Black miners refused to go underground, and black children stayed away from school. Buses were empty, and restaurants closed. Last week, as South Africa’s white, Colored and Indian minority went to the polls in a national election, the country’s black majority, which is not entitled to vote, simply stayed at home. It was the largest protest against apartheid in the history of South Africa and the culmination of a six-week campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience. But after the polls closed, riots in the black townships around Cape Town led to as many as 29 deaths. Black leaders accused the police of using unnecessary force and brutality, while police claimed that the deaths were the result of factional fighting between rival black groups. Now, South Africa’s white minority confronts a powerful new anti-apartheid organization called the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), which staged the largely peaceful and highly successful pre-election protests.
Although South African police used dogs,
whips, rubber bullets, tear gas and arrests to break up demonstrations and control crowds before election day, they failed to stop the MDM’s defiance campaign. What has set this largely black movement apart from other organizations dedicated to fighting apartheid is its
lack of identifiable leaders, _
structure or agenda. MDM spokesmen have said that one of the movement’s strengths is its informal nature, making it impossible for the authorities to curtail or outlaw it.
And they promised to continue their defiance campaign against acting president Frederik de Klerk’s newly elected government, which has undertaken a five-year plan to give disenfranchised blacks some form of political representation. In a joint statement, MDM spokesmen
Murphy Morobe and Jay Naidoo declared, “It is an outrageous affront to the dignity of millions of oppressed in our country that the de Klerk regime should ask for another five years to lead us deeper into the crisis.”
Even though the MDM is loosely organized, independent observers estimate that as many as 10 million South Africans support the movement. The MDM now intends to hold a huge “Conference for a Democratic Future” on Oct. 7. Anti-apartheid groups of all sizes and political affiliations have been invited to help develop a joint strategy for ending institutionalized discrimination.
Targets: The MDM openly confronted South African au£ thorities five weeks before i the election when it unilateral ally declared that the coun| try’s hospitals would no long° er be racially segregated. On Aug. 2, the movement sent 270 black and Indian patients to seven white-only hospitals for treatment while thousands demonstrated outside the hospitals. The MDM then moved on to other targets, such as segregated beaches, and the defiance campaign quickly earned the support of several prominent opponents of apartheid, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, leader of the South African Anglican Church, and Rev. Allan Boesak, head of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches. And last week, Cape Town’s new white mayor, Gordon Oliver, said that he would heed the two clerics’ call for an illegal march on parliament this week to protest polling day violence by police.
The structure, strategies and leaders of the amorphous organization have deliberately been kept vague in order to frustrate the South African police and security forces. MDM was created by the executive branches of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which claims to represent one million workers, most of them black, and the United Democratic _ Front (UDF), an umbrella organization representing about 600 anti-apartheid groups. Organizations affiliated with the movement include the Cape Democrats; the Five Freedoms Forum and the Black Sash, groups comprising whites against apartheid; the End Conscription Campaign, a group of young white activists opposed to compulsory military service; and the South African Council of Churches.
According to Morobe, publicity secretary for the MDM,
the idea of creating the movement emerged shortly after Pretoria clamped down on the UDF and its allies in February, 1988, and imposed severe restrictions on their political activities. Morobe said that the movement decides on a course of action by consensus. As a result, South African authorities have had a hard time monitoring its activities or acting against it. “You cannot ban a concept,” said Morobe. The UDF’s acting general secretary, Mohammed Valli Moosa, said, “In a situation of extreme repression, the most effective strategy is to create a broad-based movement that strengthens the forces opposing the regime and maximizes its isolation.”
Warfare: Rather than imposing restrictions on its activities, South Africa’s ruling National Party tried to discredit the MDM in the weeks leading up to the election.
Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok, as well as Defence Minister Magnus Ma; lan, repeatedly described the | movement as the internal £ wing of the banned African National Congress (ANC), an organization that has waged guerrilla warfare against Pretoria from outside the country for nearly 30 years. The ministers also charged that the MDM was part of the South African Communist Party Alliance. Finally, Vlok and the police maintained that the movement was nothing more than a small group of radicals engaged in a violent campaign to disrupt the election.
Battles: Yet most of the evidence indicates
that the MDM is indeed a _
broadly based, populist movement. Shelagh Gastrow, an expert on extraparliamentary political organizations and wife of Democratic Party MP Peter Gastrow, said, “We estimate the MDM to have a claim on the loyalty of about 10 million people.” She said that the ANC is definitely affiliated with the movement but is not running it. Gastrow added that the MDM has also succeeded in bringing together groups that had previously waged separate battles against apartheid. The National Congress of Trade Unions is a pro-black-consciousness movement, while the ANC, UDF and COSATU are all primarily political forces.
Said Gastrow: “The growing ground swell is a determination to force the government to the negotiating table by
presenting a united front of opposition.”
So far, de Klerk’s National Party has not moved beyond its campaign pledge to negotiate over a five-year period some role in the country’s political system for the black majority. In the meantime, the government has
continued its attempts to control and defuse black dissent. Police and security forces arrested and briefly detained hundreds of anti-apartheid activists, including Archbishop Tutu, for participating in pre-election protests organized by the MDM. As part of a nationwide protest the day before the election, an estimated 500 white students and black workers in Stellenbosch, 40 km east of Cape Town, marched about one
kilometre from the University of Stellenbosch to the centre of the town. Twelve trucks loaded with police arrived and, without warning, used dogs and six-foot whips to break up the peaceful demonstration.
In the weeks leading up to the election, MDM
called for a peaceful campaign of civil disobedience. During a church service one day before the vote, Rev. Boesak told 500 churchgoers in a township near Cape Town: “Do not contaminate this struggle we are in. I want you to remain nonviolent.” Most blacks heeded Boesak’s appeal. Still, as many as 29, all of them black or Colored, died on election night during police attempts to break up demonstrations in
_ the black townships around
South African police may continue trying to control street demonstrations, but many observers say that the white minority has no alternative to negotiating a power-sharing arrangement with the black majority. And the MDM may play a key role in those talks. “There can be no doubt any longer that negotiations are the order of the day,” said Gastrow. “The MDM is certainly going to play an increasingly significant role.” In fact, with MDM leaders vowing to intensify their peaceful defiance campaign, it appears possible that negotiations—not bullets and tear gas—could determine the future of South Africa.
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