The purple shall govern

20 April 2015 | Story by Newsroom
Photo courtesy of UCT Libraries' Special Collections and Archives.
Photo courtesy of UCT Libraries' Special Collections and Archives.

Stuart Saunders recalls how SHAWCO students were in Greenmarket Square on 2 September 1989 when police started spraying anti-apartheid protestors with purple paint – a day that became known as the Purple Rain Protest. The next day, graffiti around the city proclaimed, 'the purple shall govern'.

"On a number of occasions the Mass Democratic Movement (which included the United Democratic Front) held marches in the city. These marches were usually broken up by the police, and SHAWCO stationed mobile clinics close to the route of an expected march, ready to offer first aid and emergency treatment if the protesters were assaulted by the police. I supported this action by the students, because the police were often brutal. Early in September (1989), a march attended by thousands of Capetonians took place in the centre of the city. SHAWCO had a number of vehicles parked strategically at different places along the route. These were staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses and students. SHAWCO students marched amongst the protesters wearing Red Cross armbands and carrying first-aid equipment. The police reacted with considerable violence. They used a water cannon in which the water had been stained with a purple dye to spray the marchers, so as to be able to identify them subsequently and arrest them. A student climbed on top of one of the water cannons and turned it on the police. The police entered a number of the SHAWCO vehicles and arrested the doctors, nurses and SHAWCO students. They also arrested a number of SHAWCO students in the street carrying first-aid equipment and wearing Red Cross armbands. Many other people were arrested as well."

Credit: Excerpt from former vice-chancellor Stuart Saunders' book Vice-Chancellor on a Tightrope: A personal account of climactic years in South Africa (2000)

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