This week in 1988 (and 1989…)

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.

Stamp issued in the USSR to commemorate Mandela's 70th birthday

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.

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
This entry was posted in Archival research and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to This week in 1988 (and 1989…)

  1. In hindsight, this focus on one individual has created a cult of personality that is not compatible with the basic principles of democracy and the revolutionary struggle for it. Coupled with the resurgence of tribalism that bolstered JZ bid for high office in 2009 [‘100% Zulu’], and recent inner ruling party racial spat, notably between Manyi and Manuel over ‘coloreds’, this suggests that SA project democracy is stuck in a nasty rut. The situation is exacerbated by the post-1994 focus on economic empowerment of a few individuals with direct political ties with the ANC, thus inadvertently perpetuating the legacy of apartheid in developing the so called black middle class. I have heard a number of people who have had close dealings with T Mbeki attribute the Biblical partial quotation of Mathew 26:11 and made notorious by Cecil J Rodes to him, ‘ The poor will always …’ be with us…” when the growing economic chasm between the poor and the rich is explained. This state of affairs is in a big part due to a disproportionate focus on one individual and one political organization that were duped into perpetuating the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes that underpinned economic apartheid.

  2. Pingback: Synchronous rhythms: what was it about 24 February… ? | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  3. Pingback: Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela (the writing’s on the wall) | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  4. Pingback: Under a ‘false flag’: City Group and the troubling case of the SWAPO detainees | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

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