Thursday 4 April 2024

Purple Rain Protest of 1989 in Cape Town

The Purple Rain Protest is as famous for its iconic imagery as for its role in stopping apartheid in South Africa. When thousands of anti-apartheid activists took to the streets in Cape Town four days before parliamentary elections, police turned a water cannon with purple dye on them in an effort to halt the demonstrations. This was done to mark the protesters for identification and arrest. 
The plan backfired, however, when one protester, Philip Ivey, hijacked the nozzle from a police officer and sprayed office buildings and the local headquarters of the ruling National Party. In addition to galvanizing resistance at home, the image of protesters standing in front of a purple torrent became a defining symbol of civil disobedience worldwide. 1

A young march marshal wearing a red headband leaped on top of the tanker and turned the nozzle wildly back on the office buildings and massed ranks of police, kicking away officers who tried to grab him. Some dye landed on a building housing offices of the ruling National Party. As police fired tear gas and charged, the young activist escaped into a church.2

The trouble in Cape Town began early on a drizzly winter day in the Southern Hemisphere when about 700 black, white and mixed-race demonstrators tried to assemble in Green Market Square for the march on Parliament. Cape Town and the black and mixed-race townships nearby have been a hotbed of anti-government political activity since the defiance campaign began Aug. 2.

The city centre was clogged with riot police as well as shoppers and tourists when the demonstrators entered the square. 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. 3

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 1. Wikipedia, Purple Rain Protest
2. Chicago Tribune:
3. LA Times, 500 People Arrested During Protest in Cape Town by Scott Kraft, 3 September 1989:

4. Images: Ranker, by Noelle Talmon, 7 July 2020