The first key campaign of the United Democratic Front was to organise a popular response to reforms proposed by the apartheid government.
What was Botha’s new deal?
In 1982, PW Botha, President of the white South African Republic, proposed a “new deal” through a series of bills. (These were also called the “Koornhof Bills”, as they were formally presented by the Cabinet Minister Piet Koornhof). Botha wanted to form a “tricameral parliament”. Apartheid already classified people into categories by race: African (previously labelled “Bantu”), white, Indian, and coloured. This plan called for those people defined as coloured, Indian and white to vote separately for racially segregated “houses” of parliament. These three houses together would make up the national legislature. The “white” parliament would be the most powerful, and would continue to control most of the resources.
But the majority of the population – three quarters of the people of South Africa – were classified “African”. The new deal proposed that no African would be considered a citizen of South Africa. Instead, the government would make separate countries for them, cut out of the land of the Republic of South Africa. These areas had been called “bantustans”; now they would be turned into “independent homelands”. People classified “African” would only be allowed to vote for the national government of their own “homeland”.
Most Africans would still live in cities in “white” South Africa, but they would have no rights to stay there, or to vote for the government of the white Republic. People in the black townships would only be allowed to vote for their local councillors. These local councils would still fall under the national, white-run State administration (the “Bantu Administration Board”), which would continue to control the power and resources available to the township authorities.
Government introduced this “new constitution” to the all-white electorate; the white electorate voted in favour of it. Non-white persons had no vote on the issue.
'Make your mark against Apartheid!'
Because black South Africans were not allowed to vote in national elections, the UDF saw the Million Signature Campaign as a way of organising and expressing the political ideas of the majority of the people.
The campaign would engage many people in actively talking about the need for democratic organisation and an end to apartheid laws; it would show the mass strength of the movement; it would not break existing security laws.
‘Don’t vote in apartheid elections’
Within a year, grassroots opposition to the new deal became the single loudest theme of UDF organisation, media and publicity. Tricameral parliament elections were scheduled to be held in August 1984. Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, with relatively large coloured and Indian populations, seethed.
The UDF and its affiliates denounced and rejected candidates for Indian and coloured parliaments. They called for a boycott of these elections for the (coloured) House of Representatives and the (Indian) House of Delegates. Countrywide, fewer than 10% of the Indians and coloureds eligible to vote actually cast a vote.