12 August 2015

Remembering the 1985 State of Emergency

SAHA Collection AL2446In October 1984 the apartheid state responded to the Vaal unrest and the almost total boycott of the coloured and Indian elections by sending 7000 South African Defence Force (SADF) troops into the black townships of the Vaal. This was followed by a presidential declaration of a State of Emergency in 1985.

During the State of Emergency, the police and other officials had wide powers to detain people without notifying their relatives and the public had no right to enquire about the arrests. During this period, the apartheid security apparatus could ban meetings and organisations; and prevent media from reporting on unrest and protests.

By 1986, the State of Emergency was extended to the whole country and during the first operations, thousands of activists were detained including UDF officials and the largest UDF affiliate, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) was banned.

SAHA Collection AL2446

The black community campaigned for whites to respond to the gross human rights abuses that took place during the State of Emergency and this led to the founding of the Five Freedoms Forum (FFF). The FFF was made up of organisations ranging from human rights groups to religious, political, professional and student organisations, and their aim of one country and one people in South Africa was to be achieved by striving for the five freedoms.

Visit the SAHA Five Freedoms Forum collection

In July 1989, 115 representatives of the FFF travelled to Lusaka for talks with the ANC and saw itself as an important political facilitator in South Africa's transitional phase in the nineties. You can see the five freedoms the FFF strived for by visiting the SAHA Five Freedoms Collection page

Every year after 1985 until 1989, the apartheid government reimposed the State of Emergency changing restrictions when it suited them. By February 1988 it was estimated that 25 000 people had been detained under the emergency regulations. On February 24 1988, the minister of law and order published new emergency regulations, banning the UDF and 16 other organisations.

What did living under a State of Emergency mean for a person? What did it mean for people who were known as activists in community organisations and in the UDF? Read about it in this article from 1985 on the SAHA UDF page.