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The turn to armed struggle

For several years, different liberation organisations debated engaging in armed struggle against the Apartheid state.  Following the Sharpeville Massacre, the state banned the ANC and PAC in April 1960 under the Unlawful Organisations Act.

Severe state repression, the detention and banning of leading political activists, forced the ANC to discuss whether to engage in armed struggle. Further events such as the Sekhukhuniland and Mpondoland revolts brought pressure on the ANC to consider the turn to the armed struggle. Younger members of the ANC and SACTU were also increasingly growing dissatisfied with this policy of non-violence and wanted to embark on an armed struggle.

Though committed to non-violence, in the second half of 1961 the ANC took a collective decision to engage in armed struggle. It established its military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK). MK members came from the ANC, SACP, South African Indian Congress (SAIC) and the South African Coloured Peoples Organisation (SACPO). On 16 December 1961, MK announced its existence with a series of sabotage acts countrywide. MK units undertook just over 200 operations, their bomb attacks intended to damage public facilities.

After the banning of the PAC, the organisation decided that it was time to engage in armed struggle. The PAC’s armed wing, Poqo, formed in 1961 decided that members should receive basic military training. It began its attacks at the end of 1962.  The PAC underground always intended to attack human targets rather than government buildings or installations. The state’s successes against Poqo, eventually led to it being crushed and the PAC in disarray.

The National Committee of Liberation (NCL) later renamed the African Resistance Movement (ARM), was formed in 1960. This small group of about eleven people, though non-racial in character was a predominantly White organisation. Predating the formation of both the ANC’s uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) and the PAC’s Poqo, the NCL did not announce its existence until 22 December 1961; five days after MK announced its existence.The NCL engaged in armed struggle as a legitimate means to end Apartheid. The NCL resolved to avoid human injury or loss of life in it operations. The NCL approached MK to organise joint operations. After one failed operation, the relationship did not last and the two organisations ceased to cooperate. Between 1961 and 1964, the NCL executed more than twenty acts of sabotage. Repeated bannings, exile, detention, interrogation, torture and a court case ultimately led to the ARM’s demise.

Last updated : 16-Nov-2016

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