Every South African alive at the time remembers the image of Nelson Mandela and Winnie walking out of Victor Verster Prison to a cheering crowd. The dawn of the 1990s: the ANC, PAC and SACP unbanned; Mandela released; cheering, chaotic, toyi-toying people. The armed struggle was refocused, in favour of negotiations towards a united, democratic, non-racial South Africa. This new day was the culmination of a decade of defiance, repression, and struggle.
The Defiance Campaign, a passive resistance campaign, had been launched in July 1989 by the "Mass Democratic Movement." The first publicised meeting between President PW Botha and Nelson Mandela had taken place in the same month.
The last general election for the tricameral parliament took place in September 1989, and was marked by nationwide protest action and repression. On election night alone, over 20 people died in Western Cape townships.
FW de Klerk became state president on September 20, 1989 after the resignation of PW Botha in August. De Klerk reformed the state, and talked to the national liberation movement. In October, De Klerk released Walter Sisulu and seven other high-profile prisoners. On February 2, 1990, De Klerk announced the unbanning of liberation movements and other organisations, the release of political prisoners, the lifting of restrictions on 33 organisations, and a moratorium on judicial executions.
Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. Despite the release of Mandela, and despite the moves to negotiate, it was not an easy transition. Exiles continued to return, but it took several years for the ANC to establish its offices firmly inside the country. It took months and even years for some political prisoners to gain amnesty and to leave prison. The long process of negotiation slowly manouvered majority rule into place, in a process that advanced, stumbled, and at times stalled, then advanced again.
Meeting our goals
On August 20, 1991, eight years to the day after it was launched in Mitchell's Plain, the UDF declared its major goals had been reached, and it would bow out as an organisation.
"We are proud to announce that the UDF has fulfilled the major purposes for which it was set up,'' said Albertina Sisulu, UDF co-president. As it disbanded, the UDF called upon their affiliates to continue, and to build the African National Congress "into a mighty force for justice, democracy and peace."
Popo Molefe, the UDF national secretary, pointed out that during the years of banning and repression, the UDF had...
" ... popularised the leaders of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela and others. It constantly reminded people that their leaders were in jail. But in addition to that, it presented the national liberation movement, especially the African National Congress, as the alternative to the South African government.''
Source: Eddings, J. "Its goals attained, UDF says it will fold," Baltimore Sun (Seattle Times), March 5, 1991.