About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

UDF Definition

United Democratic Front

The United Democratic Front (UDF) was an extra-parliamentary organization established in 1983, primarily in opposition to the government's constitutional proposals of that year. It served as an umbrella organization of antiapartheid groups. Membership was open to any organization that endorsed the principles of the ANC's Freedom Charter. Affiliates of the UDF included the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African National Student Congress (Sansco), the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), and the Congress of South African Students (COSAS).

Following clashes with the government, the UDF was effectively banned--i.e., its political activities were proscribed--under the terms of the emergency regulations of February 24, 1988, and many of its affiliates were reorganized under the guise of a new political coalition. The UDF disbanded on August 20, 1991, declaring that its major objectives had been fulfilled.

Mass Democratic Movement

The Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) was the name of an informal coalition of antiapartheid groups during the 1970s and early 1980s. As a formal organization, the MDM was established as an antiapartheid successor to the UDF after the 1988 emergency restrictions effectively banned the UDF and several other opposition groups. Even after 1988, the MDM was a temporary loose coalition of antiapartheid activists with no permanent constitution, no official membership rolls, no national or regional governing body, and no officeholders. Like the UDF, the MDM drew much of its support from the black community; a condition for affiliation with the MDM was adherence to the provisions of the ANC's Freedom Charter.

The MDM gained prominence in 1989, when it organized a campaign of civil disobedience in anticipation of national elections scheduled to take place in September of that year. Defying the state-of-emergency regulations in effect at the time, several hundred black protesters entered "whites-only" hospitals and beaches. During that month, people of all races marched peacefully in several cities to protest against police brutality and repressive legislation. When the UDF was unbanned in February 1990, most MDM leaders and many members rejoined their former organizations.

Data as of May 1996

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.