Did you ‘Participate in ’88’?

On 17 January 1988, the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group held a dayschool for its members and supporters around the slogan Participate in ’88. The dayschool was intended to activate members and launch a new year of campaigning.  Central to the event was the launch of a programme of action for the year ahead.

The dayschool followed a familiar format of discussions, debate and practical workshops designed to draw up plans for mobilising different constituencies (women, youth, trade unionists, anti-racist groups etc.) to City Group’s activities.  At the event Norma and David Kitson reported back to City Group members from their recent trip to Zimbabwe.  There, according to the report in Non-Stop News,

Norma and David were interviewed for radio, television and national newspapers.  The City Group Singers cassette was broadcast over ZBC radio.  Everywhere they went Norma and David received support for the non-stop picket. … The dayschool raffled a T-shirt which summed up the trip – “Zimbabwe Today! Azania Tomorrow!” (Non-Stop News, 25, Jan/Feb 1988)

Report backs from southern Africa and news that word of the Non-Stop Picket was spreading there was always a morale booster for solidarity activists in London.  It placed their efforts in a broader global context and helped consolidate a sense of real connection to  the struggle against apartheid.

One key discussion during the day centred around a panel on the topic of “The Non-Stop Picket and building non-sectarian solidarity.”  Here the debate was about the means to building solidarity with all progressive anti-apartheid movements in South Africa and Namibia, not just the ANC and SWAPO.  In this moment City Group was attempting to differentiate itself from the national Anti-Apartheid Movement not just tactically but politically.  The panel consisted of an impressive range of speakers representing different tendencies within the liberation struggle and those solidarity groups in Britain who were committed to a non-sectarian stance.  The speakers included former South African political prisoners David Kitson and Zolile Keke; Rodney Funeka (the Assistant Chief Representative of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania in the UK); Freddie Koujo (the UK Chair of SWANU – the South-West Africa National Union from Namibia); Frank Lowe of Black Action for the Liberation of Southern Africa; and Dave Lee of the Azania Namibia Forum.  In addition to these speakers, Andy Higginbottom spoke for City Group alongside David Reed for the Revolutionary Communist Group and Mike Howe from the Humanist Party – both political organisations that had strong commitments to the Non-Stop Picket at the time.  Although none of the (British) organisations represented on the panel were very large, the existence of such a range of organisations committed to non-sectarian solidarity with all political tendencies resisting apartheid in South Africa demonstrates that City Group was not alone in challenging the singular association between the national Anti-Apartheid Movement and the ANC.  The debate about the role of British solidarity organisations and how they should most appropriately relate to national liberation movements in the Global South was a real one.

City Group badge - displaying a commitment to non-sectarian solidarity

At the end of the dayschool, City Group committed itself to a renewed round of campaigning throughout 1988 with a clear focus on political prisoners and explicitly a commitment to supporting prisoners from all tendencies within the liberation movement.  The programme of action for the year included a demonstration on 16 April to mark the second anniversary of the start of the Non-Stop Picket; a ‘Remember Soweto – Surround the Embassy’ rally on 16 June; and, plans for a weekend of activities to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday that July.  In practical terms, the dayschool and its reporting in Non-Stop News was also used to collect new pledges from people willing to do regular shifts on the Non-Stop Picket and to encourage supporters to make regular donations via standing orders from their banks.

Norma Kitson’s report from Zimbabwe and the speeches by representatives of the PAC and SWANU on the panel were specifically used to encourage activity and participation:

The Non-Stop Picket now has international recognition and we are determined to use that support and direct it towards building an active and vigorous movement.  All our readers can join in! Remember: PARTICIPATE IN ’88!  (Non-Stop News, 25 Jan/Feb 1988).

A little over a month after the dayschool, the South African government banned 18 anti-apartheid organisations.  City Group responded with a militant campaign of escalating direct action and the slogan ‘Participate in ’88!‘ took on new significance.

About Gavin Brown

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

5 Responses to Did you ‘Participate in ’88’?

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