 Cape Town peace march rocked apartheid and reverberated around the world

In particular they were seeking to share the lessons and experiences with younger activists and people committed to and yearning for the mainstreaming of the same ideals that defined the UDF.

From the archives – left: UDF treasurer Azhar Cachalia, UDF co-president Albertina Sisulu and UDF chairperson Sam Ndou at a press conference. (Photo undated: Gallo Images / Rapport archives)

National and provincial activities on the calendar

The UDF40 national steering committee would immediately activate national and provincial activities focusing primarily on the 20 August 2023 anniversary date.

This would be followed by a campaign to mobilise “active citizenry”, for which activities would be initiated by grassroots groups and organisations.

The steering committee would consult with and bring on board stakeholders such as political entities, faith-based organisations, student organisations and UDF-affiliated trade unions, as well as newer structures with similar objectives, including Defend Our Democracy and the Active Citizens Movement.

There would be a main “national” event on 20 August at the Old Johannesburg City Hall, and provincial events, such as workshops, dialogues and seminars, between August and September.

These events would focus on “remembering, honouring and commemorating fallen leaders and activists, recollecting and demonstrating the nonracial, inclusive approach of ‘the way of the UDF’, connecting to present-day struggles for accountability and transformation, and encouraging the new generation of leaders to embrace those values of the UDF”.

No new political party

When asked if this was the launch of a political party, former UDF secretary-general Popo Molefe said it was not.

“This is the commemoration of the UDF and the honouring of its legacy, not the establishment of a political party. Naturally, in the prevailing conditions where political parties’ support is waning, one would expect there would be a sense of panic when there is an announcement about the mobilisation of our people, but this is not about establishing a political party,” he said.

Molefe said the values, principles and ethos of the UDF formed a very essential part of the Constitution. “Drawn from its declaration and its working principles of the time were cardinal democratic principles that informed the nature of government that we envisioned after the death of apartheid.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Go Back, Give Back, Build Back’ – how to best honour the spirit of the UDF on its 40th anniversary

“It is those values that we believe the commemoration of the United Democratic Front, the honouring of its legacy, would reassert, and fundamentally, in celebrating the legacy of the UDF, we are doing what comrade Murphy [Morobe] says – reclaiming the democracy that we fought for. We are reclaiming that democracy, but we are also reasserting the values of the rights of our people.”

UDF 40th

Members of the UDF40 national steering committee at a media briefing in Johannesburg to outline the plans for the 40th anniversary celebrations. From left: Cheryl Carolus, Murphy Morobe, Popo Molefe and Frank Chikane. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

UDF leaders address the media in Cape Town on 4 February 1990. From left: Archie Gumede, Murphy Morobe, Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota, Moses Mayekiso and Popo Molefe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport archives)

It was necessary to interrogate the damage that had been caused by adopting a proportional representation system, which had resulted in political parties having more power. 

Molefe said while this was the correct thing to do at the time, political parties took the power and gave it to individuals, making them accountable to political parties and not those who vote for them. “Increasingly, therefore, we have seen politics in South Africa being a bargaining system to achieve personal interest and party interest. Whereas our vision of a new South Africa was one in which people would govern. So, we’ve got to return to those fundamentals and this is what we want to do.”

‘Our country is in trouble’

Apartheid activist Reverend Frank Chikane said he hoped the celebration would trigger discussions in schools, since many in the younger generations do not have a clear understanding of what UDF is. “What we are expecting is that the 40th anniversary is going to engender that spirit of getting active citizenry on the ground, to mobilise and make decisions; nobody must come to the community and decide on their behalf,” he said.

People were not using the democratic structures in place, such as ward committees and police forums. “What we want is to revitalise, re-energise all those structures. Anybody who wants to be a political leader must be accountable to those people, rather than the other way round.”

Former UDF leader Cheryl Carolus said it was important to acknowledge that the country has come a long way in many respects, with recognised democratic structures and institutions. “What we seek to do with the UDF40 is, in fact, to implore people to the first instance, to utilise what we fought for with our blood in our lives, and that is to use those structures which exist today that were unlawful under apartheid,” she said.

1993. South Africa. Cheryl Carolus, a United Democratic Front Leader in the eighties, seen at a rally. Photo Supplied

Those structures also included school governing bodies, mass participation and expressions of mass approval and disapproval. “Let us go back and reclaim our country, because our country is in trouble. We all see this every day. So, our call is for that, and we call for every leader elected by us to stop fearing that, and to actively encourage us to do just that.”

The national concept paper and implementation guidelines for the UDF40 anniversary celebrations and commemorations are essential for a shared understanding and appreciation of the need to reclaim the UDF’s legacy, principles, and practices within current political engagements, said Morobe.

“The UDF40 believes anchoring with the UDF’s core values and approaches will renew deep commitment and clear direction for building a South Africa in which all shall prosper – in a democracy we can all be proud of.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Derek Taylor says:

    Undoubtedly the UDF was major catalysator to end Apartheid, however they also precipitated, in their own way, to give us the current government. Hope they can do better this time.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I was hoping that some of the stalwarts of this organisation would reengage and connect with those who are working towards a better SA.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    well ladies and Gents it is your government that is in power and has successfully messed up this country. let us hope you have the courage to admit that because without that your 40th will just be another party!

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