Relaunched UDF refuses to dissolve

People wearing familiar yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the historic United Democratic Front mass movement were out in force at this week's ANC Youth League's "economic freedom" march to Premier Helen Zille's provincial government offices in Cape Town.

Close by with a megaphone was controversial activist Mario Wanza, chairperson of the non-profit community organisation Proudly Manenberg, who has irked the original founders of the UDF by relaunching the organisation this month despite their opposition to it.

In an open letter released to the media recently, legendary leaders such as Trevor Manuel, Valli Moosa, Pravin Gordhan, Jeremy Cronin, Nomaindia Mfeketo and Frank Chikane said they saw themselves as among the custodians of the rich and dynamic history of the movement. "Consequently, we must guard against the opportunistic and ahistorical use of the symbols of the UDF, especially for what appears to be nefarious interests."

A non-racial coalition of hundreds of organisations, the UDF was one of the most significant anti-apartheid movements of the 1980s. Provincial ANC leaders have also objected to Wanza's move. The ANC's Western Cape secretary, Songezo Mjongile, described his plans as an "attention-seeking publicity stunt".

"We believe that Mario is just a political opportunist who stood against the ANC as an independent," Mjongile said.

But Wanza claims the ruling party has lost touch with ordinary people.

Kicked out
According to news reports, Wanza was kicked out of the ANC last year after he stood as an independent candidate in the local government elections and lost. But, he said, "nobody told me anything about being kicked out. The way the ANC deals with people is to ignore problems and hope that it goes away. There is just silence."

Wanda was a member of the ANC when he stood for election in three Manenberg wards, contesting against both the ANC and the historically dominant Democratic Alliance in the area. But he scored few votes.

"We were trying to make a point that local government should be about the individual being put up to represent people. Instead, people go to the polling station and look for a political party logo and then vote for the party. If you go into communities, people don't know who their ward councillor is."

Wanza dismissed the controversy over the use of Proudly Manenberg money to fund his campaign. He  said its executive committee decided that he would stand and the organisation was aware it would need to spend R60 000 on trying to get him elected.

This week, Wanza again shrugged off the objections to the use of the name of the UDF, which was dissolved in 1990. He said the aim of relaunching the movement was to go back to the ideals of the Freedom Charter, which was adopted by the UDF. Above all, he wants it to free communities from the grip of poverty.

Although the ANC reportedly threw Wanza into the political wilderness, there was no hint of opposition to him and his supporters at the youth league march in the city on Monday. They wore new UDF T-shirts bearing the old logo and carried a banner highlighting the relaunch of the organisation.

The crowd who marched on the provincial government offices to hand over a memorandum to Zille, who refused to come out to accept it because the league had not withdrawn its previously stated intention to make the city "ungovernable", was united. Wanza, in his capacity as the chairperson of Proudly Manenberg, was even permitted to make a speech from the steps of the Wale Street offices.

"They said we can't be introduced as the UDF when I made my speech. But for us the space for dialogue is opening up so the ANC can realise we are not the enemy," he said. "We have one thing in common and that is the Freedom Charter."

This apparent unity was in stark contrast to events earlier this month when ANC provincial leaders held a wreath-laying ceremony in Mitchells Plain to mark the 29th anniversary of the UDF. On the same day, Wanza and his supporters marched from Parliament to the Rock­lands Civic Centre where he relaunched the UDF.

The organisation is open for all to join, as in the past, he said. "The legacy has to be shared. This is the way forward for us. We have relaunched the UDF as a social movement and it is mostly people from the Cape Flats who have rushed to join. These are largely coloured people who feel marginalised by society. They are not black and they are not white and they want to feel like they belong.

"People like Trevor Manuel are threatening they will take legal steps to stop us, but our people are still suffering today and the UDF is still relevant.

"So far, 15 communities on the Cape Flats have joined us and we don't yet know how many members we have. It is early days yet. We want to achieve economic justice for all." Wanza said people had not achieved the liberation intended in 1994 and broad-based black economic empowerment had failed to empower the people.

Friendship initiatives
"The integration between the rich and poor will drive this movement. We were dumped on the Cape Flats and need to return to areas like Constantia, Rondebosch and District Six so that integration can take place.

"Training schools need to be set up in every community. Instead of violence, we need to launch peace and friendship initiatives across the country to break the cycle of violence."

A woman in the crowd this week said she had bought her UDF T-shirt from Wanza for R70. "It's worth it, don't you think?" she asked proudly.

As happy as she appeared to be, former UDF leaders were furious that they had not even been consulted about relaunching the organisation, although they said in their open letter they would have refused to participate if asked.

"We have taken legal opinion on the intention of Mario Wanza, or any other individual or grouping purporting to act in the name of the UDF and make use of its symbols," the letter stated. "We recognise that we cannot prevent any individual or grouping using the colours red, black and yellow, but we can prevent its use together with the name and logo of the UDF."


The leaders said the words "united", "democratic" and "front" were carefully chosen and had huge symbolic meaning for South Africans.

"In short, no individual has the right to relaunch an entity whose leadership at the time, after consultation with affiliates and regions, took a democratic decision to dissolve.

"Of course, the democracy we won entitles individuals to establish and launch organisations of whatever nature, but no individual or group of individuals has the right to relaunch the United Democratic Front."

Undaunted, Wanza said plans for the UDF were continuing, including building up the movement at grassroots level and trying to ensure communities take ownership of the future.

"There is no government that is going to come and help. People need to take ownership. The ANC has failed us and if you in government fail, what happens? You get ­promoted. The government is just moving further away from us," Wanza said.


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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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