[URBAN NOTE] ““We Are Confident That Victory Is in Sight””
Torontoist reposted a Jamie Bradburn Historicist feature from 2013 describing how Toronto contributed to the fight against South African apartheid, culminating in Mandela’s triumphant 1990 visit to the city.
At first glance, the space above Asteria Souvlaki Place at 292A Danforth Ave. drew little attention to itself. Until February 11, 1990, its occupants were happy to keep it that way. Not advertising to the world that this was the local office of the African National Congress (ANC) was intended to protect staff from potential harm. When word arrived that day from South Africa that Nelson Mandela was free after over 27 years of imprisonment, 292A Danforth went public by offering itself as a place for Torontonians to celebrate the news.
Politicians and union leaders spoke to over 1,000 people gathered on the street that evening. Mayor Art Eggleton, who had proclaimed February 11 as Nelson Mandela Day, told the crowd that “the people of Toronto have joined with freedom-loving people the world over.” Chants of “Long live Mandela” rose from Danforth Avenue.
Mandela’s release was viewed as a positive sign in the battle against South Africa’s apartheid policy, a fight for which Toronto was a hotbed of activity during the 1980s. Boycotts and divestitures of holdings in companies with ties to South Africa became the norm for educational institutions. Protests targeted businesses that continued to operate in the increasingly demonized country. The Toronto Board of Education organized annual anti-apartheid conferences for high-school students.
One high-profile effort during this period was the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival. Poet Ayanna Black raised the idea during a United Way of Greater Toronto Black development committee meeting earlier in the year. “We wanted to galvanize the community and emphasize this was something to concern everyone, not just blacks,” she told the Star. A foundation for the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival, headed by Toronto Board of Education consultant Lloyd McKell, began working on who should appear. They secured singer Harry Belafonte as honorary chairman and scheduled an appearance by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. Though criticism of its perceived involvement in a political activity forced the United Way to change its role from festival sponsor to supporter, the charitable organization continued to play a key organizing role.