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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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Mass Democratic Movement (MDM)

Shortly after the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and 15 other protest organisations were restricted by the government on 24 February 1988, the use of the appellation Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) became increasingly common in protest circles. The movement grew out of the need for greater cooperation beween the UDF and Cosatu. After initial confusion about who and what the MDM was, it transpired that it was acting "temporarily" on behalf of former extra-parliamentary "progressive organisations" such as the UDF, Cosatu and others.

According to spokespersons for the MDM it was a movement rather than an organisation. There were no permanent structures. The spokes-persons for the MDM were drawn from the leadership of the UDF, Cosatu and other organisations. It is clear that the UDF and Cosatu formed the core of the movement and that the affiliated members of the UDF, such as religious, sports, cultural, professional, educational, community and media organisations, saw themselves as part of this alliance.

The Minister of Law and Order described the MDM as a UDF/Cosatu/SACP alliance. The MDM rejected this description and Titus Mafolo, former executive member of the UDF, stated that the ANC, UDF, Cosatu and the SACP should be seen as the "liberation movement". According to Mafolo, the MDM was only a section of the liberation movement, and was committed to:

The mass approach to the struggle.

Alliances and campaigns on the basis of unity in action and united mass action based on a general programme.

Participating organisations that are responsible to their support bases and members.

Working-class leadership in the struggle for liberation and the acceptance of the black majority as the most important power in the struggle.

Collective, rather than individual leadership, acting democratically and responsibly.

It thus appears as if the MDM was on the scene only temporarily to function as a broad resistance front against apartheid within South Africa, at a time when other organisations such as the UDF and Cosatu were prohibited from participating in resistance actions due to government intervention. After the unbanning of these organisations on 2 February 1990 less and less was heard about the MDM, probably because Charterist leadership figures could now openly associate with their former organisations.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.