Mandela Protesters Reach Day 1,000
LONDON (AP) _ Protesters demanding the release of Nelson Mandela and other jailed activists marked the 1,000 day of their protest Thursday on a sidewalk outside the South African Embassy.
Visitors to this city’s famous Trafalgar Square often treat the protesters like a permanent fixture. Sympathizers stop and chat. Foreign tourists and embassy callers seeking visas shoot the breeze. Pop singer Boy George once joined the protesters for an hour or so.
Passers-by and local shop owners send food, hot drinks and greetings cards.
The pickets have persisted through cold, wind, rain and more than 600 arrests, mostly for obstruction. Magistrates’ courts have thrown out most of the charges, according to the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group, which runs the protest.
″I think all the fresh air has helped to keep me healthy,″ said Lorna Reid, 23, from Edinburgh, who joined the picket on its first day - April 19, 1986. She still does six-hour shifts despite 14 arrests.
The embassy says it has occasionally called the police to deal with ″mischievous incidents″ but accepts the pickets’ right to be there under British law.
The protest usually consists of three or four young people at any one time. They distribute leaflets and magazines, display banners and fly the black, green and yellow flag of the African National Congress from a pole mounted in an auto tire.
ANC leader Mandela, 70, is the most prominent of anti-apartheid activists jailed in South Africa.
He was convicted of sabotage and subversion in 1964 and jailed for life. Last year, he was admitted to a hospital with tuberculosis and later transferred to a home on a prison farm.
The picketers have received thanks from his wife, Winnie.
Mandela and the other prisoners are fighting their nation’s apartheid system. By law and custom, apartheid establishes a racially segregated society in which the 26 million blacks have no vote in national affairs. The 5 million whites control the economy and maintain separate districts, schools and health services.
The London demonstrators ask passers-by to sign a petition for release of the South African prisoners. They say they have collected over 1 million signatures.
″We had a few hundred members when we started, and we have 1,600 now, all races, including people who have been in prison in South Africa,″ said Carol Brickley, one of the protest leaders. ″We have three rules for the picket: no drink, no drugs, behave.″
Two police officers face the protest around the clock near the embassy’s public entrance. Another officer guards the staff entrance around the corner.
The protest was branded a ″scourge″ in May 1988 by John Carlisle, a lawmaker of the governing Conservative Party. He urged that police be empowered to remove it, but the government did not respond.
Some protesters say cold may be an even bigger scourge to them than hostile politicians.
″Cold is the first thing you have to learn to deal with. We wear a lot of thin layers of clothing,″ said 18-year-old Mark Farmaner.