FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nonviolent History: South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Boycott

shutterstock_250931149

On July 15, 1985, South Africans in the Port Elizabeth Township began a boycott of white-owned businesses to undermine the legitimacy of apartheid. A group of women suggested the idea of the consumer boycott, which was met with a 100 percent compliance rate.  Within five days of the boycott, a Member of Parliament noted that the economic boycott was the most effective weapon used-to-date in the South African anti-apartheid struggle. The movement demanded the integration of public institutions, the removal of troops from black townships, and the end of workplace discrimination.

In response to the boycott, which was rapidly causing white-owned businesses to close up, the government declared a state of emergency, imposing curfews, arresting thousands, restricting the movement of individuals, and sending the South African army to occupy the townships.

By November, white business owners were desperate and called upon the government to meet the demands. The movement negotiated. They would call the boycott off until March if their leaders were released from prison. The movement knew that Christmas was coming up, and it would have been hard to maintain the boycott through the season. Both sides agreed, leaders were released, and the boycott lifted for a few months.

In 1986, the movement informed the South African whites that the boycott would resume if the initial demands were not met by March 31. This warning was ignored by the authorities, and on April 1, the boycott resumed. Mkuseli Jack, a young South African leader, re-energized the boycott by proclaiming that, “our buying power is going to be the key that is going to decide the future, that is going to decide our destiny in this country.”  After nine weeks of boycotting, the government again imposed a state of emergency on June 12, 1986. Offices were raided, South Africans imprisoned, and the army occupied the townships again. Repression became harsher and used with increasing frequency. Anti-apartheid organizations were driven underground, ending the consumer boycott.

The next decade saw an escalation of community organizing, constructive programs, noncooperation tactics, repression from authorities, and an overall intensification of the struggle as international boycotts were launched in conjunction with local efforts.  The movement used numerous nonviolent actions, including sit-ins, marches, funeral processions, rallies, civil disobedience, social boycotts, strikes and stay-aways, rent strikes, renaming of public spaces, and the building of parallel and alternative institutions.  In 1989, the resistance culminated with the Defiance Campaign’s multiracial peace marches in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, and throughout the country.  The struggle moved to the negotiating table, creating a democratic resolution that set the stage for the truth and reconciliation process and the end of apartheid.

The Port Elizabeth boycott was a powerful moment of consolidating and demonstrating the power of nonviolent action to place economic sanctions on white South Africans. This piece of the long South African anti-apartheid struggle helps us remember the scope, arc, and duration of working for change. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and every step counts.

More articles by:

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail