African National Congress (ANC)

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Crowds fleeing from bullets on the day of the Massacre. © BAHA

A change to armed struggle and the state’s intensified repression 1960s

With no discernable change in government policies, some members of the African National Congress (ANC) began to move away from peaceful protest. The ANC leadership had always stressed the importance of not using violence. Secondly, this group objected to clauses in the Freedom Charter, charging that they reflected the views of “white elements” in the Congress Alliance. It is commonly held that this was reference to the Ongress of Democrats (COD).

The radicals broke away in 1959 to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). In 1960 the PAC held a demonstration against the pass laws, but the police opened fire on demonstrators in Sharpeville, killing 69. This caused international alarm and criticism of the apartheid government, and further increased suppression. A State of Emergency was declared, and in April 1960 the ANC and PAC were banned.

Umkhonto we Sizwe Logo

After the ANC was banned, the party deliberated on what steps to take next. Although Albert Luthuli was opposed to an armed struggle, public support favoured political violence. It was believed at this point that non-violence would achieve nothing. Therefore, in June 1961, the ANC executive agreed to the formation of an armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which Mandela would lead in a programme of controlled sabotage. On 16 December 1961, MK performed their first acts of sabotage, with attacks on post offices and other buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Many other acts of sabotage took place over the next few years.

Some members of the ANC, including Oliver Tambo resisted arrest and fled the country in the hope of rebuilding the organisation in exile. Black supporters also left the country for military training. The government was not prepared to accept the continuation of the banned political formations underground, and launched a campaign against them. Many people were banned or placed under house arrest, and therefore the ANC network was destroyed by the mid-1960s. Some people were held in detention where torture was the norm. Some even lost their lives. In August 1962, Mandela was arrested, and in 1963 police found the headquarters of the ANC on Lilliesleaf farm outside Rivonia and arrested its leaders.

These leaders, together with Mandela and members of other organisations, were accused of sabotage and trying to overthrow the government in the Rivonia Trial, which continued until 1964. Mandela, Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni and Raymond Mhlaba from the ANC, Ahmed Kathrada from the Transvaal Indian Congress and Dennis Goldberg from the COD were found guilty.

After the Rivonia Trial the ANC in exile faced problems, as all internal structures were in disarray. It became imperative to find a way of getting trained soldiers back into the country. The countries surrounding South Africa were aggressive towards the ANC; therefore it was necessary to start working with other freedom movements. Initial attempts at trying to find a way into South Africa proved difficult, and the ANC realised they needed four areas in the struggle - armed struggle, mass political struggle, underground structures inside South Africa and international support.

The government continued with their repressive campaigns after the trial, and by 1964 the revolutionary movements had been broken. The ANC tried to rebuild itself in exile, but there would be no real activity until the 1970s, when strike action began to re-emerge. The next turning point was the 1976 Soweto Upising.

Last updated : 10-Dec-2012

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011