The day the purple governed

Purple took on a powerful meaning during an anti-apartheid protest in Cape Town in the dying years of the dreaded Eighties, writes Lauren Cohen.

Protesters marching to Parliament on September 2, 1989 were stopped by police on the corner of Burg and Church streets in the city centre. An impromptu sit-in saw police retaliate with batons, tear gas and a new weapon - a water-cannon spraying purple dye to stain demonstrators and make them easier to identify and detain.

As protesters scattered, one of them, 25-year-old Philip Ivey, climbed onto the armoured vehicle and turned the cannon's purple jet on the police. Purple dye stained most of the surrounding buildings, including the National Party headquarters and the whitewashed walls of the historic Old Townhouse, on Greenmarket Square.

And so the march became known as the "Purple Rain" event.

The next day, graffiti around the city proclaimed: "The Purple Shall Govern".

This was one of the last protest marches outlawed by the apartheid government. Eleven days later, 30 000 people marched through the city without incident.

Ivey, a conscientious objector and treasurer of the End Conscription Campaign at the time, told the Sunday Times: "On the day of the march, seeing the whole city occupied by bright yellow police vehicles really angered me."

His decision to climb onto the police vehicle and redirect the water-cannon was a "spur-of-the-moment decision", although he was concerned he might be shot.

Covered in purple dye, Ivey nevertheless escaped the city, but was arrested two months later.

The charges against him were later withdrawn.

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)
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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