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Winds of defiance

End Separate Facilities! The People Shall Swim! Away with Bantustans! End Apartheid on the Buses! Away with Racist Elections! Away with the LRA! All Schools for all People!

The winds of defiance are sweeping through the country like never before. They are blowing through every city, town and village carrying with them a very simple message. Defy apartheid laws! Unban the people’s organisations!

Since the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) made a call to defy apartheid laws early in August this year, there have been acts of defiance somewhere in South Africa nearly every single day. At the start of the campaign, the MDM — which represents the United Democratic Front (UDF), COSATU and progressive churches — made a statement spelling out the aims of the campaign.

“This is to be a peaceful programme of non-violent mass action, directed against apartheid laws and addressing the immediate needs and demands of our people,” the statement said.

“We are saying that we can no longer jail ourselves, nor accept segregation and racial division, nor stand silent in the face of the crushing economic problems of the mass of our people.”

With this message — and 27 years after the ANC’s Defiance Campaign of 1952 — the Defiance Campaign of 1989 was launched.


The first acts of defiance started with the hospitals. The aim was to destroy segregation in health care. Sick people turned up at ‘white’ hospitals in Johannesburg, Krugersdorp, Vereeniging, Durban and Pretoria demanding treatment. Doctors in ‘black’ hospitals sent their patients to ‘white’ hospitals for treatment. The campaign for apartheid- free health services had begun.

Ntate Levi Molefe Makinta, who is 62 years old and who also took part in the first Defiance Campaign in 1952, was one of the first patients to go to a white hospital in Pretoria for treatment.

He told Learn and Teach that at first the hospital staff at the H. F. Verwoerd Hospital tried to send the black patients to Kalafong Hospital, several kilometres away. Later the superintendent said that the hospital was open for all and from that day on, all people would be welcome at the hospital.

Meanwhile in Johannesburg, Border and Cape Town, the “All Schools for all People” campaign was getting off the ground. A few weeks later, protesters in Pretoria joined the campaign for open facilities. Their target was the buses. The campaign in Pretoria was called by the Standing for The Truth Campaign (STTC), and was organised by the Pretoria Council of Churches.

Rev. Gideon Makhanya, chairperson of the STTC, explained why buses were chosen as the main target. “We are still fighting for basic rights here in the capital city,” he said. “So we targeted basic facilities like the buses. We negotiated with the Pretoria City Council and they said that if blacks had valid tickets, they should be allowed on the buses. So we decided to buy tickets.”

But tickets did not stop the police from arresting the defiers. Rev. Makhunya was arrested — ticket in hand — along with Sandy Lebese, the Assistant Organising Secretary of the Pretoria Council of Churches (PCC). Also arrested were students from the universities of Vista, Medunsa and UNISA.


While some people were driving apartheid out of Pretoria, others were drowning it on the beaches. Durban was one example. On 3 September, thousands of protesters gathered to enjoy a day at the ‘whites only’ Addington Beach. Their slogan was “The People Shall Swim!”. Farouk Chothia, a journalist, was among the protesters. He told Learn and Teach what happened.

“When we arrived at the Marine Parade on the beach front that morning we saw many police armed with guns. On the beach, I saw a number of clashes between white racists and protesters, as well as clashes with police. “

The racists — about 30 of them — seemed to be heading for a fight with the protesters. They were shouting abuses and chanting: ‘Kom kaffirs… kom coolie… julle was nie.’ (Come kaffirs… come coolie… you people do not wash). I saw another one who was carrying a sjambok frighten a little child who was dipping his feet in the children’s pool.

“Another racist told journalists in a heavy Portuguese accent that whites had the right to have their own beach. He said: ‘I am a Nazi. I see the whites giving in. They should stand together. “

The police took no action against them. But they arrested the protesters. All in all, 58 protesters were detained, 10 for holding up the ANC banner and 48 for ‘unlawful gatherings’.”


Arrests of peaceful protesters were taking place in other parts of the country. In Cape Town, on 2 September, about 500 people were arrested as they gathered to march to Parliament under the banner “The People Shall Govern”.

Stacey, who is a cultural worker, told Learn and Teach about the march. “We were in Burg Street when suddenly I saw this huge truck coming towards us. I got a hell of a fright. Then I realised it was a water cannon. As we looked up, a huge wave of purple water was coming at us. People shouted: ‘Sit! Sit!’.

“Then a young white man jumped onto the top of the water cannon and redirected the spray onto the police. The crowd just went mad with joy. It was a wonderful moment, quite heroic.

“Just as that was happening the police charged with sjamboks and everybody started to run. I felt something hit me on my head and I fell, hitting my face on the pavement. People were tripping and falling on top of me. I was suffocating from the people on top of me and the teargas. My face was bleeding.

“Later came the humour — graffiti went up the next day saying: “The Purple Shall Govern”. And the people felt very united afterwards so in the end it was a victory for us.”


As defiance spread like wild fire, the government began its crackdown. Mohammed Valli Moosa, acting General-Secretary of the UDF was detained on 18 August. Four days later, Graeme Bloch, a lecturer at the University of the Western Cape and an MDM activist, was picked up. A week later two more leaders, Trevor Manuel and Titus Molefe, were detained.

But the detentions did not stop the defiance. Banned organisations unbanned themselves. On 20 August, the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) unbanned itself. Ephraim Nkwe of SAYCO declared: “From this day, the sixth anniversary of the UDF, all restricted organisations will consider themselves to be free to operate and organise within their constituencies.”

The Congress of South African Students (COSAS) also unbanned itself. The UDF unbanned itself. So did the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) and the Soweto Civic Association (SCA), to name but a few.

Restricted people also defied their restrictions. In Johannesburg, a group of more than a 100 people travelled to Soweto to visit people who were defying their restriction orders. The restricted people were taking a courageous stand, for it was not long before the police began to pick them up.

All in all, since the start of the campaign, over 2 000 people have been arrested. More than 240 activists have been detained without trial. As we write, many are still in jail.


But some were to suffer a fate worse than jail. They were to pay with their lives. Twenty-three year old Siphiwe Satin May was attending a meeting on 20 August in Adelaide in the Eastern Cape in support of the Defiance Campaign when he was shot dead by a municipal policeman.

A few days later, a youth was killed by police in De Aar while protesting. Many more people, including children, would lose their lives in the following weeks. The police have not been the only ones to act violently against peaceful protesters. Right-wing groups and death squads have also done their share. Many activists have received threats and some have been fired at. Some have been assassinated.

Eric Gumede, a Kwa-Mashu Youth League (KYL) activist, was killed outside his home, four days after he was released from detention. The body of East Rand trade unionist, Bafana Sigasa, was found floating in a dam. And in the Karoo town of Cookhouse, youth activist Samson Godola was gunned down by two men, one dressed as a woman.

One of the most tragic deaths was the killing of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) member, Jeffrey Njuza, in Rustenburg on 2 September. An NUM official described how it happened.

“Comrade Jeffrey was shot dead by a supervisor where he worked at Rustenburg Refineries. He had been very active in the Defiance Campaign. Before his murder, he had been charged for using a chair reserved for whites in the canteen. It is believed that his supervisor killed him for using a ‘whites-only’ tea cup. The supervisor later killed himself.”


Four days after Jeffrey Njuza was killed, the government held its parliamentary elections. The day was marked by the biggest stayaway in South African history — more than three million people stayed away from work. In the weeks before the elections, tension had been high, but it was on the night of the elections that it finally came to a head. In Mannenberg, a “coloured” township just outside Cape Town, the tension exploded.

Paul Joemat, a community worker in Mannenberg, described how the whole of Manenberg Avenue (a long street running right through the township) was barricaded with tyres and pieces of wood.

“The idea was to stop people from getting into the polling stations,” he explained. “People were protesting against apartheid and the apartheid elections. “

The police were driving around in vans, Casspirs and trucks. There was a lot of teargas — the police were just shooting at random, it seemed. Children were chased up the stairs of the flats and sjambokked almost at their front doors.

“This made people very angry. They stopped running and started confronting the police, throwing bricks and stones. At one stage the police marched down the avenue with their guns, kicking the barricades aside and trying to take control of the Avenue.

“People were shouting at the police and swearing at them, saying: ‘What are you doing in our area? Why are you shooting teargas?1 Even the dogs went for the police, to the delight of the crowd. The whole community — even the old people — was up in arms against the brutality of the police.

“Injured people were taken through to hospitals. It was at Groote Schuur Hospital that we found out injured people were coming in from Mitchells Plain, Grassy Park, Lavender Hill and other places, and we were told people had been killed in Khayelitsha. We learnt later that 26 innocent people were killed that night.”


The following week, a “Week of Mourning” was called to remember those people who died in the Cape. About 40 000 people marched peacefully from St George’s Cathedral to the Cape Town City Hall. Some of their placards read: “Peace in our city: Stop the Killings.”

Other peaceful marches followed. In Johannesburg 25 000 people marched. In East London, 45 000 people marched, in Actonville 2 000, 10 000 in Oudtshoom, 7 500 in Kimberley and 20 000 in King William’s Town. In the Ciskei, students protested against the homeland system and in Venda, 500 students marched to the police station to demand the release of detained students.

On 14 October, tens of thousands of workers and anti-apartheid activists throughout the country marched to protest against the Labour Relations Amendment Act (LRA) and to celebrate the news that the jailed leaders were to be released.

These are just a few of the acts of defiance in a campaign that is sweeping across the whole country and showing the white minority government that not even a four-year of a state of emergency can stop the people from saying and doing what is right.

Even though the government has tried to crush organisations and people by banning and detaining them, it has not silenced the voice of protest. Nor destroyed the vision of a free democratic non-racial South Africa. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, addressing the Cape Town march said: ‘We say, hey Mr de Klerk, you have already lost… Our march to freedom is unstoppable. It is the march of all of us South Africans, black and white.”

*Much of the information in this article is taken from a booklet published by the Human Rights Commission called “Days of Defiance: A Special Report on Repression.”

NEW WORDS facilities — buildings or services for people to use segregation — keeping people apart from other races, sexes or religious groups

suffocating — when you cannot breathe constituencies — areas assassinated — when a political activist is murdered confronting — meeting someone or a group of people face to face and having it out with them


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