Zolile Keke as ‘Father Freedom’, Christmas Day 1988
Zolile Keke as ‘Father Freedom’, Christmas Day 1988

From 1986 to 1990 the supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group held a Non-Stock Picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square, calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. In solidarity with prisoners, some political activists would spend the festive season protesting against the South African government, refusing to relinquish their posts even on Christmas Day.

In total the protestors stood outside the embassy for 1408 days and nights, including Christmas Day, which would see the arrival of ‘Father Freedom’, played by Zolile Hamilton Keke, the Chief Representative of the Pan-Africanist Congress in the UK. Dressed as Santa Claus, Father Freedom would give out presents to the young picketers. In the days around Christmas, the Non-Stop Picket would also receive extra donations of food from supporters and well-wishers:

All quiet on the picket front – there’s no-one around.  …  But, we’ll be well-fed today: we’ve had Lena’s pizza, Cranks have donated pots of muesli and salad, and Breadline say they will bring lots of cakes round when they close”, Gavin Brown, Christmas Eve 1988

Passersby were also known to donate bottles of wine, so that the protestors could share in the merriment, but the Picket had a no alcohol rule, and so donations of alcohol were later raffled off to raise funds for the movement. In addition to food and wine, Christmas time also saw an increase in financial donations and material aid which was sent to South Africa.

But while the festive season raised people’s spirits somewhat, the reality was that life in South Africa for the majority of its citizens was untenable. People of colour were denied their basic human rights, with countless activists being unjustifiably imprisoned, or worse yet killed. And the reach of apartheid was great, affecting everyone, regardless of race or gender. The letter below may seem trivial, or even humorous, but in reality it gives an indication of how all-encompassing and insidious the system of apartheid was.

Response by the Department of Community Development to a request to rent a community hall for a mixed-race staff Christmas party in 1980
Response from the Department of Community Development to a request to rent a community hall for a mixed-race staff Christmas party in 1980

Images courtesy of nonstopagainstapartheid.wordpress.com, www.saha.org.za and www.news24.com

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  1. Oh how wonderful to see this! Such fund memories of the picket Comrade Keke! We were viewed as little more than ‘rabble’ by so many in the AAM but we did not let that deter us and years later I am proud to have been on the right side of history. Being informed in that picket shaped me and taught me so much about imperialism and how the world works. I am sad that we did not quite achieve the future we fought for – so many rights that we fought for have been rolled back and populism is causing distress and division everywhere. It’s hard not to lose hope, and seeing this post has reminded me of when we did have hope for a better future. But all is not lost – onwards, upwards and hamba kahle, comrades!

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