South Africa witnessed the beginning of the end of Whites-only beaches thirty years ago this week after an action launched by the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
It was part of an escalating campaign to defy apartheid. Throngs of demonstrators were chased down Cape Town streets by police using whips, tear gas and water cannons spraying purple dye. More than 500 people, including 52 journalists, were arrested.
A march was planned that also included the Rev. Allan Boesak, anti-apartheid leaders and president of the World Alliance of Reform Churches. It was organized by the Mass Democratic Movement, that swelled into the most sustained anti-apartheid protest since the government suspended many civil rights in 1986 under emergency decrees.
Police gave the marchers 10 minutes to disperse, but the protesters sat down on the pavement and began clapping and singing.
Then police drove two water cannon trucks into the square and began spraying demonstrators with purple dye. Shoppers and activists fled in panic, and some fell to the pavement.
Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate, condemned the police action.
“All moral right is on our side,” he told about 2,000 people who gathered in his Anglican church nearby.
“We have committed ourselves to this struggle until it is won. We shall be free . . . despite this type of action from those who refuse to hand over power.”