Reigniting the spirit of the UDF 40 years on

A wreath-laying ceremony was held on Sunday in Rocklands, Mitchell’s Plain, at the United Democratic Front (UDF) memorial to mark the 40th anniversary of the UDF. PICTURE: SIMONEH DE BRUIN

As part of the 40-year anniversary commemoration of the launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Mitchell’s Plain on August 20 1983, several events are being held under the theme “Reignite the UDF spirit of active citizenry for transformation and accountability”.

On Saturday, there was a panel discussion with Nazeema Mohammed, Pallo Jordan and Dr André Odendaal on Dr Odendaal’s book Dear Mr President at Iziko Museum’s Slave Lodge and on Sunday – the actual launch date of the movement at Rocklands civic centre 40 years ago – a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the UDF memorial monument in front of the civic centre.

The ceremony was attended by several UDF stalwarts from different parts of the city and the province, including religious leaders and scholars Professor Farid Esack and Father Peter John Pearson, who opened the proceedings with prayers, Zou Kota-Fredericks, former Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, Zohra Ebrahim, former national civic co-ordinator of the UDF and the chairperson of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation Board, Andrew Boraine, a founding member of the UDF and the first post-Apartheid City Manager of Cape Town, Ebrahim Rasool, former Western Cape premier, Theresa Solomon, former Cape Town mayor, Whitey Jacobs, former Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements and Cultural Affairs and Sport, Cameron Dugmore, the leader of the opposition in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature, who was .appointed to the UDF Interim Committee in 1989 and who represented the UDF Western Cape at national meetings, Matilda Vantura and Maxwell Moss, former MPs, Veronica and Willie Simmers, founder members of the UDF and the Mitchell’s Plain Advice Office and 90-year old Gugulethu political activist Mildred Lisea, among others.

The UDF mobilised society, bringing together activists and communities in struggle and solidarity across historical racial divides in a manner not seen before under the motto, “UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides!” – building local and provincial campaigns not only around political demands, but struggles for housing, consumer boycotts in support of workers and against the discredited management committees and Black Local Authorities.

The UDF in the Western Cape took the lead with the Defiance Campaign in 1989, sparking mass defiance of Apartheid laws. Soon the Defiance Campaign spread nationally and contributed to intensified pressure on the Apartheid regime to unban the ANC and other political organisations, release political prisoners and make a number of concessions which helped create a climate for negotiations after the release of Nelson Mandela the next year.

Speaking on the role that women played in the UDF, 90-year-old Ms Lisea said: “Women led; they were in the front. We didn’t stop… we went into hiding but we didn’t stop.”

Political prisoner and activist, Mildred Lisea, 90, at the United Democratic Front’s 40th anniversary commemoration in Mitchell’s Plain. PICTURE: JERIMIA THUYNSMA

Mr Simmers said while a lot of good was brought about by the UDF, more should have been done to put stricter measures in place to guard against corruption after the attainment of democracy.

Mr Boraine said at the heart of the UDF was ordinary people they drew inspiration from. “Fast forward to where we are now… and if we think of the ups and downs of our politics and the heights and disappointments of what we’ve all experienced at national and local level… I think we can continue to draw our inspiration and courage from ordinary South Africans like we did then.”

Mr Dugmore said what they hope to achieve beyond the 40 years celebrations is to reignite the spirit of active citizenry through concrete programmes “to give life to the notion of becoming active wherever we are… to becoming active citizens again… and holding leaders accountable…”

United Democratic Front (UDF) founder and former executive members, Mildred Lisea, Zohra Ebrahim, Willie Simmers, Sid Luckett and Professor Farid Esack at the wreath-laying ceremony to mark the UDF’s 40th anniversary. At the back is Leonard Ramatlakane, the former MEC for Community Safety in the Western Cape. PICTURE: JERIMIA THUYNSMA

An interfaith service is planned for Friday August 25 and on Saturday August 26 the official commemoration service will be held at Rocklands civic centre at 2pm. For more information, send a WhatsApp text to 083 612 0832.