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(page 11)
Mass Action
By the end of the 1980s, active opposition to apartheid was widespread across Cape Town. Capetonians recognised that apartheid threatened to end in bloody civil war, and that international sanctions were causing the economy to stagnate, with the prospect of complete isolation ahead.

Increasingly, demonstrations featured people of all backgrounds. August 1989 saw a protest 'picnic' on Bloubergstrand, a 'whites-only' beach. It was a mixed gathering of families and friends from every neighbourhood, playing and enjoying the beach while expressing solidarity against segregation. Police arrived with quirts (long sticks) to try and dispel the merry crowd. On another occasion protesters, including Desmond Tutu, gathered at the Strand near Somerset West. Here the police cordoned off the beach for 'police dog-training'.

In June of that year, 2,000 people walked from Rondebosch Common to District Six in support of an 'open city' - a concept recently advocated by the mayor and councillors. David Kramer, whose popular musical recalling the life and demise of District Six had just been showing, entertained the procession. No-one was hurt as permission was given for the march.

In August 1989, the pro-ANC Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), the successor to the banned UDF, initiated a new protest campaign against remaining social segregation. Unlike the UDF, the MDM had the support of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions). In one MDM protest clerics, COSATU members and academics gathered peacefully to demand the right to protest, but police set upon the crowd, beating and injuring protestors, using teargas, quirts and water cannon.

On Sept 13th 1989 a march from Parliament to St George's cathedral, led by Desmond Tutu, Mayor Gordon Oliver, Allan Boesak, Sheik Nazeem Mohammed and Jakes Gerwal, was supported by 30,000 people of all ages and races. A one minute silence was held at the city hall for those killed in recent violence. To cries of 'long live the mayor' Gordon Oliver said 'today Cape Town has won. Today we all have the freedom of the city'. This event had huge practical and symbolic significance and in the following days similar events were held elsewhere in the country.

Despite disagreements and tensions between liberals and radicals, opposition to apartheid had gained considerable support in Cape Town. In the whites-only general election of September 1989, the liberal Democratic Party (the Progressive Federal Party's successor) won all the city, southern and Atlantic suburbs - showing that support for the regime lay only in the northern suburbs. Nationally the government lost support both to liberal and conservative parties.

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In this period of Cape History:



Petty Apartheid



The Silent Years

Influx Controls

1976 Uprising

Post '76 Reform


Turning Tide

Mass Action

Bibliography & Contacts


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