Happy 21st Birthday, South Africa! 1


South Africa’s non-racial democracy celebrates its 21st today so My New Old Self is republishing this personal exhibit of  anti-apartheid badges (or political buttons or whatever you call them) worn by My Old Young Self 30-40 years ago. Those were the days when many of us around the world protested against apartheid in South Africa and campaigned for the release of the imprisoned liberation movement leader Nelson Mandela and his supporters inside the country.

Since the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid gruops were banned by the apartheid regime, much of this collection is of badges produced and worn outside the country to show support for Mandela’s struggle. The collection also features buttons that were designed and made inside South Africa by members of then-banned organizations who tried to avoid arrest by the country’s notorious security police. The collection includes badges from the period of South Africa’s transition to democracy, as the country was preparing for the first democratic elections on 27 April 1994.

Most of the collection features slogans in English, but there also badges/buttons in other languages, worn by anti-apartheid activists from many parts of the world.

UPDATE: Upon reviewing this collection, originally curated and posted a year ago to celebrate South Africa’s 20th birthday, I cannot help but reflect on the recent xenophobic attacks on foreigners in the provinces of KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. Many immigrants to South Africa are from the very countries that supported the anti-apartheid struggle, yet they were still attacked – as it has emerged, most often by people who looted their shops and possessions.

Yet the international solidarity shown in the exhibition below is mainly from North American and European groups. Support for the anti-apartheid struggle from South Africa’s neighbours in southern Africa, and from all over the African continent, is less evidenced in this collection simply because there were less resources in Africa to fund the making of badges and buttons. Also, Africans were so much closer to the fight against apartheid that their support was less about marches, T-shirts and badges than about offering sanctuary to South African refugees in their countries, as well as to ANC and other political officials.

The exhibition starts below:

1. Free Mandela

Calling for Mandela’s freedom before his release in 1990  – in English and Swedish – then for him to be the country’s first democratically elected president in 1994


2. Anti-Apartheid

A kind of call-and-response for a people’s republic to replace the minority-ruled government – South Africa’s Pieta image from the 1976 Soweto student uprising – a reference to then-President P W Botha – and a call for the world to cut ties to the apartheid regime


3. Against Apartheid Military Forces

The South African Defence Force (SADF) was the apartheid army – the pentagon-shaped Castle was the apartheid military HQ – an image of a member of the End Conscription Campaign not marching but dancing – the ECC campaign of “Working for a Just Peace – Construction not Conscription”


“Let ECC (End Conscription Campaign) Speak” in Afrikaans – opposition to war led by the apartheid regime and support for young white war resisters – support as well for the anti-apartheid armies of the banned African National Congress and the Southwest African People’s Organisation of neighbouring SA-controlled Namibia, who also fought against the SADF in southern African frontline states like Angola


4. Support for international sanctions against the apartheid regime and divestment from SA

Logo of the international Anti-Apartheid Movement – call to boycott SA products and events – Canadian call to fight apartheid, in French and English – campaign linking US involvement in southern Africa and Central America – US peace movement against apartheid


Image of a policeman wielding a baton from the UK Anti-Apartheid movement – unusual diamond-shaped ANC badge – UN support for economic sanctions against apartheid SA


The first pro-sanctions badge is from the Anti-Apartheid  Movement – not clear about what the initials “ysa” stand for or which organization sponsored the “Labour says” button


Not clear which organization supported this divestment call – a US faith-based group’s campaign for a boycott against apartheid SA – a Swedish group’s call for a boycott of Shell for its involvement in SA


5. Against Censorship

2 badges from the Anti-Censorship Action Group, one generic and one calling for the New Nation editor to be freed from detention without trial – and a protest against the apartheid regime’s banning of allegedly subversive books


6. Women in the Struggle

Anti-Apartheid Movement logo entwined with the female symbol – slogan from the famous 1956 women’s march on parliament against the extension of the oppressive pass laws to women – ANC women in support of the struggle


7. Range of Political Organisations Opposing Apartheid

The African National Congress logo was a warrior with spear and shield in ANC colours of green, black and gold – the worker slogan of the above-ground internal Congress of South African Trade Unions came from the underground and exiled South African Congress of Trade Unions – demand for the release of SA political prisoners like Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed with Mandela


Logo of the United Democratic Front founded in SA in 1983 – a generic call for SA’s Freedom – Azania was the proposed new name for SA by the break-away Pan-Africanist Congress party


8. First Free Democratic Elections on 27 April 1994

Election campaigns 20 years ago urged South Africans to vote against apartheid and for national healing.


That’s the extent of this collection – so far. Do you have any mementos from the anti-apartheid struggle?


One comment on “Happy 21st Birthday, South Africa!

  1. Reply Judy Norton May 9,2014 6:49 pm

    Enjoyed this – thanks! My favourite is a threadbare but lovely t-shirt designed by Patti Henderson re the Sarmcol strike.

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