South African anti-apartheid coalition says it's disbanding

March 05, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The United Democratic Front, whose campaign of mass protests shook South Africa and captured the world's attention in the 1980s, said yesterday that it is going out of business.

Coalition leaders said their goals have been achieved now that black political leaders are out of prison, black political organizations have been legalized and the white minority government is holding negotiations toward a new constitution.

"We are proud to announce that the UDF has fulfilled the major purposes for which it was set up," said Albertina Sisulu, co-president of the broad coalition, an umbrella group for labor, church and human rights groups and other organizations opposed to the apartheid system.

Speaking at a news conference after a weekend meeting of UDF affiliates, Mrs. Sisulu announced that the coalition would wind up its operations and disband by Aug. 20.

She said the UDF affiliates would devote their energies to building the African National Congress "into a mighty force for justice, democracy and peace." Since the ANC was legalized 13 months ago, UDF has played a less prominent role in South African politics than it had during its previous seven years, when it was the dominant anti-apartheid voice in the country.

Popo Molefe, UDF national secretary, said the group revived the tradition of mass action in South Africa that was snuffed out when the government banned organizations such as the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party in the 1950s and '60s.

He said UDF also "popularized the leaders of the African National Congress -- Nelson Mandela and others. It constantly reminded people that their leaders were in jail. But it also presented the national liberation movement, especially the African National Congress, as the alternative to the South African government."

Many UDF leaders were detained or banned from political activity under the state of emergency, originally imposed in 1985 and reimposed annually until it was lifted last year.

UDF spokesman Patrick Lekota said there was no reason why the UDF should now compete with the organizations that it struggled to put back in business.

The UDF claimed more than 300 affiliates, which represented millions of South Africans, but leaders of the coalition said it was difficult to give an exact count; for security reasons, many groups did not formally affiliate with the UDF.

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