In 1912 the South African Native National Congress was founded by a group of black urban and traditional leaders who opposed the policies of the first Union of South Africa government, especially laws that appropriated African land. In 1923 the organization was renamed the African National Congress (ANC). At first its main agenda was to protect voting rights for blacks in the Cape Province. For nearly 50 years it pursued a policy of peaceful protests and petitions.
During the 1950s, while the South African government passed and implemented oppressive apartheid laws, black South Africans responded by intensifying their political opposition. The ANC dramatically increased its membership under the leadership of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela became one of the organization’s principal organizers. Although the membership of the ANC was largely black, it was a multiracial organization with white and Asian members, some of whom assumed leadership positions.
After decades of receiving no response to demands for justice and equality, the ANC launched the Defiance Against Unjust Laws Campaign in 1952, in cooperation with the South African Indian Congress, an Asian antiapartheid political organization. The campaign was a nonviolent one in which apartheid laws were deliberately broken. After several months of civil disobedience and 8,000 arrests, rioting broke out in a number of cities, which resulted in considerable property damage and 40 deaths. Black protest and white repression continued. In 1956 three black women were killed when thousands of them confronted the police because of their inclusion under amended pass laws, which had previously applied only to black men.
Despite the ANC’s increasing militancy, its aims were still reformist, seeking to change the existing system, rather than revolutionary. In 1955 the ANC brought together nearly 3,000 delegates of all races in Kliptown in the Transvaal to adopt the Freedom Charter. This remarkable document, which affirms that South Africa belongs to all its people, remains to this day the clearest statement of the guiding principles of the ANC.
It emphasizes that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people and the people in South Africa had been robbed of their birthrights to land, liberty, and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality. It stated that, “Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and stand as candidates for all bodies which make laws.”
In 1958 Robert Sobukwe left the ANC; he founded the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in April 1959. The PAC insisted on a militant strategy based exclusively on black support in contrast to the ANC’s multiracial approach. Black attitudes toward the liberation process changed dramatically after the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960. White police opened fire on a mass demonstration organized by the PAC, killing 69 blacks and wounding more than 180. The Sharpeville Massacre led to violence and protests throughout the country. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested many members of the PAC and the ANC. In April 1960 the PAC and ANC were banned.
In 1961, in response to the government’s actions, the ANC organized Umkhonto we Sizwe (Zulu for “Spear of the Nation”) to conduct an armed struggle against the regime. On December 16, 1961, when Afrikaners were commemorating the Battle of Blood River, Umkhonto’s first act of sabotage took place. From its inception, however, the underground organization refused to engage in terrorism against civilians and only attacked symbolic targets, police stations, military offices, and other government buildings. The PAC’s military wing, in contrast, attacked white civilians.
On a trip to several other African countries in 1962, Nelson Mandela arranged for ANC recruits to undergo military training abroad. The South African government, concerned with the potential of Umkhonto to cause increased unrest, passed new legislation that gave the police broad powers of arrest without warrant. In July 1963 police raided Umkhonto’s secret headquarters in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia and arrested most of its leadership. Mandela, who was already in prison at the time, was put on trial with the other Umkhonto leaders, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment. With the imprisonment of the nationalist leadership and the earlier banning of the ANC and PAC, South Africa entered a decade of enforced calm. The government held a referendum in October 1960 to decide whether South Africa should become a republic and on May 31, 1961, the country officially became the Republic of South Africa.
In addition, it chose to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Nations before it was forced to leave because of apartheid policies. The government continued to implement repressive legislation. A 1963 act provided for detention of up to 90 days without trial for the purpose of interrogating anyone even suspected of having committed or intending to commit sabotage or any offense under the Suppression of Communism Act or the Unlawful Organizations Act. The Terrorism Act, passed in 1967, provided for the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists or persons in possession of information about terrorist activities. "South Africa" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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