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The UDF was a mass freedom campaign launched by hundreds of South African community based groups in 1983. It aimed at mobilising people and organisations on a national level against the ills of apartheid.

One of the first major campaigns of the UDF strongly opposed State President PW Botha's proposed 'new deal', which would introduce a racially segregated Tricameral parliamentary system. The UDF also mobilised against the bantustan system.


The UDF supported community mobilisation against apartheid in the form of civic organisations. These groups protested against racial separation and rising rent, water, power and transport fares aimed at sustaining the local black councils.

Consumer boycotts were important in the growth or resistance. As one of the last available options for non-violent political protest, they became a widely used protest tactic, particularly in late 1985.

Through Operation Palmiet, the South African Defense Force occupied townships from October, 1984. Efforts like the Transvaal stayaway were organised by the UDF and affiliates to oppose it. In response, the President declared a national State of Emergency.

The UDF posed a serious threat to the burgeoning apartheid state, which continued to repress the UDF by targeting leaders. This included imprisonment without trial and detention for political crimes.

Hard-hit by State of Emergency Regulations, the UDF took on a new method of popular resistance by building up grassroots organisations in the form of street committees, clean-up campaigns and people's courts.

During the 1980s, members of the UDF became targets for both police and vigilante brutality and corruption. 'Unknown' forces, later revealed to be connected to the state, blew up the UDF headquarters, and many were persecuted by vigilantes.

The UDF provided incentive for the rejuvenation of anti-apartheid women's organisations like Fedtraw. It helped women's groups aspire towards national mobilisation of women's rights issues.

Trade unions and the workers they represented were key players in the UDF. After its launch in 1985, Cosatu became an important ally to the UDF, linking unions from all over South Africa through the core principle of fair working conditions in a democrati

Community and education struggles were closely linked within the UDF. The National Education Crisis Committee, an alliance of teachers, students and parents, was an important UDF affiliate, composed of numerous smaller bodies mentioned in this section.

By the end of the 1980s, all mass-based freedom organisations faced bannings or restrictions. A turning point was reached when the UDF and its affiliates spearheaded the Defiance Campaign through the Mass Democratic Movement.

For most South Africans, victory entailed the recognition that decades of defiance, suffering and struggle had led to their freedom. After eight long years, the UDF had achieved its goals, and its members were free to engage in the negotiation process.

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