FOR Desmond Tutu, the 1989 Peace March was a “tipping point”, for Allan Boesak, it “wasn’t about getting permission, it was about marching for peace come what may”. Those who were in the front of the 30 000 gathering which became the last “illegal march” under apartheid, at least in the minds of the majority of people who were there — a supreme act of defiance against the regime of FW de Klerk — appear to contradict today’s revisionists who at once focus on the failure of the government to suppress the march as evidence of the president’s noble intentions (which had yet to manifest in tangible policy) while writing off an act of insurrection by Cape Town’s Mayor at the time, Gordon Oliver.
Oliver is a Unitarian and thus his views are not readily given the kind of credit they deserve, at least so far as the Anglican Church is concerned. I attended today’s commemorative event hosted by St George’s Cathedral and was swept up in the highly emotional interfaith service which appeared to unite various strands of the Abrahamic tradition. From a Call to Prayer by Yusef Ganief which utilised the supreme acoustics of the venue, to the closing hymnal of Birkat Khohanim — a Judaic paeon to Peace sung by Jessica Thorn — the whole event struck a raw nerve. I was simply and elegantly brought to tender tears by the Cape Cultural Collective, this after a candid speech by the Cape Flats’ Cheryl Carolus who surely embodies the youthful rebellion of the time?
It is easy to forget the kind of political will which exemplified itself in People’s Power and which made the United Democratic Front (UDF) such a revolutionary force in South Africa. One can always slip into neat semantics of the kind which gets people Nobel Peace Prizes and forget the fortitude and determination which marked the crowd of “students, business people, domestic workers, civic and political activists; of every race, faith, age and class”, some of whom had witnessed the Purple Rain debacle ten days earlier and the chaotic start of a defiance campaign spurred on by the problematic all-white election — a velvet revolution was also occurring in Eastern Europe (which would result in the End of the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall).