During the nearly four years that the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group maintained the Non-Stop Picket of the South African embassy in London, hundreds of people from outside the UK came into contact with it. Some stayed for a few hours or a few days; some found ways to return to London to be part of it for a longer period; many more carried news of the Picket home with them.
The December 1987 edition of City Group’s newsletter, Non-Stop News, carried a short report from Jaime Garcia Sadornic in Madrid. He was one such person who stumbled across the Non-Stop Picket during a visit to London and was inspired by it. From 23rd to 30th October 1987 anti-apartheid activists held a week of solidarity action against apartheid in Madrid. Jaime reported that
On the last day we went outside the Embassy and speakers called for the legalisation of the ANC, and freedom for Nelson Mandela and Moses Mayekiso.
Of course, City Group wasn’t unique in holding protests outside South African embassies and consulates around the world, but the duration and consistency of their Non-Stop Picket seems to have served as a particular inspiration for others to emulate their actions. By declaring itself to be ‘non-stop’ City Group’s Picket conveyed a sense of permanence and ongoing commitment that might be perceived as lacking in other protests. Certainly the last sentence of Jaime’s report seems to suggest the power and importance for him of the Madrid protest being recognised and reported by City Group – “please put this in Non-Stop News, we would like to circulate it in Spain”.
In these days when social networking sites (and blogs like this) help spread news of protests rapidly around the world and it is possible to watch live-streamed footage of Occupy Wall Street anywhere, it is easy to forget how important print media and direct contact between activists were just over two decades ago. The Non-Stop Picket was organised not via Twitter and smart phones, but on landlines and with the aid of a pager held by the Picket rota organiser (quite high-tech for time). Non-Stop News was not published on the web or emailed out as a pdf, it was printed and laboriously stuffed into envelopes before being mailed to its subscribers.
Looking at the current Occupy movement and other recent social movements it is interesting to consider how the practices of maintaining the Non-Stop Picket and sustaining international anti-apartheid networks might have been different given other socio-technological assemblages.