Demo chaos - 1000 held

The Sunday Times’s front page of September 3, 1989 Picture: © Sunday TImes
The Sunday Times’s front page of September 3, 1989 Picture: © Sunday TImes

First published in the Sunday Times on September 3, 1989

By Hamish McIndoe, Kurt Swart & Allan Duggan

In a massive show of force, police yesterday cracked down on pre-election demonstrators in the biggest urban disturbance since the state of emergency was imposed three years ago.

Riot police fired water-cannons at protesters in Cape Town's city centre, drenching them in purple dye.

Police said last night that 500 people had been arrested.

Most were freed after being brought before a temporary court on charges of illegal gathering and breaking the emergency laws.

Last night police announced that a further 500 had been arrested since Friday night in unrest related incidents in other centres, bringing the total to 1 000.

SA Police liaison officer Lieutenant-Colonel JH Labuschagne said these included about 300 arrested at the University of Natal on Friday night.

In Cape Town 52 foreign and local newsmen were detained and "removed from the scene", a police spokesman said last night: "All is quiet and the SAP have withdrawn."

Under the emergency regulations - which, police warned, they will enforce strictly - photographs and reports of unrest incidents are severely restricted.

Ministry of Law and Order spokesman Brigadier Leon Mellett said police had received "clear orders to remove media" from the scene of yesterday's clashes.

He warned yesterday: "We cannot allow these propaganda efforts by the MDM to tarnish South Africa's image abroad, where a destructive view is being created by totally slanted reports emanating from SA."

Pandemonium broke out as police moved against thousands of protesters who had gathered for the climax of the Mass Democratic Movement's campaign of defiance - a march on Parliament.


Demonstrators were scattered in baton charges, tear-gassed and herded into police vans.

As the march got underway at 11.30am in the city centre, terrified demonstrators were trapped against buildings opposite St George's Cathedral. Witnesses said they were beaten with sjamboks and batons.

One man who tried to resist arrest was pummelled before being dragged into a van, a witness said.

Many Saturday shoppers, who unwisely stopped to stare at the police action, were swept up in the melee.

In an atmosphere of near hysteria - intensified by the whirring blades of a police helicopter overhead - several women collapsed.

By late yesterday afternoon, arrested people appeared in batches of 20 in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court for attending an illegal gathering. All were released on their own recognisances and told to appear at a later date.

Court officials warned them not to appear in any other demonstrations.

Among those arrested were UDF patron and president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Dr Allan Boesak, who led the proposed march on Parliament, and human rights lawyer Johnny de Lange, whose face was covered in blood.

MDM marshals wearing red headbands and bandannas were among the first to be arrested as police squads plucked them out of a line of about 400 marchers in Wale Street, only a few metres from Parliament.


The anti-MDM crackdown followed a warning by the Regional Commissioner of Police in the Western Cape, Major-General Flip Fourie, who said police would not hesitate to "act sternly against marchers".

Earlier yesterday, several busloads of people and many cars were turned back at roadblocks set up by police in an effort to reduce the influx of protesters to the city centre.

As the Wale Street protest was quashed, hundreds of demonstrators in nearby Burg Street stage a sit-in in the road and were given 10 minutes to disperse.

They didn't - and were quickly scattered by water-cannon spraying purple dye on demonstrators, buildings and parked cars.

One of the dyed buildings houses the Cape headquarters of the National Party.

In a moment of bravado, a man jumped on to the roof of the truck and grabbed the nozzle of the water-cannon, spraying it into the air as the crowd gave a thunderous cheer before police arrested him.

As canisters of teargas exploded in the road, police bundled demonstrators into waiting vans.

A cordon at both ends of Burg Street ensured that many people could not flee.

Witnesses said that for at least two hours after the incident, police patrolled the area searching for people covered in the purple dye, many of whom had hidden in any building that offered the protection of an open door.

Several people were later treated for minor injuries by paramedics. A doctor said one man had to be treated for a heart attack.
At 3pm a large crowd gathered inside St George's Cathedral for a church service. Police cordoned off the area using trucks and Casspirs.
A delegation, which included civil rights advocate Dullah Omar, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev Colin Jones negotiated with police who agreed to allow the crowd to leave peacefully in small groups.

In a separate incident, police charged demonstrators and Saturday shoppers in the city's Grand Parade, where a large crowd had gathered.

An SABC TV crew were among the 52 newsmen detained for three-and-a-half hours after a police round-up of Pressmen during the demonstrations.

"The journalists were arrested after they had been warned not to be at unrest situations in the city," said a police spokesman.

He said police also confiscated video tapes depicting violence from two members of an international news service.

Brigadier Mellet said the media had been warned on Friday that action would be taken against them in terms of the emergency regulations if they were found at scenes of unrest.

He said 186 foreign journalists had entered the country claiming they wanted to cover the general election.

"Not one has done so; they have come only to praise the MDM in international forums."

back to the The Purple Shall Govern memorial page

"Why are they taking over our city? This is our city."
The Purple Shall Govern
The Purple March
Picture: © Obed Zilwa, Trace Images


In this lesson plan, learners will be able to compare personal accounts with a more detached report of the same incident.

Lesson plan (1.96MB)
You′ll need the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader to view these lesson plans. Download it here.
The Purple March - September 2, 1989
Very few photographs of the Purple March survived the police crackdown on the media at the demonstration.
The Purple Shall Govern - A highlight in a low time
A selection of images of the Heritage Project’s memorial to the Purple Shall Govern march.
Audio of The Purple March by people who were there.
Listen to accounts of the Purple March by people who were there, including Philip Ivey, the young protester who turned the jet of purple dye on the police.
360° virtual tour of the memorial at the corner of Burg and Church Streets, Cape Town.
The day The Purple governed Cape Town
In September 1989, during a protest march in Cape Town, police turned a water-cannon filled with purple dye on the demonstrators in an attempt to make it easier to arrest them. But one brave man, Philip Ivey, hijacked one of the cannons and turned the lur