Who, what and where is ‘non-stop’?

Our major achievement this week is to finally have a complete chronological inventory of all the papers contained in the ‘archives’ of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group.  This material covers the whole of the group’s existence from its formation in 1982 until it officially wound down in September 1994 (with a few items, mostly concerning the group’s bank accounts, from after that event).  There is far more here than we can possibly cover in our current project, which really just focused on the middle four years of City Group’s existence – the period, from 1986 until 1990, when it ran the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy.  We are excited by the prospects for further, future research that this full archive presents to us.

Marking time on a banner (Source: City Group)

Marking time on a banner (Source: City Group)

For now, though, the full inventory of the material, sorted by date, makes it far easier for us to locate gems in the archive that relate to specific dates and periods of time.  Here is an item from 20 February 1990, 23 years ago this week, as the Non-Stop Picket was about to end following the release of Nelson Mandela.  It comes from a document we have cited before on this blog, the partially redacted minutes of meetings between officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and South African diplomats about City Group’s anti-apartheid protests outside the embassy.

Thank you for your letters of 26 January and 1 February. They have been overtaken to some extent by the news from the police that the CLAAG picket will cease its non-stop activities with effect from 24 February. After that we understand that there will be a weekend picket from 1200 on Saturday until 1800 on Sunday. There will also be a rally each Friday evening between 1730 and 1900. [Extract from a letter from (FCO official) to(South African Embassy official) dated 20 February 1990, released under the FOI].

Sadly the Freedom of Information data release did not include details of the original letters from the embassy that are referred to here.  In their absence, we can only guess what information was being shared, or what complaints were being reiterated.

A year ago, I posted a story here about the last day of the Non-Stop Picket.  Two of the key themes explored in that post were the complex temporalities at play in the sudden ending of an enterprise that had been non-stop for four years and, tied to that, the fact that very few of the picketers who were present on the final day have clear memories of what happened during the closing rally. This theme has been picked up in some of the interviews we have conducted in the last year. Andy Privett said:

I was [there], but I don’t remember much of it to be honest and I understand that that’s the general sentiment – “I was there but I don’t remember what happened”. So it must have been good! But for me it was a sense of bereavement. (Interview with Andy Privett, 12 March 2012).

The end of the Picket (understandably) does seem to have represented a moment of rupture for many participants.  The thirteen days of notice that the Picket was about to end were not enough to prevent the final day being experienced as an abrupt stop. It disrupted the pace and rhythm that picketers’ lives had developed over the previous four years. Until recently, I have mostly been thinking about these issues in relation to the non-stop nature of the protest and being a protagonist in it.  However, a series of very productive discussions over the last week (with Peter Kraftl and Joseph De Lappe) have set me thinking about this more broadly – thinking about London in the 1980s as a non-stop city and (recognising that so many of the non-stop picketers were teenagers or only a little older) the non-stop pace of youth.

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
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