My UDF Journey : Matilda Vantura

Matilda Vantura, June 2023

My thoughts go back to the launch of United Democratic Front (UDF). I was attending classes at Hewat Training College in Athlone to finish my Primary Teachers Diploma (PTD). We wrote tests on that day when the UDF was launched, so I missed the launch, but my heart was in Mitchells Plain.

I was also active in the Cape Housing Action Committee (CAHAC). In Elsies River, we campaigned for houses, security, and comfort. We did lots of door-to-door work, handing out pamphlets, talking to people, encouraging them to join our campaigns, doing surveys, and organising house meetings.

The late Mr. Wilfred Rhodes was the CAHAC organizer. He taught us how to run house meetings, do workshops. Theresa Solomons and Uncle Willy of Mitchells Plain, were my teachers. The late Mr Joseph Marks from Steenberg and Retreat, made all our CAHAC meetings very lively and interesting. We looked forward to every CAHAC meeting because you learn new things every time.

I was also involved in the Children’s Movement, with the Children’s Resource Centre and Marcus Solomon, and Molo Songololo with Patric Solomons. We established children’s groups in Elsies River, and elsewhere, and organised children’s mothers and women into the United Women’s Congress.

Through the UDF we also made the community our second home. That is where I picked up community development skills. We got media training with the Community Arts Project, as well as poetry and creative writing lessons, and gender training.

The UDF as umbrella organisation and movement. The UDF made it possible to meet people from all walks of life, different background, experiences, and all with different skills.

What was so amazing for me was the fact that nobody was selfish. EACH ONE TEACH ONE, became a reality to me. Everything I was Taught in the organisation’s I took back to the Northern Suburbs to empower the people for a better life.

The UDF gave me power to face the struggle in the staffroom where I taught. If gave me power to face the council authorities, who we faced in the rent offices; and to talk to people on a Saturday morning at an information table or confronting the day hospital superintendent about bad treatment of patients.

Community House in Salt River became our second home. It was a centre of connection, a safe haven; a place where like-minded people gathered, shared experiences and planned action campaigns. Children, youth, women, trade unions, and media organisations, all under one roof.

The UDF united us against Apartheid. It was a united democratic front of people’s power, through community actions. Such a united people’s movement can fight poverty, violence, crime, corruption, poor services; and become actively involved in and hold government and parliament to account.

Matilda Vantura is a Educator, community leader, organiser, activist, project developer; women’s empowerment innovator, parliamentarian, mother, and grandmother

The story of the UDF logo

By Feizel Mamdoo, July 2023

It could have been Saturday, 30 July 1983.

A group of us comrades was on the second floor of Audward House on Ameshof Street in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Braamfontein then, not unlike now, was home to a range of progressive organisations aligned to the anti-apartheid movement.

We crowded around long tables and light-top boxes, amidst bromides and galleys, putting together an edition of the Speak Community Newspaper. Among the comrades would have been Dillip Waghmarie, Tony A’Bear, Charles Ramakgadi, Des Soudien, Deepak Patel, Lisa Seftel, Meena Singh, Khalik Mayet, May Hermanus, Melinda Silverman and Salma Peer.

The space was wide and open, and across from us were some of the comrades of the Media and Resource Services (MARS), working on producing media in support of youth and other mass-based organisations, and the student newspaper Saspu National. They included Guy Berger, Clive van Heerden and Keith Coleman. Others present may have been Gail Jammy, Annette Griessel and Simon “Toby’’ Ratcliffe.

MARS had rental of the space, under veiled purposes, and shared some of it with Speak at the time.

Collectively, such networks supported the production of media for mass democratic movement organisations and the regional as well as national UDF. Later, a more formalised Transvaal UDF Media Committee was established, which was chaired by Mzwakhe Mbuli.

At some point late in the day, Mohamed Valli Moosa, then the Secretary of the Transvaal region of the UDF, appeared in the doorway of a back entrance to the floor. He approached, but held back, seemingly not wanting to intrude, and beckoned me.

The UDF needs a logo, he said. With all the skills that are here, I’m sure you guys can come up with something.

I said yes, I thought we could.

But it was needed urgently, Valli said. There was a national meeting of the UDF leadership taking place in Jo’burg over the next day or so, and it would be good if everyone could see it while they were all together.

I undertook that it could be done.

He said he liked the slogan “UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides”, which the logo should have.

I suggested, maybe it should be the reverse, “Apartheid Divides, UDF Unites”, to capture it as a response to a situation.

No, it didn’t have the same ring to it, he said. “UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides” is what it should be.

Valli left us with the task, undertaking to check in again.

An image was already in mind, of masses of people across South Africa on the march, under a single banner. This concept was developed for other content elements of our National Democratic Struggle to be represented: the unity and involvement of all races, and of all classes, under the leadership of the working class.

Carl Becker was the obvious choice to be asked to visually translate the design concept. He was a talented comrade artist that had been supporting Speak and other progressive media for some time.

Carl was contacted to come in and was briefed. He immediately agreed to the task. If recollection serves, he may have on this occasion or subsequently raised the question of what the colours of the logo should be. After some discussion, this was raised with Valli at some point and after consultation, he fed back that it should be red, yellow and black. His personal consideration, he recalls, was that it had to be colours ‘’that stand out’’. It was clear that it couldn’t be black, green and gold, for reasons of security, the nature of the UDF, and appropriation of any kind.

Carl went off and worked on the logo through the night, taking input from other comrades. His sister Ruth Becker for example, he says, made sure women were not relegated in their representation.

Carl produced a first draft the next day, in his distinctive ‘’hatching’’ style – sketchy, with lines and shadows. We were getting there. But a few adjustments were needed. Overall, it needed to be less busy in style. The UDF flag under which the people marched was also too short, extending only midway of the crowd. It needed to extend to the end, embracing all the people. And Khalik Mayet suggested that the woman in the front be given a bindi on her forehead, as is worn by Hindu women, to distinguish the identity she was representative of.

Carl worked further on the logo and then handed it over to Toby Ratcliffe to ‘’simplify’’ and ‘’flatten out’’, he says. Toby abstracted the drawing into more basic shapes and, before day’s end, it was ready.

Valli appeared at the back doorway again, this time with Trevor Manuel, and they were shown the logo. Both were happy with it, visibly exceeded in their expectations. They rushed off with it to the UDF leadership for approval before the meeting closed.

Not long after, Valli proposed that the logo be shown at a workshop of activists that was underway in Crown Mines. This was one of the first gatherings of activists that endorsed the logo. Soon it was being produced on T-shirts, posters, banners, pamphlets and all manner of products in the build-up to the national launch of the UDF in Mitchells Plain in Cape Town on 20 August 1983.

The media that was produced for the UDF was a distinct advance in quality on what had gone before in the Struggle in the 1970s. This media captured the imagination of the people of South Africa and played a significant part in inspiring the massive mobilisation against the Tricameral Parliament and the Black Local Authorities and for a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

Feizel Mamdoo is a former activist and editor known for his involvement in the Transvaal Indian Congress, United Democratic Front, and the Mass Democratic Movement. After apartheid, he pursued a career as a filmmaker, writer, heritage worker, and communications practitioner. He co-founded The Fietas Festival, a community initiative aiming to reclaim the heritage of his birthplace, Vrededorp/Pageview, which was devastated by the Group Areas Act.