UDF40 Media Release
CELEBRATING 40 YEARS OF THE FORMATION OF THE UDF
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the United Democratic Front (UDF). The formation of
the UDF on 20 August 1983 in Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town, provided a vital boost for the
liberation struggle against apartheid. The last surviving members and leaders of the UDF have
converged to establish the UDF40 to celebrate and commemorate the UDF’s legacy and
consider its lessons for today’s South Africa.
With non-racialism, non-sexism, and democracy for all as its core principles, the UDF
broadened the theatre of revolution across the length and breadth of our country through its
rallying call, ‘UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides’. Its mass mobilisation campaigns channelled the
energies of youths, students, workers, and communities – where they collectively embraced
their historic mission to liberate themselves from oppression and exploitation.
The UDF was built on solid principles of internal democracy and accountability, and its
mobilisation and organising strengths became the bulwark against the apartheid
government’s excessive repression. When the desperate regime eventually banned it, the
UDF mastered its ‘strategy and tactics’ and persisted despite the state of emergency and
‘illegality’. As the ‘Mass Democratic Movement’, the UDF was even more potent in
intensifying its challenges of the then regime across social groups, including international
calls for economic, sports, cultural, and other sanctions against the apartheid government.
The UDF40 aspires to build creative and constructive avenues to recognise, celebrate, and
memorialise the accomplishments of this unprecedented mass mobilisation of the people
during the darkest period in our country since the 16 June 1976 student uprisings. Beyond
celebrating the UDF’s achievements, the UDF40’s strategic intent is to leverage its rich
heritage to defend and deepen South Africa’s current democracy, which faces severe threats.
The UDF40, therefore, calls on all democrats to find once more resourceful ways to marshal
their energies towards defending our democracy.
The UDF40 call to action, ‘Building Active Citizenry for Transformation and Accountability’,
galvanises supporters’ commitment to:
- Celebrate and popularise the legacy of the UDF of striving for a non-racial, non-sexist,
democratic society as the antithesis to the apartheid dogma of divide-and-rule.
- Profile the UDF’s core value of ‘unity in action’ beyond narrow-minded sectarianism
underpinned by an unshakeable commitment to justice, equality, service to the people,
and respect, love, and care for all South Africans.
- Revisit, record, commemorate, and celebrate key milestones and activities like the 1989
Defiance Campaign that marked the beginning of the end of apartheid.
- Use the opportunity to reflect on this legacy, not for its own sake, but on the extent to
which the current situation in our country has deviated from those core principles as our
driving force against apartheid.
- Rearm ourselves with those values and use them to critique current political practices and
tendencies constructively that are contrary to the spirit of our Constitution.
- Share the lessons and experiences with particularly younger generations of activists and
people committed to and yearning for the mainstreaming of the same ideals as those that
defined the UDF.
The UDF40 National Steering Committee envisages the following programme elements:
- Immediately organise and activate a set of national and provincial activities, focusing
primarily on the 20 August 2023 anniversary date.
- After that, initiate a campaign for ‘Active Citizenry’ mobilisation through local and sectoral
activities from 20 August onwards, generated by grassroots groups and organisations.
- Consult with and onboard various stakeholders and organisations, such as existing political
entities, faith-based organisations, student organisations, and trade unions that were UDF
affiliates and newer structures with similar objectives, like Defend Our Democracy and
Active Citizens’ Movement.
National and provincial programme elements will consist of, among other things:
- A main ‘national’ event on 20 August at the Old Johannesburg City Hall, next to Gauteng
- Provincial events, such as workshops, dialogues, seminars, etc., between August and
September under the direction of UDF40 Provincial Steering Committees.
These events will specifically focus on the following:
- Remember, honour, and commemorate fallen leaders and activists.
- Reflect on UDF strategies, ethos, values, and approaches with its proliferation of
community actions and juxtapose these to our current context.
- Recollect and demonstrate the non-racial, inclusive approach of ‘the way of the UDF’.
- Connect to present-day struggles for accountability and transformation and encourage the
new generation of leaders to embrace those values of the UDF.
- Explore how to adopt the multi-faceted nature of mobilisation used by the UDF by
incorporating music, poetry, art, drama, sports, etc., to rally people.
As Popo Molefe, the last sitting UDF Secretary, recently said, “The UDF 40th anniversary
should provide the impetus to pursue a return to local organising and community-orientated
structures to promote civic and women’s organisations and others….engaging government at
all levels around genuine developmental programmes, especially in critical areas of service
There is a national concept paper and implementation guidelines for the UDF40 anniversary
celebrations and commemorations. This is essential for a shared understanding and
appreciation of the need to reclaim the UDF’s legacy, principles, and practices within current
THE UDF40 believes anchoring with the UDF’s core values and approaches will renew deep
commitment and clear direction for building a South Africa in which all shall prosper – in a
democracy we can all be proud of.