Following on from yesterday’s post about the Metropolitan Police’s imposition, under Commissioner’s Directions, of a ban on protests outside the South African Embassy in London on 6 May 1987, here are some further photos of anti-apartheid protesters defying that ban. Having been forced to relocate the Non-Stop Picket, away from the front of the embassy, to the steps of St. Martin-in-the-fields Church, on the evening of 6 May twenty supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group crossed Duncannon Street.
The initial wave of civil disobedience to break the police ban was taken by leading members of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group – Carol Brickley, the Group’s Convenor; Norma Kitson, the Deputy Convenor; and Steve Kitson. They were joined by Adrian States, a Labour councillor for the London Borough of Camden. The case against these four protesters would later become one of the legal test cases in challenging the police ban in the courts. Adrian States was the vice-chair of the Camden Council’s police sub-committee at the time, so his arrest under the new and controversial Public Order Act attracted media attention. According to a report in the Camden New Journal (14 May 1987), Camden Labour Party activists heard of his arrest during the annual general meeting of their local government committee, which they promptly interrupted in order to attend Cannon Row police station and demand his release.
What is noticeable from these photographs is that, having removed the Non-Stop Picket across Duncannon Street to the north of the South African Embassy, those who were arrested were led away southwards to waiting police vans on The Strand – out of sight of the continuing protest. Their arrests were witnessed primarily by sympathetic press photographers.
That evening, following the arrest of these four high-profile protesters, a further 16 anti-apartheid demonstrators crossed Duncannon Street, broke the police ban and attempted to continue protesting directly in front of the South African Embassy. The intention of these acts of civil disobedience was to defend the right to protest and to defend the right to protest where it could have most impact. But, after picketing the South African Embassy non-stop for thirteen months, for most City Group supporters, this fight was personal. It was a fight to defend their territory. Those few square metres of pavement outside the embassy gates were not just abstract public space, they had concretely made the territory of the Non-Stop Picket. This added a different dimension and intensified their determination to defeat the ban and win back their space.