What becomes the African National Congress (ANC) is formed on January 8. In his Rivonia speech, Nelson Mandela said its aim since its founding was “to defend the rights of the African people.”
Mandela joins the ANC. Six years later, he becomes president of the ANC Youth League.
Afrikaner-dominated National Party comes to power in South Africa and begins white supremacist policy of apartheid (“apartness” in Afrikaans). Afrikaners are a South African ethnic group of mixed continental European descent, primarily Dutch, German, and French Protestant.
Passed on July 7, the Group Areas Act imposes territorial restrictions on blacks and the Population Registration Act requires that all South Africans be identified and registered as White, Black African (“Bantu”), or Coloured.
On July 17, the Suppression of Communism Act comes into force, prohibiting activity “which aims at the encouragement of feelings of hostility between the European and non-European races of [South Africa].”
“Pass Laws” Act requires black South Africans to carry pass books (“dompas”) at all times when in areas where whites are.
On June 26, the African National Congress launches the Defiance Campaign, which deploys a strategy of passive resistance to mobilize anti-apartheid protestors, risking mass arrest in civil disobedience. Mandela is in charge of volunteers. More than 8,500 people defy apartheid laws and are arrested.
South African regime responds to Defiance Campaign by passing the Public Safety Act on March 4. It grants the government broad powers to declare states of emergency and allows laws to be made “retrospective” for four days to cover police emergency actions.
Bantu Education Act (October 5) nationalizes and severely restricts education for blacks, called “Bantus”).
Freedom Charter adopted by Congress of the People at Kliptown, Johannesburg on June 25-26. Mandela calls this “a blueprint for the liberation struggle and the future of the nation” in his autobiography.
Mandela and 155 other anti-apartheid activists are arrested on December 5 and charged with high treason. This “Treason Trial” drags on for more than four years before Mandela and 27 remaining defendants were found not guilty.
Police kill 69 and wound 186 peaceful demonstrators, many shot in the back while fleeing, in Sharpeville, 45 miles from Johannesburg, on March 21. The Sharpeville Massacre becomes a turning point in the organized resistance to the apartheid regime.
United Nations Security Council passes Resolution 134 on April 1, its first action on South Africa, calling on the regime to end apartheid.
The South African government passes the Unlawful Organization Act on April 7, which bans the ANC, driving it underground.
Following a referendum restricted to white voters, South Africa severs ties with Great Britain and becomes a republic on May 31.
Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, “Spear of the Nation”) issues Manifesto on December 16. Mandela is cofounder of MK, often described as “armed wing” of African National Congress.
Mandela goes underground after Treason Trial. He is captured and charged on August 5 with inciting workers to strike and leaving the country illegally. In this “Incitement Trial,” he is convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on November 7.
The General Law Amendment Act, known as the “Sabotage Act,” is enacted on June 27. It broadly defines sabotage and prescribes a maximum penalty of death.
African National Congress leaders are seized on July 11 in a government raid at Lillesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg. Evidence incriminating the already imprisoned Nelson Mandela is found at the scene.
The ANC leaders arrested at Rivonia, along with Mandela and other alleged conspirators, are charged with the capital crimes of sabotage and conspiracy to commit sabotage. The venue for the “Rivonia Trial” is moved from Johannesburg to the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, an Afrikaner stronghold and the regime’s administrative capital. Trial proceedings begin on October 9.
Mandela makes his “I am prepared to die” Speech from the Dock at Rivonia Trial, April 20.
United Nations Security Council adopts Resolution 190 condemning South Africa for “arbitrary” Rivonia trial and imprisoning those opposing apartheid, June 9.
Justice Quartus de Wet sentences 8 of 9 remaining Rivonia Trialists, including Mandela, to life imprisonment on June 12, a day after finding them guilty.
Mandela is transferred on July 13 to the prison on Robben Island, near Cape Town, where he will remain for nearly 18 years, until he is sent to Pollsmer Prison in March 1982.
Mandela rejects South African President PW Botha’s offer of release from prison if he renounces violence.
FW De Klerk becomes president of South Africa and meets with Mandela.
Nelson Mandela is unconditionally freed on February 11, after 27 years as a political prisoner.
Mandela and De Klerk are jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to peacefully terminate apartheid and move towards a democratic South Africa.
South Africa enacts a transitional “Interim Constitution,” which comes into force on April 27, the same day that Nelson Mandela is democratically elected president of South Africa.