– When political expediency proves less honest about our struggle history –
The debate on the re-launch of the UDF on this significant date of memory on this its 29th anniversary, remains clouded with less original thought but expediency. It is also a debate that floats in vaults of emotion. To argue for the re -launch is to misunderstand the very purpose for which over 400 formations, structures of community and civil society came together or should I dare assert were forced together by a unique moment in our history of struggle against a common enemy, apartheid.
The UDF in origin of history had apartheid as base and context. There are those today who argue the context is no different than the apartheid past South Africa. They attempt to corroborate their claims for similarity immanent in emotional claims of ‘ South Africa is falling apart’, the government is failing South Africans and a whole host of mostly rhetorical media sentimental claims of how dysfunctional the South Africa is in as led by those who are black.
When the likes of Mario Wanza today threatens a re-launch or resuscitation of the UDF it is less informed by objective reasoning nor sanity of reason or an honest reflection of where we come from.
These in a moment of blindness of protesting our current reality attempts to capitalise on the very challenges we deal with in this post-apartheid context, which mirrors a confluence of challenges of stubborn apartheid legacy and our post-apartheid new challenges created by our dispensation.
The fundamental axis for us that must be dealt with is the question WHAT WAS THE UDF? Any claim to have the UDF resuscitated must deal with this cold reality. My challenge with those who argue for its re-launch resonates in this critical aspect of their lack to answer what the UDF was.
What was the UDF, to ask this question on the cuff appears easily understood self-explanatory and somewhat rhetorical and for some even a stupid question, yet close examination shows its much more complexed than what meets the eye.
The truth is dealing with this question perhaps constitutes the crux for the irrelevance if not impossibility of its re-launch because South Africa fundamentally, constitutionally and in every sense of definition in 2012 can simply not honestly be compared with the South Africa of 1983.
My first challenge with the protagonists of a UDF Resuscitation is the fact that they are less honest with themselves and us. The claimants of a similarity between back then and now are less honest and have not appreciated who the UDF was. The simple reality is that the UDF came about in a season when every legitimate structure of apartheid resistance was banned, banished, exiled, jailed and on the run. Back then structures were banned almost every week and this is no exaggeration, for as quick as the banning order was announced leaders and the people had new names for the movements and activities.
These short-sightedly if not deliberately want to divorce the UDF from its pre-history known in many epochs of resistance exemplified in for example the 1956 Defiance campaign, the 1962 Lilies Farm arrests, the subsequent trials, the Black Consciousness arise of the late 1960’s and early 1970’2, the 1976 student Uprise led by the Soweto based students against Afrikaans as medium of instruction and ultimately the 1980’s student Uprise led by the Cape Based students coupled with the Mass Democratic Movement initiatives of the early 1980’s.
Yet this snapshot picture to determine the aorta of who the UDF is in definition also must include the very many movement, initiatives, campaigns like the mass consumer boycott.
My third challenge with our friends who prognosticate a re-launch is them being held immured by the location of its launch as that which proves more important or significant than those those who packed the actual venue and parking lots. These give the venue a paramount identity at the expense of the cause.
To therefore understand who the UDF was is to naturally understand that its launch though a Rocklands Civic Centre event in Mitchells Plain (back then the biggest ‘Coloured’ Township in apartheid South Africa) in 1983, was the assimilated conglomerate coming together of many structures that defined the contours and frontier of apartheid resistance.
I think one is arguing, it was not a specific group of race definition but the masses of South Africa consolidating their collective effort in one final push of resistance to say to apartheid unequivocally we are united not only are we united but we share the ideal of a democracy. A democracy that until then was non-existent and offered on piecemeal Bantustan and Tricameral party definitions, clearly strategies employed by apartments up-keepers to destroy if not delegitimises our collective case for a freedom of equality of humanity as inalienable right.
Those who argue for its resuscitation has firstly done a hash job of the UDF history. Such warrants rightful condemnation, for any dabbling with our history in such an evanescent manner warrants the strongest reprimand.
Not only have those who today cheaply attempt a re-launch misunderstood our history but they equally have resorted to the precarious and toxic sanitation means to rewrite our history in snapshot definition informed by a myopic and almost blatant disrespect.
These equally seek to confuse our current social challenges (a reality this epoch must deal with) with our historical political landscape challenges and conflate the two in simplicity of emotion. One cannot argue that the contexts that warranted the formation of the UDF back then now exists, unless one has not understood or proved willing to take the time to read on such history. It is almost as those who argue Marikana was worst then the Defiance Campaign Massacre, you simply cannot compare the two, and any attempt at such warrants engineering of truth. Yet I conluded a long time ago ‘truth does not straddle, desists ambivalence, but proves one-sided, faithful to what the sun captured and the moon attests too‘ (Niklos – CNSR).
Another challenge for those who argue that the UDF must be revived, resuscitated or re-launched is that they think of the UDF in a one dimensional somehow romanticised fashion. As much as one may seek to understand the proverbial ‘longing back’ syndrome of some to an era of mass mobilisation and mass action defined in culmination of a structure named the UDF, the truth is we cannot remake or recreate the conditions for the UDF’s formation in willy-nilly sense.
Any respect for the UDF is a respect for our history of struggle which had many high moments less orchestrated by personality political intention of a few, but the will of the people who refused to be silenced into the night of avenge and killings, torture, section 29 arrests and detention, victimisation and banishment.
Our friends who threatens a re-launch of the UDF, is blindsided for they have erroneously superimposed a tainted ‘Coloured – coded’ definition of meaning for the UDF as a racial group party.
Again these did not understand the UDF because the UDF was not a ‘Coloured’ movement, it was not a tribal African movement, it was not a Christian or Muslim religious movement, it was not a CBO or a NGO, it was not a business forum, it was not an intellectual group of leaders, it was not a student movement, it was not a worker;s movement, it was not a women’s forum, or gender parity group, it was not a youth movement, or friends of the struggle – the UDF included all these sectors and groups but could and should never be misunderstood in any of these as a means to define it’s totality of definition.
I dare assert there are those who wrongly want to make the UDF a ‘Coloured’ Movement but these have not understood the role of the erstwhile and now late worthy of celebration Harry Gwala, Oscar Mpetha, Archie Gumede and many others who though Cape (Langa and Gugulethu ) based were leaders of this FRONT called the United Democratic Front. I am deliberately raising these names not to over-emphasise their roles but to educate those who wrongfully think of the UDF as a movement that belonged to the ‘Coloured’ people. Though I come from this very group who were wrongly defined as ‘Coloured’ one dare not prove choosey on our history.
As much as its patron was the charismatic Allan Boesak he too understood like all it was never about a group, a racial group, or a specific set of leaders.
The UDF was simply the umbrella name for a host of structures banned and unbanned, renamed etc., that embodied its ultimate vision of unity for democracy proving a front.
The UDF represented a time in our history in which we struggled to destroy apartheid that which racially classified in shades of colour, heaviness of tongue and coarseness of hair families, neighbours and friends.
The UDF was the final push of a struggle that started centuries ago when the first defenders of land resisted the invaders of rightful geographical space, those Khoi- San defenders then knew that resistance was no luxury but a necessity.
The UDF stood in that same tradition that saw the establishment of the very structures that gave birth to the African National Congress in 1912, the UDF was the final push of resistance in exemplified historical context of the adoption of the armed struggle, , the loss of the ‘Coloured’ vote in 1955, the defiance campaign of 1956, the Lillies Farm arrest of 1962, the now famous Rivonia Trials that saw our leaders banished to Robben Island’ s lime quarry and many setting driven across borders into the unknown.
The UDF cannot be understood unless we reject the rise of Black Consciousness in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The UDF must be seen as the outflow of the 1976 Student Uprise and the 1980’s student Uprise and the Mass mobilisation of our people, regardless to colour, creed or any definition, at all levels and fronts hence its launch with no more equally a name, no more befitting a mandate and no more pristine a mission (the overthrow of apartheid).
Any claim of a re-launch if not perceptive in understanding of this historical context, if not driven by this mission, of not birthed from this conviction, if not supported by the masses across all mellifluous self-centred divisive definitions of classification, is a solitary walk by one who has less understood.
The Western Cape provincial chairperson of the ANC is therefore correct to say ‘such attempts warrants resistance and rejection with the contempt it deserves’ for we would say in Afrikaans ons mag nie die verskansing selfs verbruiseling van ons geskiedenis ooit toelaat of duld nie”. Excuse me for resorting to my mother tongue to express the centrality of my thought consideration, that is to vehemently remonstrate that we may never allow such attempts and white-washing and sanitation of our history, we may not ever prove tolerant to such attempts, for any people who forgets its history has no future. .
In conclusion, Mr. Wanza just like one can’t re-launch the ANC, you simply cannot re-launch the UDF, because it was not dreamt up in clever political expediency, it was not concocted in political dream, but the resultant effect of a prevailing situation, circumstance unique in apartheid meaning, the same which simply do not exist now.
This moment may call for new responses but it can never be the UDF. To Wanza and those who believe they can threaten every year at the time of our commemoration its re-launch we say start your party, create your formation as this epoch demands but leave our history intact, for we paid for it and will not allow you or anyone to run roughshod over such for short-sighted political gains.
The UDF is our history and on this day we who were there on that on August 20, 1983 in the Rocklands Civic Centre will never allow such history to be meddled with for silly emotional benefit.
Our people in the Western Cape are facing serious challenges with claims of economic refugee-ship, schools being closed, requests for army invasion to deal with the Cape Flats gang infested communities, the legacy of Apartheid, and a need by some to use the courts as a means to deny the youth their constitutional rights to claim they can make the province ungovernable, these are serious indications of who and what we deal with in the Western Cape, but the answer is not the UDF, can never be for this moment requires new formations and structures that will answer the challenges of this moment.
Today we celebrate, the UDF, its place in history unparalleled its time unmeasured and its impact pivotal if we have a democracy today.
Bishop Clyde N. Ramalaine
Courtesy “Tradewinds are Blowing- Political Opinions and Musings, Due End October 2012