The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa: Three Cycles of Contention

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The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa:


Phase I- Society Challenges the State: The Rise of a Mass Movement, 1948-1960

  • Repertoires

    • Boycotts, stay at homes, civil disobedience
    • 1952 Defiance Campaign
    • Women’s pass-law demonstrations, ’56-59
  • Goals & Framing

    • 1955 Freedom Charter
    • 1959 Creation of Pan Africanist Congress (splintering of the organized movement): rivalry between PAC and ANC
  • Repression & Facilitation

    • Expansion of Apartheid
    • 1960 Sharpeville Massacre
      • Organized by PAC
      • 67 people killed, 186 hurt


The Freedom Charter (selections)

  • Adopted at the Congress of the People, Kliptown, on 26 June 1955

  • We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:

  • that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;

  • that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;

  • that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;

  • that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;

  • And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter;

  • And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.

  • The People Shall Govern!

    • Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;
    • All people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country;
    • The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;
    • All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government .
  • All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights!

    • There shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races;
    • All people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs;
    • All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride;
    • The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime;
    • All apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside.
  • Let all people who love their people and their country no say, as we say here:

  • THESE FREEDOMS WE WILL FIGHT FOR, SIDE BY SIDE, THROUGHOUT OUR LIVES, UNTIL WE HAVE WON OUR LIBERTY



Changing Repertoires: “No easy walk to Freedom”, by Mandela, 1953 (excerpts)

  • A political movement must keep in touch with reality and the prevailing conditions. … The old methods of bringing about mass action through public mass meetings, press statements and leaflets calling upon the people to go to action have become extremely dangerous and difficult to use effectively. …

  • The intensification of repressions and the extensive use of the bans is designed to immobilise every active worker and to check the national liberation movement. But gone forever are the days when harsh and wicked laws provided the oppressors with years of peace and quiet. …

  • But in spite of all the difficulties outlined above, we have won important victories. The general political level of the people has been considerably raised and they are now more conscious of their strength. Action has become the language of the day. The ties between the working people and the Congress have been greatly strengthened. … In the past we talked of the African, Indian and Coloured struggles. Though certain individuals raised the question of a united front of all the oppressed groups, the various non-European organisations stood miles apart from one another and the efforts of those for co-ordination and unity were like a voice crying in the wilderness and it seemed that the day would never dawn when the oppressed people would stand and fight together shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy. Today we talk of the struggle of the oppressed people which, though it is waged through their respective autonomous organisations, is gravitating towards one central command….

  • Our immediate task is to consolidate these victories……Instructions were given to all provinces to implement the "M" Plan without delay.

  • The underlying principle of this plan is the understanding that it is no longer possible to wage our struggle mainly on the old methods of public meetings and printed circulars. The aim is:

    • to consolidate the Congress machinery;
    • to enable the transmission of important decisions taken on a national level to every member of the organisation without calling public meetings, issuing press statements and printing circulars;
    • to build up in the local branches themselves local Congresses which will effectively represent the strength and will of the people;
    • to extend and strengthen the ties between Congress and the people and to consolidate Congress leadership.
  • … The hard, dirty and strenuous task of recruiting members and strengthening our organisation through a house to house campaign in every locality must be done by you all. From now on the activity of Congressites must not be confined to speeches and resolutions. Their activities must find expression in wide scale work among the masses, work which will enable them to make the greatest possible contact with the working people. You must protect and defend your trade unions. If you are not allowed to have your meetings publicly, then you must hold them over your machines in the factories, on the trains and buses as you travel home. You must have them in your villages and shantytowns. You must make every home, every shack and every mud structure where our people live, a branch of the trade union movement and never surrender.

  • You must defend the right of African parents to decide the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Teach the children that Africans are not one iota inferior to Europeans. Establish your own community schools where the right kind of education will be given to our children. If it becomes dangerous or impossible to have these alternative schools, then again you must make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning for our children. Never surrender to the inhuman and barbaric theories of Verwoerd.





Phase II- The state strikes back: Suppression, militancy, and Black Consciousness, 1960-1976

  • Repression & Facilitation

    • 1960: Govt bans ANC & PAC
    • 1963 Rivonia Trial: ANC leaders sentenced to life imprisonment
    • ’63, ’67: New govt restrictions allowing for indefinite detention of suspected activists
    • Rise in harassment, torture
    • 1976 Soweto Uprising
      • Schoolchildren protest against Afrikaans in schools
      • Police violence leads to more protests
      • In the next 10 months around 575 people killed, including many school students
      • Encourages thousands of young people to flee country and join exiled ANC






Organizing From Within: Black Consciousness Movement

  • Emerges from black-only universities

      • Establishment of South African Students Union (SASO)
  • Influenced by black power in the U.S., black theology

  • Black African empowerment through internal strength

  • Self-reliant struggle: black Africans must lead their own emancipation movement

  • Means: community re-organization, self-reliance, student activism





Another repertoire: MK attacks

  • 1960s MK relatively quiet

    • Problems: no internal support structure
  • Dramatic increase in actions in late ’70s and ’80s

    • Reasons: new regional bases, new internal support structures
  • Main repertoires: from sabotage to bombings

    • 190 acts of sabotage between October 1961 and July 1963.
    • 1976-1982: 150 attacks
    • 1980s- 100s of bombings
      • 1983- MK bombs air force headquarters. 19 people killed and more than 200 injured.


MK targets:

  • “"(e) Selection of targets to be tackled in initial phase of guerrilla operations with a view to causing maximum damage to the enemy as well as preventing quick deployment of reinforcements. In its study the Committee should bear in mind the following main targets:

    • Strategic road, railways and other communications.
    • power stations
    • police stations, camps and military forces
    • irredeemable Government stooges."
      • (1969)


Phase III: State crisis and the resurgence of society, 1976-1994



Changing Political opportunity structures

  • State Crisis: Increasing Access

    • State under new regional & dom. pressure
    • Economic problems
      • Growth of capitalism means need for more skilled workers
    • 1983 Limited Political Reforms: New Constitution with tricameral parliament
    • 1984 repeals of restrictions on interracial relationships
    • 1990 ANC un-banned
  • State Crisis: Increased Repression

    • State of emergency,1985 and 1986.
      • “Total Onslaught”
    • ’84-’86: 24,000 arrests
    • Divisions within the state


Expanding repertoires

  • Trade Unionism:

      • New consumption & worker power in black African communities
      • New multi-racial unions & labor orgs
        • Black union membership jumped from 40,000 in 1975 to 247,000 in 1981 and to 1.5 million in 1985
        • Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU): umbrella org representing more than 500,000 trade union members
      • Strikes & protests: African labor unions legalized in 1979
        • 1984: 464 strikes; 1987: 1,148 strikes
        • In 1985 more than 390 strikes involving 240,000 workers


Movement reorganization

  • ‘Civics’

    • Created in part to protest and supplant local govt. in townships
    • Neighborhood organization & direct action
    • Consumer boycotts
    • Political theatre




The United Democratic Front (UDF)

  • est. 1983, ANC-supported

  • Primary goal: to coordinate activities of anti-apartheid orgs, and to resist state’s recent constitutional reforms

  • Organized as a federation of regionally based fronts

    • Umbrella federation for more than 600 local orgs
  • Prominent church leaders, civic leaders, former ANC reps, students

  • (mostly) Espoused nonviolence







Mkhuseli Jack: grassroots community activist

  • “And as this organization broadened and broadened and broadened and broadened, it became extremely difficult for the security forces to crush these people. Because now you have created a big, big center of resistance within the community. And then slowly you started [to include everyone] in the struggle for justice. And slowly everyone saw his role in the various methods of struggle that were available to us.”



This phase of mass action was much more successful than the ANC’s in the 1950s. Why?

  • Increased urbanization

    • 1951: 27% black population lived in urban areas
    • 1981:49 % black pop. in urban areas
    • 2nd gen. Urban kids rose to lead UDF
  • Much larger educated population

    • Rapid expansion of schools & education in cities from 1960s-1980s
    • Created new sense of student identity and new student culture
  • Demographics: new black purchasing and worker power

  • Transformation in employment: rise of new & upwardly mobile working class (esp. skilled labor)

  • Technology: phones, TV, fax, planes



From movement to government: the End of Apartheid, 1994

  • Secret negotiations

  • Mandela released from jail, 1990; ANC legalized

  • Political violence

    • Zulu vs ANC
    • Afrikaner
  • Negotiated settlement

    • agreement reached on November 13, 1993, which pledged to institute a nonracial, nonsexist, unified, and democratic South Africa based on the principle of “one person, one vote.”
    • PR voting (list system), semi-federalism, property protection, civil liberties


Reasons for the end of Apartheid

  • S. African economic problems that split the white community

    • Collapse of the Rand, foreign investment
    • S. African economy depended on African labor
  • International pressure

    • Sanctions
    • Diplomatic isolation inc. U.S.
  • Demographic shifts

    • 1911: 21% S.A. pop white, 67% black
    • 1991: 13% white, 75% black
  • Movement pressure:

    • “ungovernability”
    • Economic cost of maintaining apartheid
  • New geostrategic realities






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