Today, 20 August 2013, marks 30 years since the launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
The South African History Archive (SAHA) is in possession of a wealth of materials on the formation of the UDF, its affiliates, campaigns and publications across the country, in large part donated to SAHA by the UDF National Executive Committee in 1992.
In August 2008, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African History Archive (SAHA) joined forces, using posters and photographs from the archives to develop a virtual exhibition to explore the vital role the UDF played in bringing democracy to South Africa.
Five years later, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the launch, this virtual exhibition has now been updated, with more archival artefacts from SAHA and other archives being incorporated to serve as an evocative reminder of our recent past, and an inspiration that change is possible even under the most difficult conditions.
The UDF was launched on 20 August 1983 during the height of apartheid, uniting hundreds of organisations and thousands of people to form a consolidated, non-racial movement to coordinate popular struggles for a ‘united democratic South Africa based on the will of the people' (UDF Declaration).
The impetus behind the formation of this seminal organisation was the newly-introduced tricameral parliament of the apartheid government that provided separate chambers of parliament; one for whites as the main house, another two with limited powers for Indian and coloured minorities, thus completely excluded the 24 million black majority at the time The launch of the UDF ushered in a period of broad grassroots campaigns for a better life for all South Africans and severe repression of activists and organisations affiliated to the UDF by the apartheid state.
With the current groundswell of civil society organisations across the country still striving for a South Africa based on values reminiscent of the UDF and facing some similar and some new challenges, revisiting the UDF story could suggest lessons that may help to advance participatory democracy, economic freedom and a better life for all in the new South Africa.
UDF records at SAHA
In 2011, SAHA submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request for UDF records which have been released and archived at SAHA in the SAHA Collection: AL2878 The Freedom of Information Programme Collection. The records include information about the formation of the UDF, actions taken by the South African Government to suppress the initiatives of the UDF and monitoring of individuals associated with the UDF.
View the UDF records in The Freedom of Information Programme Collection (AL2878)
View the UDF collections at SAHA
Visit the UDF online virtual exhibition
To you would like to consult SAHA's UDF collections or are interested in donate UDF materials for inclusion in the SAHA archives or the SAHA virtual exhibition, please contact ARCHIVES AT SAHA.
Other SAHA resources which relate to the work of the UDF
Images of Defiance
The Purple Shall Govern (SAHA / Sunday Times Heritage Project)
Red on Black
Voices From Our Past