Robert M. Resha was born in Bolotwe,Queenstown, Eastern Province [Now Eastern Cape] on 9 March 1920. He completed eight years of formal school and in his late teens went to work as a miner on the Reef.
After several years, he was dismissed as a troublemaker and he took up freelance journalism, moving to Sophiatown in Johannesburg around 1940. He later became sports editor of the New Age and wrote for The World.
He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1939. By the late 1940s, he had become an active member of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). He was jailed for participation in the1952 Defiance Campaign. His wife Maggie Resha, a nurse, also went to prison as a volunteer for the Defiance Campaign. Resha was co-opted onto the ANC national executive committee in December 1952. In early 1953, he replaced Diliza Mji as Transvaal President of the Youth League, and when bans restricted the league's national President, Joe Matthews, Resha took over as acting president during 1954 and 1955. He was described as “aggressive, shrewd and powerful on the public platform.”
In 1955, at the time of the banishment order, he was living in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, Transvaal [now Gauteng].
Documentation related to his banishment stated that he was a particularly active member of the ANC and one of the leading activists in the Sophiatown Anti-Removal Campaign against the relocation of Africans to the Western areas of Johannesburg, and that although he was not a listed communist he was often seen at meetings with well-known communists. He allegedly stated an ANC meeting on 5 February 1950 at Newclare, Johannesburg that:
Africa is for the Africans and the rest is for the guests. We must organise ourselves into a mighty nation. Let us write and work in this second half of the century and stop crying for the whiteman. Whites talk about white civilisation; we have a black civilisation too. We are fighting against nobody but simply stretching a point for what is ours.
At a conference organised by the ANCYL between the Transvaal Indian Congress Youth League and the Students Liberal Association on 21 February 1951, the “Colonial Youth Day Rally” Resha also claimed that:,
The whiteman is busy creating situations of divide and rule and telling one group that they are better than the other in order to make its rule easy over the non-Europeans. The minority of two-million is ruling the vast majority of Non-Europeans, keeping power to itself. These are the symbols of oppression, viz the Lands Act 1913, which deprives the Africans of their land and gave 70% to the whiteman and 30% to the majority of the people. The Colour Bar Act in Industry, Pass Laws and the Suppression of Communism Act all aimed at muzzling the Non-Europeans, and many other colour bar Acts practising racial discrimination, denying Non-Europeans freedom of speech and movement.
The authorities were convinced that Resha’s presence was against the ”good administration and peace of the Natives in the area” and recommended his banishment. There is no evidence that he was actually banished to Frenchdale Native Trust Farm, Mafeking District, [Northern Cape, now North West Province].
He was one of the accused in the1956 Treason Trial, charged for high treason. He was then “banned from attending gatherings and restricted to Johannesburg.” The government’s scheme to remove African residential areas west of Johannesburg involved Resha as volunteer-in-chief in the ANC's frustrated efforts to mobilise resistance in Sophiatown in the mid-1950s. One of Resha's speeches in late 1956, in which he said ANC volunteers must “murder” if called upon to do so, became a key piece of evidence in the Treason Trial. As one of the first-string accused in the trial, Resha was held with 29 other defendants until his final acquittal in March 1961.
In 1959, during the course of the trial, he helped to launch the ANC's economic boycott campaign at a mass meeting in Durban. Shortly thereafter, he was banned from attending gatherings and restricted to Johannesburg.
After his acquittal in the Treason Trial, he left South Africa and became a representative of the ANC in exile, serving in Algiers and other ANC offices abroad and on numerous occasions speaking for the ANC before United Nations committees.
He died in exile in London on 7 December 1973.
• Gerhart, G.M. and Karis, T. (ed.) (1977) page 132 - 133
• Naidoo, P. (2005), With These Hands, page 447