19 August 2008

Commemorating 25 years since the formation of the UDF

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 virtual exhibition serves as a graphic reminder of our recent past, and an inspiration that change is possible even under the most difficult conditions.

Visitors to the website can access images of posters used in the UDF’s campaigns and read more about their purpose and context. They can also leave a comment on each poster. 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.

Information accompanying the posters covers the following themes: origins of the UDF, Botha’s deal, civics, repression, women, students, trade unions, people’s power, defiance, and victory. These record the political struggles and events of the 1980s, often in the direct words of those involved.

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.

It is hoped that this virtual exhibition will expand over time, identifying and incorporating more archival artefacts from SAHA and other archives to offer a more complete telling of this period in South African history. If you know of materials or collections that would complement this exhibition or if you would like more information about this project, please contact Catherine Kennedy.