The City of London Anti-Apartheid Group celebrated the 500th day of its Non-Stop Picket for the release of Nelson Mandela on 31 August 1987. They held a special candlelit rally on the Non-Stop Picket to mark and celebrate this occasion.
The October 1987 issue Non-Stop Against Apartheid reprinted an extract from the speech given at the 500th Day rally by Carol Brickley, City Group’s Convenor. She opened her speech with the following claim,
For 500 days and nights we have been outside the embassy reminding its racist occupants that in Britain there is mass opposition to apartheid. Never before in Britain has there been such a concerted or determined reminder that Nelson Mandela, Zeph Mothopeng and their comrades are still incarcerated in apartheid jails.
These opening sentences made three key points that were central to City Group’s approach to anti-apartheid solidarity work. First, the Non-Stop Picket was located outside the South African embassy not only to call for the release of political prisoners but to call for the closure of apartheid’s diplomatic mission in Britain. By referring to the embassy staff as ‘racist occupants’, Carol drew attention to their illegitimacy and suggested that their rule was temporary. Second, she highlighted the importance of mobilizing a mass movement in Britain to oppose (British collaboration with) apartheid. Finally, by referring to Zeph Mothopeng of the Pan-Africanist Congress alongside Nelson Mandela, she emphasized that the Non-Stop Picket supported all tendencies in the struggle against apartheid in a ‘non-sectarian’ manner.
Carol continued her speech by recounting the achievements of all those who had participated in and supported the Non-Stop Picket.
We honour all our supporters who have kept the picket going through 500 days and nights, some of it in the coldest weather London has experienced for 47 years. Although the mainstay of the picket has been young people, we are supported also by some stalwart pensioners who also bring us food and sustenance. We thank also the thousands of passers-by (maybe it’s millions by now!) who have signed our petition and given us words of encouragement.
It has been an eventful 500 days! We have held marches, mass pickets, rallies, cultural and special events, women’s days.
City Group’s membership has grown to more than 1100 and we have moved to a bigger office to carry out our work. Thousands of pounds have been sent to South Africa to support our comrades in struggle, including money for a television and video for the political prisoners on Robben Island.
She was careful in her speech to note that the Picket had survived due to the efforts of all its supporters not just those who were able to withstand long hours standing on the pavement in Trafalgar Square. As Carol celebrated, the Non-Stop Picket did not exist in isolation. It was highly visible on the edge of busy Trafalgar Square. Its success and vitality was in large part a result of the constant interactions between picketers and passing members of the public. It was their donations that enabled City Group to send sizable financial and material aid to political prisoners and their families.
Finally, Carol concluded her speech by acknowledging that maintaining the Non-Stop Picket for 500 days had taken persistence and perseverance in the face of aggressive policing.
The Embassy and the police have done their best to remove us, but they have failed. From 6 May, the day of the white-only elections in South Africa, until 2 July the police imposed a ban on our Picket in collaboration with their friends in the Embassy, and made 170+ arrests. On 2 July they were forced to back down, and at the end of July they lost in the courts. By now they should know that when City Group pledges to take action, we mean business. We will stay outside the Embassy until Nelson Mandela is free.
Viva the Non-Stop Picket!
Like the 1000th day rally a year and a half later and the annual anniversary rallies marking the start of the Picket, the 500th day served as an opportunity for City Group to celebrate its achievements and renew its commitments.