The Non-Stop Picket primarily existed to campaign for the release from gaol of Nelson Mandela. Although the Picket campaigned more broadly against apartheid and in support of those resisting apartheid in South Africa, its main pledge was to be a constant presence outside the South African embassy until Mandela walked free. As such, Mandela’s birthday, on 18th July, was a clear focus for rallying against apartheid and drawing attention to his case.
On the evening of 18th July 1988, to mark Mandela’s 70th birthday, up to 500 people attend a rally on the Non-Stop Picket to call for his release. On that Monday evening, several hundred people stayed outside the embassy well into the night and at 4am the following morning Boy George joined a conga line round the embassy.
That weekend had been a busy one for City Group activists, as on the Sunday the national Anti-Apartheid Movement had held a fund-raising concert at Wembley stadium to celebrate Mandela’s birthday. City Group activists were present to mobilise support for the Non-Stop Picket and City Group’s wider campaigns amongst the crowds of young people attending the concert. They were perturbed to find an inflammatory hoax leaflet being distributed at the concert that claimed to be produced by City Group. This was not the only time supporters of apartheid issued faked material produced in City Group’s house style as an attempt to discredit the Picket and sow further disunity amongst the wider anti-apartheid movement. We will blog about these incidents further at a later date.
The following year, in 1989, 250 people joined a rally to celebrate Mandela’s birthday(despite a joint tube and rail strike in London that day which severely disrupted public transport around the city). During the day ‘Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela’ was painted on the south wall of the embassy in the black, green and gold of the African National Congress. Please get in touch if you have photos of this action (or other events mentioned in this post).
What will be interesting, as this research progresses, is to examine how different former picketers now view Mandela’s role in post-apartheid South Africa.