The day the purple fought back
|Conrad Botes’s portraits of the people who defied the state of emergency by participating in the Purple March make up one side of the memorial Picture: Garth Stead © Sunday Times
The "Purple March" emerged from the defiance campaign initiated in 1989. From the mid-1980s a state of emergency had been in force nationwide. During this time hundreds of schools were closed and thousands of children and adults detained without trial. The security forces patrolled townships, spied on opposition groups and implemented a programme to impose order at any cost.
For decades Capetonians have taken to the streets to demand political freedoms and justice. Their efforts have met with varying degrees of success - and varying degrees of suppression by the authorities. Throughout the Eighties police routinely broke up protest marches on the city's streets, school and university campuses and even on beaches.
In March 1989 the Mass Democratic Movement launched a defiance campaign against apartheid laws which was set to culminate on the eve of the whites-only elections set for September 6.
In August, restricted activists "unbanned" themselves and declared the United Democratic Front unbanned. Thousands of people defied "whites only" signs to reclaim beaches, such as Strand and Blouberg, for all South Africans.
On Saturday, September 2, thousands of people met in different halls around the city to launch a three-pronged march to Parliament. As one group left the Methodist Church Hall in Burg Street, police blocked their way. The crowd sat down in the road. They were given 10 minutes to disperse, but six minutes later a jet of purple dye shot out of a water-cannon, marking protesters so they could easily be identified and rounded up later. Police dispersed the marchers with sjamboks, batons and tear gas.
|The other side of the memorial features a Casspir with a water-cannon, surrounded by things demonstrators would have worn or carried in their pockets Picture: Garth Stead © Sunday Times
Shops and hairdressing salons in the area helped hide the fleeing demonstrators. One protester, Philip Ivey, jumped onto the van with the water-cannon and redirected the jet of purple water onto the police and the National Party headquarters located in the same street.
Many who escaped found refuge in St George's Hall, which was soon surrounded by 13 police trucks, five Casspirs and other police vehicles.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu negotiated for police to withdraw their vehicles and assured them that those inside would leave peacefully in small groups, which they did.
More than 50 local and international journalists were arrested, as well as more than 500 protesters. Three special courts worked into the night to process all the detainees. The following day graffiti appeared in the city proclaiming: "The Purple Shall Govern".
Researched by Sue Valentine with acknowledgement and thanks to:
- "Purple Rain in City", Cape Times, Monday September 4, 1989, p3
- Dene Smuts and Shauna Westcott (eds), The Purple Shall Govern - A South African A to Z of Non-Violent Action (Oxford University Press 1991)
- Philip Ivey - personal interview (September 4, 2006) and e-mail correspondence