The United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched on 20 August 1983 during a period of heightened repression in South Africa. It was formed at a meeting held at Mitchell's Plain in Cape Town which united hundreds of grassroots-based organisations and thousands of individuals under the broad vision of mobilising against apartheid at a national level and creating a united, non-racial democracy in South Africa. Within months, the UDF included six hundred organisations.
UDF activists regularly confronted the state, at the risk of their own personal loss, including detention, torture and death. By focusing on immediate community problems, as opposed to broader political goals, UDF groups were able to survive repressive measures taken by the state and continue to grow.
The UDF had emerged in the context of Botha's New Deal, which sought to usher in a Tripartite parliament. This was opposed by a number of community-based groups. At the January 1983 conference held to formalize this opposition, Dr Allan Boesak, then president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, argued that accepting the New Deal would simply make apartheid "work better."
A declaration adopted at the meeting argued that
We, the freedom-loving people of SA, say with one voice to the whole world that we cherish the vision of a united democratic South Africa based on the will of the people. We will strive for unity of all people through united action against the evils of apartheid ... We say that all forms of oppression and exploitation must end.
In its call for "the creation of a true democracy", the UDF set the stage for a new era in the liberation struggle.
UDF virtual exhibition
In August 2008, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African History Archive (SAHA) developed a virtual exhibition to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Democratic Front (UDF). In March 2010, SAHA took over the hosting of this website so as to facilitate the ongoing expansion of this virtual exhibition, identifying and incorporating more archival artifacts from SAHA and other archives. By showcasing posters and photographs from the UDF era, primarily drawn from archival collections housed at SAHA, this exhibition serves as a graphic reminder of our recent past, and an inspiration that change is possible even under the most difficult conditions.
Visit the UDF virtual exhibition.
SAHA's vast collections of UDF-related material demonstrate our roots in the UDF. The collections are varied, and include materials relating to the formation of the UDF, various UDF affiliates, events, campaigns and publications from across the country.
Visit our UDF Collections.