In August 2008, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African History Archive (SAHA) joined forces to develop a virtual exhibition to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Democratic Front (UDF), using posters and photographs from the archives to explore the vital role the UDF played in bringing democracy to South Africa.
The UDF was launched on 20 August 1983 during the height of apartheid, uniting hundreds of organisations and thousands of people. This ushered in a period of grassroots campaigns for a better life for all South Africans, and severe repression by the apartheid state with detentions, trials, bannings and killings. By showcasing posters and photographs from the UDF era, primarily drawn from archival collections housed at SAHA, this exhibition serves as a graphic reminder of our recent past, and an inspiration that change is possible even under the most difficult conditions.
Five years later, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the launch, this virtual exhibition has been updated, with more archival artefacts from SAHA and other archives being incorporated to offer a more complete telling of this period in South African history.
Reflecting SAHA's origins as an organisation established by UDF affiliates, a broad range of UDF-related materials from a number of UDF collections at SAHA have been added. Links to relevant SAHA products and publications have also been included, notably TRC materials from the SABC / SAHA Truth Commission Special Report website.
This exhibition is far from comprehensive. In fact, there are generally notable gaps in documentation relating to the UDF's history, particularly from Natal and the Northern Transvaal. These gaps highlight the severe repression, the uncertainty, the escalation of violence that marked this period in South African history and restricted the process of record creation and preservation within the UDF.
Visitors to the virtual exhibition can access posters, photographs, documents and other archival materials either used in, or reflecting on, the campaigns of the UDF and read more about their purpose and context. They can also leave comments on artefacts showcased in the virtual exhibition. SAHA would like the public to get involved by contributing stories of their experiences of the UDF or suggesting any other materials of interest to expand the exhibition in the future.
Digital Innovation South Africa (DISA) have already contributed valuable materials to this growing project and we invite contributions from other organisations and archives that would complement this exhibition.
If you would like to contribute to this exhibition or would like any further information about our virtual exhibitions, please contact SAHA.