02 September 2009

'The Purple Shall Govern' - 20 years on...

The 2nd of September 2009 marks the twentieth anniversary of the ‘Purple March', one of the more notable protest marches against the apartheid regime. In 1989, on this day, a group of anti-apartheid protesters attempted to march on parliament, leaving from the Methodist Church on Burg Street in Cape Town. When the march was declared illegal by the police force, the demonstrators decided to stage an impromptu sit-in. The police responded with characteristic belligerence as batons, sjamboks and tear gas were used to disperse the crowd. In a display of combative creativity, one large water cannon attached to a Casspir armoured vehicle sprayed demonstrators with distinctive and permanent purple dye. This would make them instantly recognizable and thus easier to detain.

Memorial commemorating the "Purple March", created by Conrad Botes

Many protesters tried to flee, some seeking refuge in nearby shops and businesses. One protester, Philip Ivey, bravely climbed onto the Casspir, somehow turning the purple spray onto the police. The spray shot dye all over them, as well as the surrounding buildings - including the National Party Headquarters. The act of turning the purple spray on the police became symbolic of the irrepressible spirit of the protesters; the purple had stained those considered the real perpetrators of wrong-doing.

The event is a key moment of civil resistance in the 1980s, and was pivotal in stimulating a series of popular marches against the regime. The next day, graffiti appeared all around the city proclaiming ‘The Purple Shall Govern'.

As part of its broader task of memorializing key moments and personalities in South Africa, the Sunday Times Heritage Project has erected a memorial commemorating the ‘Purple March.' Artist Conrad Botes produced a visual display erected at the site where the events took place. All in purple, the double-sided work has portraits of the 'Purple March' participants on the one side, and a Casspir on the other side, surrounded by every day objects carried by demonstrators during the march.


 Find out more about the Sunday Times Heritage Project memorial for 'The Purple Shall Govern'