At various points during the four years of the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy, the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group published a weekly bulletin called ‘Picketers News‘. Unlike the group’s well-designed and professionally printed newsletter Non-Stop Against Apartheid (originally, Non-Stop News) which was sold to the public, this cheaply photocopied bulletin was for internal consumption. It provided briefings on current events in South Africa, an activists’ diary of forthcoming protests, and details of court cases brought against members of the Picket.
Picketers News was a key tool in providing picketers with information and analysis to use in debates with the public, and helped to organize the Picket’s supporters for political activity. The bulletin was usually distributed at the Picket’s regular rally on a Friday evening and again at the group’s weekly meeting later that evening. In this way it was circulated with the rota for the coming week on the Picket. It was intended to encourage participation and commitment to the rota.
One frequent feature of Picketers News was the celebration of a ‘Picketer of the Week’. This lighthearted feature was included with a knowing nod to tabloid journalism (and its mimicry in the pages of the popular anarchist paper of the time, Class War). It served an important function within the group – it celebrated and acknowledged the commitment of those supporters who were committing large amounts of time to the Picket and, perhaps more importantly, consistently turning up for their shifts. At different times during the Picket’s existence, there were occasionally (real or imagined) tensions between those activists who provided political leadership to the Picket and those who put significant amounts of time into keeping the Picket going. The ‘Picketer of the Week’ feature celebrated not only time spent on the Picket but people’s commitment to the full range of City Group’s campaigning. The feature could also serve to remind ‘rank and file’ picketers that key members of the City Group committee also spent time on the Picket (and not just in meetings).
In that spirit, I want to use this post to celebrate five ‘Picketers of the Week’. Although we now have access to an almost complete run of Picketers News, we have only scanned a small proportion of them. These picketers, then, are a random selection based only on the fact that they appeared in issues of the bulletin that I have scanned for one reason or another.
Our first ‘Picketer of the Week’ is Paulo, who was celebrated in the 20 May 1988 issue of Picketers News for his tireless commitment to taking the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group’s banner on numerous demonstrations.
On 1 July 1988, Simon was named ‘Picklet of the Week’ for pledging 40 hours of his time to the Picket the previous week and consistently turning up for his shifts. Like many of the picketers celebrated in this feature, his commitment to a regular overnight shift on the Non-Stop Picket was noted. Sadly, Simon’s photo has been doodled over in the only copy of this issue of Picketers News that we have access to – although the goatee seems to suit him! [If anyone has an unadulterated version of this image, let me know and I’ll replace it].
At the end of that month (29 July 1988) Hermina was the Picketer of the Week. At that stage, as the citation notes, she was a relative newcomer to the Non-Stop Picket, but was already spending “indecent amounts of time” there. Like Simon, she is commended for her regular commitment to overnight shifts.
Two weeks later, it was Patrick’s turn to be ‘Picketer of the Week’. In fact, not just ‘picketer of the week’, but ‘super-picketer’. The affectionate citation notes his arrest at a recent protest outside the South African Airways’ offices in Oxford Circus and celebrates his commitment to the Picket over the previous year.
The final ‘Picketer of the Week’ in this selection is Cat, whose commitment was celebrated in the 2 September 1988 edition of Picketers News. Like others included here, her regular commitment to weekly overnight shifts was celebrated. Cat was recognised not just for the quantity of time she spent on the Picket, but also the quality of the shifts when she served as the Picket’s Chief Steward. Like Paulo and Patrick (above), her commitment to City Group’s work off the Non-Stop Picket was also noted; and Cat’s organisational skills in the group’s office are specifically mentioned in her citation.
During the Non-Stop Picket, these ‘Picketer of the Week’ citations served to celebrate the commitment of members of the Picket, especially those who regularly turned up to the less visible, hard-to-fill, overnight and early morning shifts on the picket’s rota. In a lighthearted way they helped to cohere picketers who might seldom have met into a collective. The prospect of being celebrated as the ‘picketer of the week’ served (in a modest way) to encourage ongoing commitment to the picket and reinforced the importance of turning up, on time, for shifts on the rota. Twenty-five years later, these photos and the few sentences of text that accompany them, offer a fascinating reminder of everyday (and night) life on the Non-Stop Picket and the close bonds that were shared by the people who maintained that protest for nearly four years.