1973 Durban Strikes

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Defeat of the Liberation struggle

Following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, the Government declared a State of Emergency (SOE), in 83 magisterial districts – the first state of emergency declared by the Apartheid State. The Government passed the Unlawful Organisations Act on 7 April 1960, banning the ANC and the PAC. By 6 May 1960, 18,000 persons were detained since the proclamation of the SOE. Alongside a national crackdown on political activity, the State also banned leading political figures, forcing an exodus of political activists into exile. 

In the 1960s, the Government introduced a number of security laws, including the General Laws Amendment Act (90-day detention law) and later the Sabotage Act, specifically aimed at MK and Poqo, which had gone underground by now.

On June 16, 1976, Soweto students’ revolted against the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction at African secondary schools. In the ensuing two-year countrywide uprising, the police killed many protesters including schoolchildren.

In 1977, boycotts and unrest grew after Steve Biko, a South African Student Organisation (SASO) leader was killed in detention. Within a month of Biko’s death, thousands were detained or prosecuted and sentenced to long goal terms. The Government banned 18 Black Consciousness (BC) organisations and two newspapers with a wide Black readership.

On 25 July 1985, the Government declared a SOE in 36 of the country’s 260 magisterial districts. Within the first six months of the SOE, 575 people were killed in political violence – more than half by the police. Under the provisions of the SOE, organisations could be banned and meetings prohibited; the Commissioner of Police could impose restrictions on media coverage of the Emergency; and the names of detained people could not be disclosed.

On 12 June 1986, the Government again declared a SOE countrywide. Political funerals were restricted, curfews imposed, certain indoor gatherings were banned and television cameras were banned from filming in areas where there was political unrest.

An estimated 26,000 people were detained between June 1986 and June 1987.

Exile circumstances were very difficult and the ANC encountered many obstacles in establishing MK bases in independent African countries in the 1960s. This included infiltration by agents of the apartheid government, limited resources, the great distance from home, amongst many other problems.

The Government used organs such as the defence force, Bureau of State Security (BOSS) and the Security Police to eliminate what they referred to as the terrorist threat.

The South African Defence Force (SADF) engaged in a number of military incursions and cross-border raids against Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Mozambique and Angola and other ‘Front Line States' on a regular basis from 1975. This made it difficult for especially the ANC to conduct safe military operations from these countries.

On 16 March 1984, South Africa and Mozambique signed the Nkomati Accord, whereby Mozambique would not allow South African liberation movements to establish bases or to transport arms or personnel through Mozambican territory. Mozambique went into these negotiations under tremendous pressure. South Africa flagrantly disregarded the Accord and went on military incursions, airstrikes and supported Renamo (a Mozambican rebel movement) resulting in severe economic destabilisation of Mozambique. In this way, South Africa removed the ANC presence in Mozambique.

Last updated : 24-Oct-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 03-Feb-2014