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United Democratic Front (South Africa)

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Title: United Democratic Front (South Africa)  
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Subject: Cape Town peace march, South African constitutional reform referendum, 1983, Civil Cooperation Bureau, Coloured-vote constitutional crisis, End Conscription Campaign
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United Democratic Front (South Africa)

The United Democratic Front (UDF) was one of the most important anti-Tricameral Parliament (the parliament was put in place in 1984 with the election of P. W. Botha of the National Party). Its slogan, "UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides" reflects the Front's broad support (about 3 million members).


The plans for a new political organisation were introduced by Rev. racist anti-apartheid organisations.

The launch of the UDF

The UDF then formed regional committees, which established relationships with local organizations. The Natal UDF was launched first, in May, and then the Transvaal region (in June) and the Cape Province (July). Representatives of the regions formed the Interim National Committee, which also included outside activists.

At the end of July, the committee held a two-day meeting where they discussed a national launch date. Although most delegates wanted time to organise the regions before the national launch, they decided the best date was 20 August, the day the government planned to introduce the Tricameral Constitution. This Constitution was touted as reform, but in practice granted meaningless representation to Soweto Civic Association used "Soweto Civic Association Unites — Piet Koornhof Divides".

On 20 August 1983 the UDF was launched in the Rocklands community hall, Frank Chikane, the first major speaker, called the day "a turning point in the struggle for freedom".

Organisational structure

The UDF was formed of organisations from throughout South Africa, although support was always concentrated in the Cape, Natal, and the

Relationship with the ANC

Early in its life, the UDF adopted the Freedom Charter, a statement of the aims for a free South Africa and basis for a democratic constitution. The strong relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and the UDF was based on this shared mission statement. Throughout its existence, the UDF demanded the release of imprisoned ANC leaders, as well as other political prisoners. However, the UDF was never formally attached to the ANC, and did not participate in the armed struggle.

Relationship with the Black Consciousness Movement

The Black Consciousness Movement disagreed with the UDF on the issue of whether whites should be welcomed into the struggle against apartheid. The Black Consciousness movement was based on the principle that the liberation struggle should be led by black people, whereas the UDF welcomed anyone who shared their goals and was willing to commit to them in struggle.

Mass Democratic Movement (MDM)

In 1989, the UDF and COSATU began cooperating more closely in a loose alliance called the Mass Democratic Movement, following restrictions on the UDF and COSATU by the apartheid government. The apartheid government described the MDM as a UDF/Cosatu/SACP alliance, although this was disputed by the MDM at the time.[1][2][3]. The loose nature of the MDM made it difficult for the apartheid government to ban.[4]

Treason Trials

Several UDF members were among the accused in two of South Africa's most highly publicised trials. Accused (with the banned ANC and South African Communist Party [SACP]) of plotting to overthrow the government, the sixteen accused, including Albertina Sisulu, were acquitted in the first of these trials. In the Delmas Treason Trial (1985–1988), however, the nineteen were convicted, but these convictions were later set aside.

Prominent Members

External links

Online Archives

  • UDF Virtual Exhibition
  • UDF unites Apartheid divides
  • : A curricular resource for schools and colleges on the struggle to overcome apartheid and build democracy in South Africa, with seven streamed interviews with South Africans in the struggle in UDF, plus many historical documents, photographs, and educational activities for teachers & students.South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy
  • : a digital archive of 90 hours of videos taken in South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This raw footage documents anti-apartheid demonstrations, speeches, mass funerals, celebrations, and interviews with activists that capture the activism of trade unions, students and political organizations, including 40 segments on the activities of the United Democratic Front.Community Video Education Trust

Open Access Academic Articles

  • The United Democratic Front and township revolt, by Mark Swilling, 1987
  • The Making of the Comrades Movement in Natal, 1985-1991, by Ari Sitas, 1992
  • From people's politics to state politics: aspects of national liberation in South Africa 1984--1994, by Michael Neocosmos, 1994
  • For sure you are going to die! Political participation and the comrade movement in Inanda, Kwazulu‐Natal, by David Hemson, 1996
  • The UDF Period and its Meaning for Contemporary South Africa by Raymond Suttner, 2004
  • Civil society, citizenship and the politics of the (im)possible: rethinking militancy in Africa today, 2007, a theoretical interpretation of the UDF by Michael Neocosmos.
  • The capacities of the people versus a predominant, militarist, ethno-nationalist elite: democratisation in South Africa, Kenneth Good, Interface, Vol.2, No.3, pp. 311 – 358, December 2011


  1. ^ The UDF at 30: An organisation that shook Apartheid's foundation, by J. Brooks Spector, The Daily Maverick, 22 August 2013
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