Cover image for Beyond our wildest dreams : the United Democratic Front and the transformation of South Africa
Beyond our wildest dreams : the United Democratic Front and the transformation of South Africa
Kessel, Ineke van.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 2000.
Physical Description:
xviii, 367 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
General Note:
An adaptation of the author's thesis (doctoral)--University of Leiden, 1995.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT1945 .K47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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As anyone who lived through that decade knows, the 1980s in South Africa were marked by protest, violent confrontation, and international sanctions. Internally, the country saw a bewildering growth of grassroots organizations--including trade unions, civic associations in the black townships, student and other youth organizations, church-based groups, and women's movements--many of which operated under the umbrella of the United Democratic Front (UDF). "Beyond Our Wildest Dreams" explores the often conflicted relationship between the UDF's large-scale resistance to apartheid and its everyday struggles at the local level.

In hindsight, the UDF can be seen as a transitional front, preparing the ground for leaders of the liberation movement to return from exile or prison and take over power. But the founding fathers of the UDF initially had far more modest ambitions. As Azhar Cachalia, one of its core activists, later explained: "Look, when we founded the UDF, we had never in our wildest dreams expected that events would take off in the way they did. What happened was beyond everybody's expectations."

Interviews with Cachalia and other leading personalities in the UDF examine the organization's workings at the national level, while stories of ordinary people, collected by the author, illuminate the grassroots activism so important to the UDF's success. Even in South Africa, writes Ineke van Kessel, who covered the anti-apartheid movement as a journalist, resistance was not the obvious option for ordinary citizens. Van Kessel shows how these people were mobilized into forming a radical social movement that developed a highly flexible and innovative form of resistance that ultimately ended apartheid.

Author Notes

Ineke van Kessel is a researcher at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

A broad-based coalition of hundreds of religious, civic, and student associations, trade unions, and sporting clubs, the United Democratic Front was the most prominent of the South African anti-apartheid organizations of the 1980s. Formed to oppose the 1983 constitutional proposals and other legislation entrenching African exclusion from the national political arena, the UDF's objectives were ultimately broadened to link local concerns, such as education, rents, and services, to the national liberation struggle. Investigating the UDF "as a social movement from below," van Kessel's book provides a counterpoint to earlier works that focus primarily on the national political scene. Van Kessel views local processes through the lens of three case studies that illuminate the heterogeneity of the anti-apartheid struggle, exposing economic, social, cultural, racial, ethnic, generational, and gender cleavages; rural-urban splits; and conflicts between local and national agendas. This highly nuanced book is essential to understanding the anti-apartheid struggle of the 1980s and its legacy in postapartheid South Africa. A must for all college and university libraries. Upper-division undergraduates and above. E. S. Schmidt Loyola College in Maryland