Viva the women! Celebrating women’s anti-apartheid activism

Women activists always played a key role on the Non-Stop Picket and in the leadership of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group.  The Picket also celebrated the role of South African women in the struggle against apartheid.  On Thursday 27 November 1986, the Picket hosted a “Viva the Women!” event to do exactly this and to serve as a focus for mobilising British women’s groups to anti-apartheid solidarity work.  This event served as the launch for a weekly focus on women in struggle that persisted on Thursday nights for the rest of the Non-Stop Picket.

The launch event was attended by about a hundred people – men and women.  It was a noisy, musical event – with poetry from Jackie Kay and music from the Horns of Jericho (more about them later…).  Amanda Collins from City Group spoke about her experience of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of Cannon Row police, as well as the political campaign City Group had waged to challenge this.  Speeches were made by other picketers about women political prisoners in South Africa and the role of women in the South African and Namibian liberation movements.  A speech was also given by Did Brizi from the King’s Cross Women’s Centre/Wages for Housework.  They, along with other radical anti-racist feminist groups such as Southall Black Sisters and Camden Black Sisters, were long-time supporters of the Non-Stop Picket.

The report for this event published in the December 1986 issue of Non-Stop News, notes how this rally attracted the attention of a visiting South African women:

“We made international links!  An Indian woman from Johannesburg stopped off ont he Picket.  She is part of a Women’s Group in Fordsburg, where Indian, so-called ‘Coloured’, Tamil and Black women are getting together to talk an organise.  … [S]he told us that the Women’s Group is doing something new and important in bringing ‘ordinary’ women together to discuss their common oppressions and how to bring about change.

She was very excited by the Picket – took our leaflets and Non-Stop News and wants to send the Group information about City Group events and the Picket.  She will try to send us news and photos taken by Black women in Soweto.”

This encounter was not exceptional.  Small, chance encounters between visiting progressive South Africans and the Non-Stop Picket helped news of the group’s solidarity work filter back to grassroots organisations in South Africa, as well as bringing up to date news from inside that country to the Picket.  In this way, City Group’s solidarity work became grounded in material transnational relationships, not simply an abstracted political stance.

The Horns of Jericho playing on the Non-Stop Picket (Source: Deirdre Healy)

From this initial launch event, the Horns of Jericho – a lively band of street musicians – committed to play regularly on the Picket every Thursday evening, as a themed women’s picket.  Alongside these weekly pickets, the first Thursday of every month became designated for larger women’s rallies.  Enlivened by the Horns of Jericho’s ska music, the early evening Thursday shift was often popular on the Picket.  It could attract a large crowd who would dance and since along to the music.  In the process, though, the focus on women’s issues could often get lost.  At times, the picketers could get too absorbed in the music and having fun with their friends. This was important to building a community of protestors, but less effective for fostering dialogue with the passing public.  But, at their best, these were effective times on the picket when large numbers of picketers and a lively atmosphere encouraged passersby to stop and engage with the political message of the protest, taking to enthusiastic and buoyant protestors. 

Do you have memories of this event, or of Thursday nights on the Picket with the Horns of Jericho?  Please share them with us…

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About Gavin Brown

Lecturer in Human Geography University of Leicester
This entry was posted in Archival research and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Viva the women! Celebrating women’s anti-apartheid activism

  1. Pingback: Mandela Memories: urban connections, protest connections | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

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