Liberation Struggle in South Africa

Related articles


The United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched on 20 August 1983 during a period of heightened repression in South Africa.

Liberation history Timeline 1980-1989

The 1980s witnessed a convergence of forces that saw the collapse of the apartheid government. There was a marked increase in attacks launched by the ANC through its armed MK inside South Africa. In response, the government initiated and escalated attacks on neighboring states, targeting mainly ANC safe houses and individual activists. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), COSATU and Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) piled pressure on the government inside South Africa as massive strikes, boycotts and township protests increased.

A change of attitude by the international community which saw the imposition of sanctions and the impending collapse of the Soviet Union forced the regime to the negotiating table.As it became clear that apartheid was beginning to crumble, business delegations, white Afrikaner intellectuals, labour and political parties such as the PFP began to engage the ANC on the prospect of a peaceful transfer of power. Eventually the National Party (NP) approached the ANC to commence negotiations. As part of the process Rivonia Treason trialists and other leading figures of the ANC and PAC were released from Robben Island.

A trade union federation is formed called the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA). This organisation is strongly influenced by Black Consciousness and aims to establish Black leadership.
South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) declares the year as the ‘Year of the Worker’.Massive national school boycotts break out in the townships.
8 January, In its January 8th statement the African National Congress (ANC) proclaims 1980 as ‘The Year of the Charter’ in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955.
24 January, The Minister of Police, Louis le Grange, confirms that Craig Williamson had been working as an agent for the South African Security Police while he was employed as the International University Exchange Fund’s (IUEF) Deputy Director in Switzerland.
25 January, Three MK cadres, on their way to carry out a sabotage mission, take refuge in the Silverton branch of Volkskas Bank after realising they were being tailed by the police. They hold 25 civilians hostage and after a series of negotiations a police unit storms the back. All three cadres are killed including two civilians. This incident becomes known as the Silverton Siege.
31 January, The Swiss government lodges an official protest with the South African government over the illegal activities of South African agents operating in Switzerland and liaising with anti-apartheid organizations. The IUEF’s Director, Lieutenant-General Erikssen, resigns with effect from July 1980, his health having deteriorated particularly after the exposure of Craig Williamson.
21 February, South Africa warns Mozambique it will not hesitate to strike back if Mozambique continues to shelter guerrillas conducting "murderous operations" and acts of sabotage against South Africa.
9 March, Percy Qoboza, editor of Sunday Post in Johannesburg, launches a campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela, and receives enormous support in South Africa and internationally. A petition sponsored by Sunday Post soon receives over 86,000 signatures and is supported by many organisations and leaders. A Release Nelson Mandela Committee is formed with Nokukhanya Luthuli (wife of the late Chief Albert Luthuli) as patron.
13 March, Lilian Ngoyi, Treason Trialist and president of the ANC Women’s League, dies.
20 March, Zinzi Mandela expresses the spirit of the ‘Release Mandela’ campaign in a speech at the University of Witwatersrand when she says, “I have seen the anger of my people mounting. But perhaps with the release of my father, there could be an alternative to the bloodbath.”
4 April, ANC insurgents launch a rifle, rocket and grenade attack on Booysens Police Station, Johannesburg. Pamphlets are scattered demanding the release of Walter Sisulu from Robben Island
18 April, Zimbabwe gains its independence from Britain after ZANU PF wins the elections.
20 April, Mounting protests by Coloured students against the educational and political system escalate further. Representatives of more than 60 Coloured high schools, teacher training colleges and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) resolve to continue their boycott of classes.
21 April, The Coloured students boycott is widely observed by approximately 100,000 students from 70 schools for three weeks. The boycott is joined by pupils at a number of Indian schools in Pretoria and Natal. Support is also pledged by Black Consciousness groups.
29 April, Hundreds of Coloured school children are arrested in Johannesburg under the Riotous Assemblies Act as student-police confrontation clash during the school boycott The Prime Minister warns in Parliament that such actions would be met with the full might of the state.
6 May, Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO) activist Thozamile Botha breaks his banning order and escapes to Lesotho.
28 May, The school boycott spreads to black townships and riot police are deployed in Durban and Port Elizabeth. At Elsies River, near Cape Town, police fire on Coloured children, killing two and wounding three.
1 June, The SASOL I fuel plant complex at Sasolburg located south of Johannesburg, is attacked. On the same night SASOL II at Secunda sees an unsuccessful limpet mine explosion which fails to set off fires. Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC, claims that both attacks were launched by ANC guerrilla units. This event marks the first use of limpet mines by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). The attacks result in $7 million in damages to fuel storage tanks.
6 June, Dr. Renfrew Christie, an academic and former student leader from the University of Cape Town (UCT), is sentenced to ten years imprisonment, with four other sentences of five years each to run concurrently, after being found guilty on five charges under the Terrorism Act. The state claimed that he supplied information to the ANC concerning South Africa’s nuclear programme, and thus exposed vital installations to the danger of sabotage attacks.
25 June, Helen Joseph is served with a two-year banning order, making this her fourth banning order.
26 June, The ANC awards Isithwalandwe to Govan Mbeki and Bishop Ambrose Reeves.
16 July, The ‘Committee of 81’, representing all Coloured schools and colleges in the Western Cape decides to end class boycotts.
24 July, Ten thousand Johannesburg municipal workers go on strike. The strike ends when police supervise the removal of over 1000 dismissed men. The Chairman of the unofficial Black Municipal Workers’ Union (BMWU), Joseph Mavi, is arrested and subsequently charged under the Sabotage Act, together with the BMWU Secretary.
August – October, Zubeida Jaffer, journalist with the Cape Times, is detained and placed in solitary confinement and tortured after exposing police killings.
24 September, Closure of more than seventy black schools, mainly in the Cape Province, is ordered by the government following five months of boycotts by pupils. Talks with community leaders have failed and incidents of violence continue.
3 November, A nationwide strike is launched by black journalists for increased pay and for recognition of their union, the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa (MWASA).
28 November, Nelson Mandela receives the Jawaharlal Nehru Award.
At a ceremony at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, the ANC President, Oliver Tambo, declares that the organisation will adhere to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol 1 of 1977 on the humanitarian conduct of war.
23 December, Four Black newspapers, Post Transvaal, Saturday Post, Sunday Post and the Sowetan, are banned on a technicality on the same day that the eight week strike of black journalists ends.
29 December, Justice Coetzee in the Rand Supreme Court refuses to lift an order barring resumption of publication of four Black newspapers. Security police serve three-year banning orders on the President and Vice-President of the black journalists’ trade union, Media Workers of South Africa. A storm of protest erupts, even from the strongly pro-government Afrikaans press.
8 January, In its January 8th statement, the ANC declares 1981 the ‘Year of the Youth’, to pay tribute to heroism. It also urges students to continue mass struggles and to join the MK.
30 January, The South African Army raids Matola in Maputo, Mozambique and assassinates 12 ANC members. This is confirmed by General Constand Viljoen, Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF), who announces that a South African commando attacked and destroyed the planning and control headquarters of the ANC at Matola in Maputo, Mozambique. The SADF claims that 30 ANC activists were killed; and two SADF recruits were also killed.
February, Vusi Maake steps down as PAC Chairman and is succeeded by John Nyathi Pokela who also becomes the Commander in Chief of APLA. 
8 February, Mozambique stresses its continued support for the ANC in a statement made at the funeral of 12 ANC members killed in the South African raid on Matola, Maputo, on 30 January 1981.
22 February, The Soviet Union supports Mozambique after the South African raid on Matola by sending two warships to Maputo and more were expected.
23 February, Prime Minister P.W. Botha declares that Soviet threats will not prevent South Africa from attacking ANC bases in Mozambique.
April, The United Women’s Organisation is launched at a conference attended by 400 delegates from the Western Cape.
6 April, The Heads of State of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland meet in Mbabane, Swaziland, to discuss South African military incursions and subversive activities against Southern African states.
20-21 April, A night bomb explosion at a power station near Durban, causes an extensive blackout and temporarily paralyzes industry in the area. It is attributed to members of the ANC.
20-27 May, The International Conference on Sanctions against South Africa, organized by the United Nations (UN) in cooperation with the Organisation of African Union (OAU), is held at UNESCO House in Paris.
25-27 May, There are several sabotage attacks - in Soweto, on the Natal coast, East London and in Durban - for which the ANC claim responsibility.
31 May, Nation-wide protests and boycotts are held in opposition to the celebration of 20 years of the South African Republic.
6 June, A meeting is held in Lenasia, Johannesburg to discuss how the Indian community should respond to the upcoming elections for the South African Indian Council (SAIC). From this meeting the Transvaal Anti-SAIC is established with Dr. Essop Jassat as the chairman. At the same time similar bodies are established in the Cape and Natal to oppose the SAIC elections.
15 June, Six South African members of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) are sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment by the Tanzanian High Court for the killing in Dar es Salaam of David Sibeko, PAC representative at the United Nations.
16 June, On the anniversary of the Soweto uprising, police and troops cordon off Soweto and other black townships in the Johannesburg and Pretoria areas, stopping and searching all vehicles. Sporadic clashes occur near the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church in Soweto.
18 June ,An International Labour Organisation (ILO) General Conference in Geneva condemns apartheid as degrading, criminal and inhuman, and decides to give ILO assistance to South African liberation movements. It sets up a permanent conference committee to monitor South Africa’s racial policies and approved ILO technical assistance to liberation movements through a voluntary fund.
30 June, Zwelakhe Sisulu, President of the Black Media Workers Association of South Africa, and son of Walter Sisulu, is arrested under security laws that provide for unlimited detention without trial.
The campaign against dissident South African students continues with the banning of three more students immediately after the serving of restriction orders on Andrew Boraine, President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and son of opposition MP, Dr Alex Boraine.
31 July, Joe Gqabi, journalist and member of the ANC and MK, is gunned down by members of an apartheid hit-squad while reversing out his drive-way at his home in Harare, Zimbabwe.
12 August, MK launches an attack on a military base at Voortrekkerhoogte, outside Pretoria, using Soviet Grad P rockets.
19 August, As part of the Transvaal Anti-SAIC boycott, a meeting of 3000 is held in Lenesia, Johannesburg which becomes the largest Indian political rally since the 1950s.
10-11 October, A conference of 110 organisations, including the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), the Anti-SAIC committees, trade unions and sports organisations; is held in Durban. The conference adopts the Charter for Change which proposes guidelines for a democratic South Africa.
4 November, The first SAIC elections are held. Some 297 040 Indians out of a population of 350 000 eligible voters registered to vote in the SAIC elections. However, on the day of the election only 10.5% of the registered voters cast their ballot. 
19 November, Griffiths Mxenge, attorney and ANC member is murdered by askaris on his way home. His body is found with multiple stab wounds near a soccer field in Umlazi, Durban.
27 November, Neil Aggett, a trade union leader, is detained by the Security Police at John Vorster Square Police Station.
10 December, The Committee of Artists of the World against Apartheid is established in Paris with the support of the Special Committee against Apartheid.
8 January, ANC President, Oliver Tambo, at a gathering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ANC, declares that 1982 will be a year of massive actions against the apartheid system. He proclaims 1982 the year of ‘Unity in Action’.
11 January, The United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid launches the International Year of Mobilisation for Sanctions against South Africa.
5 February, Neil Aggett, is found dead in his cell at Josh Vorster Square. He had been in detention for 70 days at John Vorster Square police station. The Security Police claim that he had hung himself with a scarf.
18 February, Botswana accuses South Africa of kidnapping a former Soweto student leader, Peter Lengene, from Gaborone and transporting him to South Africa. The Minister of Police confirms his presence in South Africa.
7 March, Six Front Line States meet in Maputo and decide to coordinate their military and economic policies to counter South Africa’s economic and military aggression.
14 March, A bomb explodes and destroys the ANC offices in Islington, London, shortly before the beginning of a mass rally organized by the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
20 March, A powerful bomb blast destroys the cells behind the Langa Commissioner's Court in Cape Town where thousands of pass law offenders have been sentenced. The blast causes widespread damage to the office which houses personal files on Africans in the Western Cape. The blast was part of ANC campaign aimed at creating confusion in the apartheid administration by destroying records of blacks, and took place on the eve of the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre. No one was injured.
April, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Nelson Mandela are moved from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison. They are later joined by Ahmed Kathrada.
12 May, A bomb blast damages the office of the West Rand Administration Board in Meadowlands, Soweto, at 7:00 pm. No one is injured.
21 May, A full bench of 11 judges of the Appeal Court upholds an appeal against a conviction under the Terrorism Act, on the grounds that the Act is inconsistent with Bophuthatswana’s Declaration of Fundamental Rights enshrined in its Constitution and based on the European Convention on Human Rights.
22 May, The Intimidation Act, No. 72 is passed. The Act states that it is an offence to assault or threaten any person in order to compel or induce that person ‘to do or to abstain from doing any act or to assume or to abandon a particular standpoint’.
24-26 May, The Asian Regional Conference for Action against Apartheid, held in Manila in the Philippines, is organised by the Special Committee against Apartheid in cooperation with the Government of the Philippines.
2 June, Following the recommendations of the Rabie Commission of Inquiry, the Internal Security Act, No 74 provides for various measures regarding the banning of organizations and people, public meetings and detention.
4 June, ANC’s Chief Representative in Swaziland, Petrus ‘Nzima’ Nyawose and his wife are killed in a car bomb explosion.
10 June, The newspaper proprietors and editors of all the main South African newspapers, both English and Afrikaans, unanimously oppose the government’s planned legislation to regulate the media. They decide at an emergency meeting in Johannesburg to establish a media council which will operate independently of the State.
14 June, Albertina Sisulu is placed under a banning order for the fifth time since 1963.
16 June, On the anniversary of the Soweto uprising, police bar 47 local and overseas journalists from entering Soweto and tear gas is later fired to disperse crowds at the Regina Mundi Cathedral.
29 June, An inquest into the death of Neil Aggett finds that his death was the result of police torture. However, no one is prosecuted for his death.  
1 July, Helen Joseph, who has been under various banning orders since 1962 has restrictions against her lifted.
30 July, The Federal Congress of the National Party supports a set of constitutional reforms outlined by Prime Minister PW Botha, and explained to the Congress by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Chris Heunis. This included among others the replacement of Parliamentary rule, based on the Westminster model with a Presidential system and Tri-cameral system. The tri-cameral structure is specifically designed to maintain National Party control of legislation with political power still concentrated in hands of white people. 
5 August, The twentieth anniversary of the arrest of Nelson Mandela is marked by a call for his release by China, publicized in the Communist Party organ, the People’s Daily. In addition an appeal signed by more than 2,000 mayors from 53 countries, was made public by the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid in New York.
8 August, Lieutenant-General Johann Coetzee, Head of the Security Police, announces that Ernest Dipale, arrested under the new Internal Security Act and charged with furthering the aims of a banned organization, has been found hanged in his cell at John Vorster Square. The Progressive Federal Party’s (PFP) justice spokesperson, Helen Suzman, calls for the whole structure of detention laws to be changed.
9 August, The PFP’s spokesman on Police Affairs, Ray Swart, calls for a commission of inquiry into all aspects of the conditions of detainees held under security legislation. The Minister of Law and Order promises a clear-cut policy statement on the treatment of security detainees, but it will not be a formal code of conduct, nor will it be embodied in a law.
17 August, Ruth First is killed by a parcel bomb, sent to her by the South African security police, at the University of Maputo, Mozambique.
26 August, The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) chooses the South African Reverend Allan Boesak, of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, as its new President.
21 October, Barbara Hogan is sentenced to ten years in prison for High Treason in the Rand Supreme Court for membership and furthering the aims of banned ANC.
28 October, The Reverend Beyers Naudé is served with his second banning order, restricting him for a further three years. The order is the first to be served under the comprehensive new security law, the Internal Security Act of 1982, at the sole discretion of the Minister of Law and Order, and the decision cannot be appealed in court.
2 December, Afrikaans poet, Breyten Breytenbach, is released from prison after serving seven of the nine years to which he was sentenced in 1975.
9 December, South African forces raid houses in Maseru, killing thirty members of the ANC and seven women and children caught in the crossfire. General Constand Viljoen describes it as a pre-emptive raid to prevent attacks during the festive season. The government blamed a chain of sabotage incidents within South Africa are blamed on the ANC command structure in Lesotho.
18-19 December, Four bombs explode at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, outside Cape Town, for which the ANC claims responsibility.
The South African Defence Force uses direct intervention to eliminate ANC bases and it supports opposition groups who challenge governments in neighbouring states that harbour ANC activists. By the end of 1983, neighbouring states appeared reluctant to provoke South Africa by openly showing active support for the ANC, but they did not turn their backs completely on the ANC either.
The End Conscription Campaign (ECC) begins, which objects to compulsory military conscription for all White South African men. An anti-apartheid organisation aligned with the UDF, the ECC staged resistance against compulsory military conscription that effectively furthered repression by the apartheid regime.
A raid takes place on Gaborone, Botswana, killing ANC personnel.
“Release Mandela Committees" are set up in different regions of the country.
January-April, Three bomb explosions damage the old building housing the Supreme Court in Pietermaritzburg, and the new building nearing completion.
22 January, Molvi Saloojee, the previous president of the TIC, dies.
23 January, At the annual congress of the Transvaal Anti-SAIC Committee (TASC) held in Johannesburg, it is decided to revive the old Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and to establish a united democratic front to mobilise resistance on a national scale for participation by Indians and Coloureds in the new Constitution.
7 February, Cedric Mayson, former Methodist Minister, banned for five years in 1977 and detained on 27 November 1981, appears before the Pretoria Supreme Court on charges of treason and being a member or an active supporter of the ANC. He is released on bail, flees the country and arrives in Britain the day before his case is due to resume.
18 February, A bomb explosion in an administrative building in the Batho township of Bloemfontein injures 79 Black people who were seeking registration for employment. The ANC denies responsibility.
21 March, The 23rd anniversary of Sharpeville, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is marked by messages issued by the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and the Pan Africanist Congress.
2 April, Saul Mkheze, leader of a Black farming community, is shot dead during a protest meeting at Driefontein, 320km east of Johannesburg.
5 April, The Unites States’ State Department calls for a full investigation into the circumstances of Saul Mkeze’s death.
7 April, Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, says the government ‘deeply regretted’ such incidents such as the death of Saul Mkeze.
The French government decides to request all sporting bodies to end links with South Africa, since the government is against racial discrimination in all its forms.
May, Matthew Goniwe calls a mass meeting to discuss how the community should respond to high rents. Out of the meeting the Cradock Residents Association (CRADORA) is formed. The Association applies a lot of pressure resulting in the rents being lowered.
20 May, A car bomb explodes outside Pretoria's air force headquarters leaving 19 dead and more than 200 injured. The ANC claimed responsibility for the blast.
23 May, In a retaliatory action for the Pretoria car bomb, the South African Air Force (SAAF) launch a raid on six ANC targets in the suburbs of Maputo. South African Air Force bombers attack a Maputo suburb. Five Mozambicans (including two women and two children) and one South African refugee were killed. Over 30 people were injured.
June, The National Forum, a Black Consciousness grouping, is launched by the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) at Hammanskraal, near Pretoria. The NF became an umbrella organisation for more than 200 groups.
1 June, An inquest into the death of Ernest Dipale, who had died in custody in Johannesburg Security Police headquarters in August 1982, finds no-one criminally liable for his death.
6-7 June, Black trade unionist, Oscar Mpetha, is one of ten people found guilty by the Cape Supreme Court on charges of terrorism and/or murder. He is later sentenced to five years imprisonment.
9 June, Three ANC members, Simon Mogoerane, Jerry Mosololi and Thabo Motaung convicted of attacking police stations, are hanged.
10-11 June, The Workers’ Group of the ILO Governing Body and the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, in cooperation with the UN Council for Namibia, the OAU and the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, host the International Conference of Trade Unions on Sanctions and Other Actions Against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa at the ILO headquarters Palais des Nations, Geneva.
28 June, Two bomb blasts, at the Department of Internal Affairs and the police headquarters at Roodeport, Johannesburg, cause extensive damage. The ANC is held to be responsible.
20 August, The United Democratic Front (UDF) is launched at the Rocklands Civic Centre, Mitchells Plain, Cape Town to fight against the introduction of the Tricameral Parliament. The launch is attended by delegates of 565 organisations. The launch is followed by a public rally of approximately 10 000 people.
19 September, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo dies in England after a long battle with cancer. He is buried at Highgate Cemetery, a few meters away from Karl Marx’s grave.  
22 September, The Republic of South Africa Constitution Act is passed. This Act establishes the Tricameral Parliament and came into force on 3 September 1984.
17 October, South African forces raid ANC offices of the ANC in Maputo. The raid is condemned internationally.
29 October, Five people are killed and many others injured at the University of Zululand (Ongoye) after the outbreak of political violence at the institution on as an estimated 500 Inkatha Freedom Party clash with UDF supporters.
2 November, The constitutional referendum shows that the majority of Whites are in favour of P.W Botha's ideas for constitutional reform including the Tricameral Parliament.  
15 November, The United Nations General Assembly adopts a Resolution 38/11 declaring that the constitutional proposals by South Africa are contrary to the principles of the UN Charter and further entrench apartheid, and that the results of the referendum on 2 November 1983, endorsed by an exclusively White electorate, are of no validity whatsoever.
24 November, Carl Niehaus is sentenced to 15 years in prison and his fiancée, Johanna Lourens, to four years for high treason at the Rand Supreme Court.
5 December, A bomb explodes at the Johannesburg office of the Department of Foreign Affairs becoming the 42nd  attack by ANC saboteurs in 1983.
The UN General Assembly adopts a new Program of Action on apartheid.
Troops and police move into townships across the country and engage in running battles with youths - armed with stones and petrol bombs - in an effort to re-establish control.
A stay-away takes place in the Transvaal. This was the first major action to take place in the 1980s, as it brought together students, civics and trade unions.
Coloured and Asian people are given the vote as part of the implementation of Tricameral Parliament the, despite resistance from the UDF.
8 January, In its annual 8 January statement, the ANC calls for a People’s War, based on four pillars: ANC underground activity, united mass action, MK attacks, and an international campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.
15 February, The judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) accuses the SACC of pursuing strategies of resistance to government policies and of identifying with the liberation struggle. However, it stops short of recommending a total ban on foreign funding, as requested by the Commissioner of Police.
March, African high school pupils express grievances and make several demands to address which include: An end to corporal punishment, the scrapping of rules disallowing youths older than 20 years of age, and free textbooks. The boycott which began in Atteridgeville spreads to Cradock, Graaf Reinet, Port Elizabeth, Soweto and the east Rand, with 13000 participating.
16 March, P.W. Botha and Samora Machel sign the Nkomati Accord, a nonaggression treaty between South Africa and Mozambique. Under the accord, the two signatories agree not to allow their territories to be used as launch pads for mounting attacks on each other. The ANC is allowed to have only 10 of its members based in the country, and is forced to close its camp in Nampula. Most of the members move to Tanzania, while a 50-member team infiltrates South Africa.
23 March, Dorothy Nyembe is released from jail and becomes an active member of the Natal Organisation of Women (NOW).
26 March, The Mozambique-South Africa Joint Security Commission meets for the first time in Maputo, as further raids are carried out against ANC houses and offices by the Mozambican authorities.
31 March, It is disclosed that South Africa and Swaziland signed a non-aggression pact in February 1982. The two countries now also agree to exchange trade representatives and to establish trade missions in their respective countries.
May, The UDF is granted the Swedish ‘Let Live’ human rights award. The award came with a financial grant which the UDF distributed to its regional offices.
A rocket attack on the Mobil Oil Refinery in Durban by MK causes several million dollars in damages.
11 May, David Kitson, South Africa’s longest serving White political prisoner, is released from prison seven months before completing his 20 year sentence for sabotage.
23 May, The Minister of Law and Order states that a total of 14 armed attacks and explosions occurred between January and May 1984.
June, Writing in the journal Dawn, the official MK journal, Oliver Tambo calls on South Africans to ‘organise, mobilise, and step up the mass offensive around the immediate issues of the day and the fundamental question of people’s war’.
28 June, Jeannette Schoon and her six-year old daughter, Katryn, are killed by a parcel bomb at their home in Lubango, northern Angola. The bomb was targeted at Marius Schoon who was not home at the time.
July, A State of Emergency that lasts six months is declared over many parts of the country.
The UDF begins a massive country-wide campaign to convince Indian and Coloured voters to boycott the upcoming elections for the Tri-Cameral Parliament.
12 July, A car bomb explosion in Durban kills five and injures 27 people. 
13 July, The all-White parliament holds its last session in Cape Town.
August, In the August issue of Mayibuye, the ANC calls for apartheid institutions to be rendered non-functional, and for the country to be made ungovernable.
7-9 August, The Conference of Arab Solidarity with the Struggle for Liberation in Southern Africa, organised by the Special Committee against Apartheid in cooperation with the League of Arab States, is held in Tunis, Tunisia.
17 August, The United Nations Security Council adopts Resolution 554 which condemns the new Tricameral Parliament.
22 August, The election for the 85-member Coloured House of Representatives is held. This election is won by the Labour Party on a 30% poll.
25 August, The UDF, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and the Release Mandela Committee hold one of a series of meetings, after the Lekoa Town Council decides to increase rent by R6/month. The meeting resolves to ask residents not to pay the new rent and to embark on a stayaway on 3 September.
The election for the 45-member Indian House of Delegates is held is won by the National People’s Party on a 20% poll.
September, Radio Freedom broadcasts a call for the country to be made ungovernable.
5 September, P.W. Botha is unanimously elected to the post of Executive President by an electoral college composed of the majority parties in each house - 50 NP members of the White House of Assembly, 25 Labour Party members of the Coloured House of Representatives, and 13 National People’s Party members of the Indian House of Delegates.
11 September, Following unrest and rioting in the townships, the Minister of Law and Order prohibits all meetings of more than two persons, discussing politics or which is in protest against or in support or in memoriam of anything, until 30 September 1984. The ban extends to certain areas in all four provinces, but is most comprehensive in the Transvaal.
12 September, On the anniversary of the death of Steve Biko, unrest breaks out in Soweto. When police open fire on protestors, COSAS activist Bongani Khumalo is killed.
13 September, Six members of the UDF and NIC, seek refuge in the British consulate in Durban, and ask the British government to intervene on their behalf.
14 September, P.W. Botha is inaugurated as the first state president of South Africa under the newly approved constitution. Under the revised Constitution, the post of President combines the ceremonial duties of Head of State with the executive functions of Prime Minister. Mr. Botha is also chairman of the Cabinet, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and controls the National Intelligence Service which includes the Secretariat of the State Security Council.
British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, gives an assurance that the six political refugees will not be required to leave the consulate against their will, but also states that Britain will not become involved in negotiations between the fugitives and the South African government.
17 September, An estimated 65% of residents heed a call by the Release Mandela Committee for a stayaway.
18 September, South Africa's Black gold miners called off their first legal strike, which lasted one day but, according to mine owners, saw 250 workers injured during police action against pickets.
19 September, Riot police firing birdshot, tear gas and rubber bullets clashed with 8,000 striking gold miners, killing seven and injuring 89, police said today.
24 September, Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘Pik’ Botha, announces that in retaliation for the British government’s refusal to give up the six men at its embassy, the government will not return to Britain four South Africans believed to be employed by ARMSCOR facing charges of contravening British customs and excise regulations.
6 October, Three of the six protesters leave the British Consulate in protest against South Africa’s action in linking their sit-in with the Coventry case. They are immediately arrested and detained by security police.
16 October, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Prize Committee said Tutu had been a unifying leader figure in the campaign to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. A spokesman noted that "The Committee wishes to attract attention to the non-violent struggle for liberation to which Desmond Tutu belongs, a struggle in which black and white South Africans unite to bring the country out of conflict".
22 October, The Minister of Law and Order rejects conditions set on 18 October 1984 by the three remaining fugitives in the British Consulate in Durban for their voluntary exit. They had asked the government to waive detention-without-trial orders or to provide them with passports to enable them to plead their case before the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee.
23 October, A combined force of about 7,000 South African Defence Force troops and police seal off the townships of Sebokeng, Sharpeville and Boipatong and carry out house-to-house searches. The government claims that the purpose of the operation is to eliminate “criminal and intimidatory forces” from the townships. About 358 people are arrested, some of whom are immediately charged in special courts. In Leandra, near Secunda, unrest sees the home of the mayor burnt down and homes of councillors attacked. The newly formed Transvaal Regional Stayaway Committee calls for a stayaway on 5 and 6 November.
The South African government forfeits £400,000 bail when the ‘Coventry four’ fails to appear to answer arms smuggling charges, prevented from doing so by the South African government. Warrants are issued for their arrest.
26 October, Violence erupts in the township of Sebokeng, 48 hours after 7,000 police and troops swamped the area and made hundreds of arrests in an attempt to stamp out unrest. Police report an outbreak of violence overnight in townships throughout the country, with crowds of up to 2,000 stoning police who in turn retaliated with teargas, rubber bullets and birdshot.
5-6 November, Between 300,000 and 500,000 workers, as well as 400,000 pupils, heed the call for a stayaway. Seven people die in clashes with the police, and AZAPO accuses the organisers of being reckless in their calls for stayaways.
8 November, Security police raid the offices of the UDF.
16 November, Police arrested 2,300 people in the black township of Sebokeng in what was believed to be the biggest raid against blacks living in work hostels.
26 November, Cyril Ramaphosa, a lawyer and General Secretary of National Union of Mineworkers, is arrested in Lebowa, on a charge of organising or planning to take part in a meeting in Namakgale. The local magistrate had banned meetings in the town.
4 December, Bishop Desmond Tutu, addresses a United States House of Representatives subcommittee and describes the policy of constructive engagement as immoral and evil and hostile to the conditions of blacks in South Africa.
In the first eight months of the state of emergency, 8 000 people are detained and 22 000 charged with offences arising from protests.
January, The remaining councillors in Lingelihle Township in Cradock resign and as a result the Lingelihle Village Council is dissolved. This leaves the way open for the G-Plan, devised by Mathew Goniwe in consultation with the ANC, to be implemented. The plan calls for street committees to be established on every street, to answer to a block committee, which in turn answered to an area committee. This became the first implementation of the G-Plan.
5 January, Senator Edward M. Kennedy arrives in South Africa for an eight-day visit. His visit is at the request of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Reverend Allen Boesak. Upon his return to the USA, Senator Kennedy becomes instrumental in introducing the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 which called for economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa.
8 January, In its January 8th statement the ANC declares 1985 ‘The Year of the Cadre’ and urges the youth to continue to disrupt the local councils.
30 January, The South African Medical and Postal Council is ordered to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the doctors who treated the Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko, who died at the hands of the security police in 1977.
31 January, President P.W. Botha offers a proposal to release Nelson Mandela on condition that ‘he unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’.
10 February, Nelson Mandela turns down the release proposal offered by President Botha.
15 February, President P.W. Botha announces that his offer of release to Nelson Mandela still stands and that government is prepared to talk to the ANC if it renounces violence. Four PAC security prisoners take up an offer of release and three other ANC prisoners reject this offer in a six-page memorandum submitted to the president.
March, Nearly 50 members of the PAC are expelled from Lesotho after the party’s relationship with the government sours.
10 March, Two PAC and APLA members Boniswa Ngcukana and Cassius Barnabus are killed members of the South African Defence Forces while crossing the border into Lesotho.
21 March, Four thousand people march from Langa Township to KwaNobuhle, via the White town of Uitenhage as part of the 25th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre. The police open fire on the crowd, killing 20 and injuring 27 people. The incident is condemned internationally with US Secretary of State George Schultz describing the use of violence as ‘a deplorable act’. The government appoints a Commission of Inquiry into this massacre, chaired by Justice D. Kannemeyer. Conflicting reports of the incident surface with police stating they had been stoned, while protestors said no stones had been thrown. The police were accused of placing stones at the scene after the event. Further violence sees another 37 lives lost in the Eastern Cape.
April, Popo Molefe, Mosiuoa Lekota and Moses Chikane, three key UDF leaders, are detained.
13 April, A funeral is held for 13 of the victims of the Langa, Uitenhage massacre. More than 40,000 people attend and are addressed by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Reverend Alan Boesak.
30 April, The Rand Daily Mail, a Johannesburg daily anti-apartheid newspaper, ceases publication.
7 May, Thabo Mbeki announces on Radio Freedom that the ANC would continue to make the country ungovernable and would ‘attack on all fronts in a united and co-ordinated political and military offensive’.
8 May, Three PEBCO activists go missing. At the TRC years later it emerged that Qaqawuli Godolozi, Sipho Hashe and Champion Galela were lured to the airport and abducted by agents of the security police. They were then taken to Port Chalmers police station where they were interrogated and killed. Their bodies were burnt and dumped in the Fish River.
25 May, The Prohibition of Political Interference Act, No. 51 of 1968, which forbade racially mixed political parties, is repealed by the Constitutional Affairs Amendment Act.
June, The Kannemeyer Commission of Inquiry into the Langa shootings of 21 March 1985 blames the police for the events leading to the shooting.
14 June, South African Defence Force Special Forces, together with members of the security branch, launch a cross border raid on ANC targets in Gaborone, Botswana.  Twelve people are killed and six wounded in this operation.  Among those killed are eight South Africans, two Botswana nationals, a Lesotho and a Somali citizen.
16-25 June, The ANC holds its Second National Consultative Conference in Kabwe, Zambia. Amongst other resolutions, the ANC decides to open up its National Executive Committee to all races, and Joe Slovo, Reginald September, James Stuart (Hermanus Loots), Mac Maharaj and Aziz Pahad are elected. Martin Legassick, of the Marxist Workers' Tendency, a faction formed in 1979, is expelled from ANC.
26 June, Eight young activists are killed and at least seven are injured in explosions involving booby trapped hand grenades in Duduza, Kwa Thema and Tsakane, Transvaal. The zero-timed grenades had been provided by a Vlakplaas operative purporting to be an MK operative. The operation, code-named ‘Zero Zero’ had been authorized by the Minister of Law and Order.
27 June, Four Eastern Cape UDF activists, on their way from a meeting in Port Elizabeth to Cradock, are abducted and assassinated by the security police. The four, known as the Cradock Four, were Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli.
30 June, John Nyati Pokela, PAC chairman, dies in Harare.
July, A Dutch national, Klaas de Jong, is detained under the Internal Security Act for distributing arms and ammunition to the ANC. He seeks refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria.
July, A large number of workers heed the call for the stayway in support of strikers at the BTR-Sarmcol factory in Howick.
20 July, A funeral, held in Lingelihle township to mourn the death of Mathew Goniwe and his three colleagues, is attended by 60,000 people.
21 July, A State of Emergency is declared in 36 magisterial districts of the Eastern Cape and PWV (now Gauteng). As part of the state of emergency the government could implement curfews and the president could rule by decree without having to refer to the constitution or parliament.
August, IFP supporters launch several attacks on trade unionists and members of youth organizations. This culminates in violent confrontations between youth groups and well-organized groups of IFP vigilantes.
1 August, Victoria Mxenge, a Durban attorney and the wife of slain attorney, Griffiths Mxenge, is assassinated in her home in Umlazi, Durban.
8 August, At a memorial service for Victoria Mxenge, members of the amaButho, an Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) based ‘community guard force’ launches an attack on the mourners.
12 August, Johnson Phillip Mlambo is elected chairman of the PAC at the extra ordinary session of the party’s Central Committee.
26 August, Thousands of marchers set off from different points in Cape Town to Pollsmoor Prison, despite the march being banned, to demand the release of Nelson Mandela. The march had been called by Reverend Allan Boesak but he was detained and Dorothy, his wife, leads the march. Police shoot and kill nine people and by the end of the week the death toll rises to 28.
September, A delegation of businessmen, including Gavin Relly, Anglo American Corporation chairman, and Tony Bloom, Premier Group chairman, fly to Lusaka to hold talks with the ANC.
25 September, The Kairos Document, written by a group of ecumenical pastors in Soweto, is published and includes the signatures of 150 clerics, theologians and laymen. The document challenged and critiqued the churches to response to the policies of apartheid.
  September, A delegation of businessmen, including Gavin Relly, Anglo American Corporation chairman, and Tony Bloom, Premier Group chairman, fly to Lusaka to hold talks with the ANC.
13 October, A PFP delegation, led by Federick van Zyl Slabbert, meets the ANC in Lusaka.
15 October, Members of the South African Railway Police hide in wooden crates on the back of a railway truck in Athlone, Cape Town and open fire on a crowd of protestors killing three youths and injuring several others. This becomes known as the Trojan Horse massacre.
18 October, Benjamin Moloise, upholsterer and poet, is hanged for the murder of a Black policeman, Warrant Officer Philippus Selepe.
2 December, The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is formed with a membership of 500,000 and with 33 affiliates. This organisation is politically aligned with the banned ANC. Elijah Barayi is elected president, Chris Dlamini vice president, Jay Naidoo general secretary, and Sydney Mufamadi assistant general secretary.
23 December, The Salam shopping centre in Amanzimtoti, outside Durban is bombed by an MK cadre Andrew Sibusiso Zondo. Five people are killed and more than 40 injured.
24 December, Tensions between UDF activists and older residents in Crossroads, Cape Town lead to the killing of a community councillor which sparks a series of clashes between the two camps. Five of the older residents, dubbed the “witdoeke” because of the white headbands they wore, are injured by a hand grenade on New Year’s Eve. They retaliate in early in January, and four people die in the clashes.
30 December, Winnie Mandela is arrested for contravening a banning order prohibiting her from being in the magisterial district of Johannesburg and Roodepoort.
The National Education Crisis Committee (NECC) is formed. This organisation unites students, parents and teachers in an attempt to bring democracy to schools and eliminate the repressive Bantu Education curriculum. The organisation adopts the slogan “Education for liberation”.
The ANC launches Operation Vula an underground operation aimed at facilitating the infiltration of MK guerrillas into South Africa and maintaining open communication links between the ANC Leaders in exile and those inside the country including those who are in prison. Amongst some of its operatives are Sathyandranath 'Mac' Maharaj, Ronnie Kasrils, Pravin Gordhan, Siphiwe Nyanda and Billy Nair.
AZASO, which was formed in 1979, changes its name to the South African National Students Congress (SANSCO).
In an effort to influence the struggle out of revolutionary channels into political discussions, the Reagan administration increases its policy of constructive engagement to include all the main participants in South African politics. At the same time, it continues to express its disapproval of the violent methods used by the ANC and the degree of Soviet involvement in it.
The SADF conducts paramilitary training for IFP recruits in the Caprivi Strip.  The trainees are later deployed in Kwazulu-Natal.
8 January, In its January 8 statement the ANC declares 1986 ‘The Year of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the People’s Army’. It extols the destruction of local councils, and looks forward to ‘the gathering collapse of the apartheid economy’. The government, it said, had lost the strategic initiative and its attempts at reform were collapsing. The slogan for the year, coined by Thabo Mbeki, is ‘Every patriot a combatant, every combatant a patriot’.
7 February, Dr. Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the opposition PFP, resigns from parliamentary politics.
March, COSATU sends a fact-finding mission to hold discussions with the ANC and South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in Lusaka, Zambia.
Nicholas Haysom’s book Mabangalala: The Rise of Right-Wing Vigilantes in South Africa is published. The book provides an analysis of the use of vigilantes by the state, often supported by the police, to attack anti-apartheid activists.
The NECC holds a conference in Durban with the aim of creating a forum for the resistance movement to plan its strategy. The conference called on students to continue to attend classes; for more rent and consumer boycotts; more economic sanctions; and for a one-day stayaway on 1 May, and a three-day general strike from 16-18 June.
3 March, Seven men are shot dead in a field at Gugulethu, Cape Town.  Police   claim that they were known terrorists and had been killed in a legitimate anti-terrorist operation.  Later it is revealed that the security forces had created an elaborate cover up of their involvement.  
7 March, The State of Emergency, imposed on 21 July 1985, is lifted.  
8 March, Moses Mabhida, MK commander and secretary-general of the South African Communist Party (SACP), dies of a heart attack in Maputo, Mozambique. He is buried in a temporary grave. He is succeeded by Joe Slovo who takes up the position in 1987.
5 April, Lucky Kutumela, journalist and member of AZAPO, dies in a Pietersburg hospital after being severely assaulted by police while in detention.
11 April, Peter Nchabeleng, former president of the UDF in the Northern Transvaal, dies in police cells. In a Radio Freedom address in the evening, the ANC called for renewed consumer boycotts.
13 April, A controversial statement is made by Winnie Mandela at Munsieville, in which she states that ‘We have no guns – we have only stones, boxes of matches and petrol. Together, hand in hand, with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country.” (in Gilbey, 1993).
May, Malcolm Fraser (Australian Prime Minister) and Olusegun Obsanjo (former military ruler of Nigeria) visit South Africa as part of an Eminent Persons Group and visit Nelson Mandela in prison. During their visit, the South African Defence Force attack the neighbouring states of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The Group leave the country immediately and recommend that economic sanctions against South Africa be increased and maintained.  
1 May ,Following the NECC call for a stayaway, reinforced by COSATU, 1,5-million people heed the call which sees the largest strike in South African history.
June, Two car bomb attacks in Johannesburg by the MK kill several people and many are injured.  
10 June, In KTC settlement in Crossroads, Cape Town, where the Zolani Centre was burnt down on 9 June, UDF supports clash with the ‘witdoeke’ in retaliation. More than 20 people are killed and up to 3000 shacks are destroyed with approximately 70 000 people being left homeless.
12 June, The government declares a State of Emergency The provisions of this are broader than any previous state of emergency. Under the new provisions political funerals are restricted, strict curfews are imposed, certain indoor activities are banned and television cameras are also banned from ‘unrest areas’. The state of emergency lasts until 1990.
14 June, A car bomb explosion outside Magoo’s and Why Not bars on the Durban beachfront killing three people and injuring 69. Robert McBride is later arrested and convicted for the bombs.
24 June, In Britain, Foreign Office Minister Lynda Chalker meets Oliver Tambo, president of the ANC.
7 July, After enduring more than twenty years of government banning, Winnie Mandela is freed of all state-ordered restriction.
8 September, The ANC’s Diplomatic Office in Stockholm, Sweden is bombed. However, no one is injured.
9 September, Andrew Zondo, who was responsible for the 1985 Amanzimtoti bomb, is hanged. Along with Zondo, Clarence Payi and Sipho Xulu are also hanged for the murder of Benjamin Langa an ANC agent suspected of being an informer for the security police.
16 September, The European Economic Community (EEC) reaches an agreement about sanctions to be imposed against South Africa. The agreement includes bans on new investments in South Africa, imports of South African gold coins, iron and steel products. However, the ban does not include the import of South African coal.
30 September, President P.W. Botha retires as leader of the Cape division of the National Party.
5 October, Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) and the Azanian Confederate of Trade Unions (AZACTU) merge to form the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) at a meeting in Broederstroom, Transvaal (now North West Province)
15 October, The United State Senate passes the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 which guided US policy towards South Africa in an effort to bring about the establishment of a non-racial democracy in South Africa.
16 October, The Delmas Treason Trial begins in Delmas, near Pretoria. Twenty-two anti-apartheid activists, mainly members of the management structures of the UDF, were charged with treason, subversion and murder. The accused include Popo Molefe, Mosiuoa Lekota, Moses Chikane amongst others.
19 October, Samora Machel, President of Mozambique, dies after the plane he was travelling in crashed in the Lembombo Mountains, near Mbuzini, South Africa.
4 November, Oliver Tambo, accompanied by Thabo Mbeki, meets Mikhail Gorbachev at the Kremlin. At a press conference afterwards, Tambo announces that “...the Soviet Union stands firmly with us in the struggle for a united, democratic and non-racial South Africa...” (in Shubin, 2008: 237).
27 November, Three of the 22 of those accused in the Delmas Treason Trial are freed after the state drops the charges against them.  
1987 sees the highest number of strikes ever, including a strike by over 300,000 mineworkers.
8 January, In his 8th of January speech celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ANC, Oliver Tambo declares 1987 the ‘Year of Advance to People’s Power’
20 January, The Margo Commission of Enquiry set up by the South African government to investigate the crash that killed Samora Machel, has its first sitting at the Rand Supreme Court, Johannesburg.
21 January, A group of men armed with AK rifles, suspected to be IFP vigilantes, gun down 12 people, including seven children, in KwaMakutha near Amanzimtoti.
28 January, Oliver Tambo meets George Schultz, US Secretary of State, in Lusaka. Schultz raises concerns about the Soviet Union’s influence in the ANC and the party’s stance on violence.
March, COSATU begins its ‘Living Wage’ campaign which results in work stoppages across the country.
22 March, Archbishop Desmond Tutu meets the ANC in Zambia and fails to convince the organization to abandon the armed struggle.
27 March, Benedict Mashoke, a 20 year old detainee under the state of emergency, is found hanging by his long-sleeve t-shirt in his cell at Burgersfort, outside Johannesburg.
April, Joe Slovo resigns his post as a Chief of Staff of MK to take up the position of General Secretary of the SACP. He is succeeded by Chris Hani.
A national Release Mandela Committee is launched. Its national coordinator is Aubrey Mokoena with Paul David as its secretary.
23 April, The UDF Women’s Congress is formed as a body to upload the Freedom Charter and Women’s Charter and is made up of all the women’s organisations affiliated to the UDF.
5-6 May, In anticipation of the Whites-only general election on 6 May, the UDF calls for a national stayaway. About 500,000 students boycott classes and a similar number of workers stay away from work. The Eastern Cape in particular saw almost the total workforce heed the call. More than 100 incidents of violence were reported on the Election Day. The election is won by the National Party led by P.W. Botha with 52% of the vote.
7 May, Two bombs explode in the early hours of the morning in the basement of COSATU House, Johannesburg. No one is injured but the building is badly damaged and declared a health hazard.
20 May, Two bombs outside the Johannesburg magistrates court kill four White police officers and injure 10 other people.
12 June, The government renews the State of Emergency for another year. In response, the UDF and COSATU call for a strike from 12 to 26 June. Response to the call is partially successful, but a large number of workers and students heed the call on 16 June.
1 July, Reverend Frank Chikane succeeds the Reverend C.F. Beyers Naudé as head of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).
9-12 July, The Institute for a Democratic South Africa (IDASA) organises a conference in Dakar, Senegal. The conference is attended by 61, mainly Afrikaans-speaking South Africans and a 17-person ANC delegation. The result is the Dakar Declaration which calls for the release of all detainees and the unbanning of the ANC.
9 July, Paul Dikeledi and Cassius Make both members of the ANC are assassinated by South African agents in Swaziland. This occurred when the taxi they were travelling in was ambushed. A Mozambican national is also killed.
30 July, A car bomb explodes outside the Witwatersrand Military Command Headquarters, central Johannesburg  injuring 68 people.
30 July-1 August, An International Student Conference in Solidarity with the Struggle of the Students of Southern Africa is held in London.
9 August, The COSATU affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) begins a wage strike. The strike lasts for 21 days and involves 330 000 mineworkers. During the strike nine mineworkers are killed and 50 000 others are fired for actively leading the strike.
October, A set of preconditions are laid out by the ANC’s National Executive Committee before it could agree to hold talks with the government. These include the release of all political prisoners, the lifting of the state of emergency, the repeal of oppressive apartheid laws, the unbanning of all political organisations, the abolishing of the homeland system, and the unconditional return of all political exiles.
Chris Hani is appointed new Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of MK.
5 November, Govan Mbeki is released from prison after serving 24 years on Robben Island.
5-7 November, The International Conference against Apartheid Sport is held in Harare, Zimbabwe. The conference is organised by the Special Committee against Apartheid in cooperation with the Government of Zimbabwe, the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa, the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa, the Union of African Sports Confederations, SAN-ROC and the Zimbabwe National Olympic Committee.
December, Thabo Mbeki holds talks with Willie Esterhuyse, an Afrikaner academic based at Stellenbosch University who had close ties to the National Party. Esterhuyse had been briefed by the National Intelligence Services and reported back to them.
1-4 December, The ANC holds the Arusha Conference in Tanzania. The theme of the conference is ‘Peoples of the World Unite Against Apartheid for a Democratic South Africa.’
30 December, General Bantu Holomisa, leading the Transkei Military force, overthrows the Transkeian government under Stella Sigcau.
6 January, General Bantu Holmisa, after ousting Stella Sigcau, appoints himself as the Transkei’s military and government chief.
8 January, In the annual 8th January statement, the ANC declares 1988 ‘The Year of United Action for People’s Power’.
13 January-23 March, With Cuban reinforcements, FAPLA is able to hold Cuito Cuanavale. South African forces try, unsuccessfully, to overcome the Cuban-FAPLA forces six times and withdraw. They continue to shell Cuito from a distance.
17 January, Percy Qoboza, journalist and editor of City Press, dies at the Rand Clinic, Johannesburg after being in a serious condition due to a heart attack on 25 December 1987.
1 February, A large group of Inkatha youth mounts an assault on Ashdown in the Pietermaritzburg area. Newspapers report that the assaults were part of ‘Operation Doom’, a campaign to drive out UDF supporters from Ashdown.
10 February, Rocky Malebane-Metsing stages a coup in Bophuthatswana, which is put down by the SADF. Troops are sent to reinstate Lucas Mangope who had been ousted on charges of corruption. Malebane-Metsing flees the country and ends up in Lusaka.
24 February, The UDF along with 16 other organisations is effectively banned and is restricted from performing various activities. This led to the formation of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).
29 February, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is arrested outside parliament while leading a protest march against the death sentence given to the ‘Sharpeville Six’. However, he is released a few hours later.
17 March, A day after the UN Security Council’s Resolution 610 is adopted – which condemns the death sentence given to the Sharpeville Six – the South African government grants the ‘Sharpeville Six’ a one month stay of execution. Four of the six indicate they would appeal while the other two decide they would rather be executed.
29 March, ANC official Dulcie September is shot dead outside the ANC offices in Paris, France.
7 April, Albie Sachs is seriously wounded by a car bomb in Maputo. He loses his arm and sight in one eye.
May, Nelson Mandela meets with the ‘secret working group’ of government officials led by Kobie Coetsee, at the officers club at Pollsmoor Prison.
2 May, Olivia Forsyth, a self-confessed spy for the South African security police within the ANC, escapes from her guards and seeks refuge in the British Embassy.
27 May, Anti-apartheid Afrikaners led by Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, IDASA director, meet with the ANC in Frankfurt, to discuss a post-apartheid South Africa.
31 May, More than 200 South African religious leaders representing the Christian, Moslem, Jewish and Hindu faiths, decided at the end of a two-day meeting to embark on a new programme of non-violent action to end apartheid. The programme would begin with support for the "national peaceful protest" called for by COSATU from 6 to 8 June. Protest actions will continue with a campaign to secure the release of political prisoners lasting from 12 June to 18 July, the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela. They also appointed a national committee to elaborate the rest of the programme, which would be a "Standing for Truth" campaign.
June, The appeal of the ‘Sharpeville Six’ against their death sentence is rejected. However, after the UN Security Council passes Resolution 615 and growing international pressure, President Botha commutes their sentence to 18-25 years in prison.
The ANC releases a document entitled ‘Constitutional Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa’.
6-8 June, Approximately 2.5 million people heed the call by COSATU for a peaceful stay-away to protest against apartheid, the state of emergency including the February banning of 18 anti-apartheid groups from all political activity and the pending Labour Relations Amendment Bill that would further restrict activities of trade unions.
11 June, The Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert takes place at Wembley Stadium, London. This event, which runs for 11 hours, is watched by approximately 600 million people in over 60 countries. The line up includes 60 musicians, comedians and actors.
12 June, Stanza Bopape, general secretary of the Mamelodi Civic Organisation, dies of a heart attack in detention after he is tortured by electric shock.  His body is dumped in the Komati River. Police later report to his family and claim that he had escaped from prison.
30 June, Zimbabwe foils an attempt by a South African commando to rescue five alleged South African agents awaiting trial for bomb attacks against the ANC in Zimbabwe.
7 July, Trevor Manuel, Ebrahim Rasool, Mountain Qumbela, Hilda Ndude, all officials of the UDF in the Western Cape, and Mzonke Jacobs, president of the Cape Youth Congress, are released after being detained for two years under the state of emergency. Manuel, Rasool and Jacobs are served with restrictions orders limiting their movements and activities and barring them from speaking to the press.
18 July, Die Beeld, a pro-government Afrikaans newspaper, runs an editorial coinciding with Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday urging the government to release him.
5-7 August, The National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) holds its annual congress in Johannesburg. It is attended by over 200 delegates who re-elect James Mndaweni as president and Piroshaw Camay as general-secretary.
14 August, Nelson Mandela is admitted to the Tygerberg Hospital, suffering from a lung ailment.
31 August, The South African Council of Churches (SACC) headquarters, Khotso House in Johannesburg, is destroyed by a bomb and 19 people are injured.
September, COSATU and IFP sign a peace accord which agrees to the establishment of a complaints adjudication board to mediate conflict.
13 September, Three leading anti-apartheid activists, Mohammed Valli Moosa, Murphy Morobe, and Vusi Khanyile, escape from detention and seek refuge in the American Consulate in Johannesburg.
7-9 October, A delegation comprising members of the NIC and TIC hold talks with the ANC in Lusaka and issue a joint communiqué.
12 October, The headquarters of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Khanya House in Pretoria, is set alight. No one is injured and no arrests are made.
19 October, Mohammed Valli Moosa, Murphy Morobe and Vusi Khanyile end their 37-day sit-in at the American Consulate-General in Johannesburg. The three men, who had previously pledged not to leave until other detainees were freed and repressive laws repealed, announced that they had successfully publicized the status of 1,300 persons presently in detention under the emergency. However, they said that they still felt some apprehension in leaving the embassy, despite the regime's assurances that they would not be re-detained or restricted.
18 November, The accused in the Delmas Treason Trial are found guilty of treason but sentencing is set down for a different date.
26 November, Harry Gwala and Zaphania Mothopeng are released from Robben Island.
7 December, Nelson Mandela is moved from Pollsmoor Prison to Victor Verster Prison near Franschhoek. He is given his own cottage and allowed visitors. Mandela regularly meets with UDF leaders. Meanwhile, the government also initiates direct talks between the NIS and the ANC.
8 December, Sentencing is handed down in the Delmas Treason Trial with 11 of the defendants being convicted. Mosiuoa Lekota is sentenced to 12 years while Popo Molefe and Moses Chikane receive 10 years and Thomas Manthata six for treason. The other seven are convicted of terrorism with six receiving suspended sentences and one receiving a five year prison sentence.
29 December, James Seipei (known as Stompie Mokhetsi), a 14 year old ANC activist, and three other youths are picked up by members of Winnie Mandela’s bodyguard, the Mandela United Football Club after being accused of being a police informers. Stompie’s body is later found in Soweto stabbed through the neck.
8 January, In its 8th January statement the ANC declares 1989 ‘The Year of Mass Action for People’s Power’ and proposes a campaign of militant mass defiance.
18 January, State President P.W. Botha suffers a stroke. Despite his health he refuses to resign from office.
2 February, P.W. Both resigns as leader of the National Party and is replaced by F.W. de Klerk.
16 February, Representatives of leading anti-apartheid organisations, including the UDF and COSATU, hold a news conference at which they announce that the organizations were distancing themselves from Winnie Mandela. This was due to allegations that a group connected with Mrs. Mandela, the Mandela United Football Club, was "associated" with a "reign of terror" in Soweto that included the abduction and beating of several Soweto youths on 29 December, resulting in the death of Stompie Mokhetsi.
19 February, Four of Winnie Mandela’s bodyguards are arrested at her home in connection with the death of Stompie Mokhetsi.
March, Nelson Mandela sends a memorandum to President P.W. Botha in which he states that the ANC would end the armed struggle if the organization was unbanned, political prisoners released and troops are withdrawn from the townships.
April, The 7th Congress of the SACP is held in Havana where a new party programme is adopted and a new Central Committee is elected.
8 April, The PFP, the Independent Party (IP) and the National Democratic Movement (NDM) merge to form the Democratic Party (DP). The DP is placed under the combined leadership of Zach de Beer, Denis Worrall and Wynand Malan.
1 May, David Webster, anthropologist and anti-apartheid activist, is assassinated outside his home in Johannesburg.
June, The ANC’s National Executive Committee meets in Lusaka, with COSATU and UDF leaders in attendance. The conference which convened to discuss the ‘looming danger of negotiations’ concluded that the government had lost the initiative and was in a crisis, but that Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) was overly dependent on foreign funding, had ‘ineffective communication with grassroots levels’, and ‘an inability to implement programmes of action’. A document was issued to MDM activists to provide guidance in the near future. The conference also resolved to begin a Defiance Campaign, beginning on 20 July and running until the election on 6 September. Part of the plan was for Black people to defy apartheid legislation by seeking treatment at White hospitals, using White beaches or try to enrol at White schools, among others.
8 June, President P.W. Botha renews the state of emergency for another year and includes restrictions on COSATU.
30 June, A delegation of UDF leaders meets with US President George H.W. Bush. Part of the delegation is Albertina Sisulu and Sister Bernard Ncube.
5 July, President P.W. Botha and Nelson Mandela meet for the first time at Tuynhuys
12-16 July, COSATU holds its annual congress at which it adopts several resolutions including calling on its members and supporters to join a campaign of "sustained action" against apartheid in the week before the country’s general elections on 6 September.
2 August, The MDM organises civil disobedience campaigns to defy the state of emergency which includes entering “Whites only” hospitals and beaches. The campaign is kicked off with 2000 people converging on the Whites-only Addington Hospital in Durban. About 170 people presented themselves for treatment, while in Johannesburg about 70 people did the same at the Johannesburg General Hospital.
14 August, P.W. Botha resigns as state president. F.W. de Klerk becomes acting president.
20 August, On the sixth anniversary of the formal launch of the UDF, the MDM holds a mass rally at the St George’s Cathedral, after a planned rally at the University of the Western Cape was banned.
21 August, The OAU’s Ad-hoc Committee on Southern Africa issues a political declaration in Harare, Zimbabwe which becomes known as the Harare Declaration. The Declaration sets out conditions for a democratic South Africa.
31 August, Various organisations from the Anti-Presidents Committee to students' organisations, trade unions, the UDF, and many others successfully organise protest action in what was labelled the 'Day of Rage' by the Weekly Mail and Guardian newspaper (now Mail and Guardian). The police reacted by detaining at least 100 people, banning protest marches and all meetings organised by anti-apartheid organisations.
1 September, During incidents of unrest in the run-up to the election, five people are killed and 60 arrested. A march to Parliament, in defiance of emergency regulation, is dispersed. 
6 September, About 50 petrol bomb attacks disrupted voting. About 3-million people stay away from work. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Reverend Allan Boesak, 23 people were killed by the police, including a six-year-old girl and a 61-year old woman. Low polls were registered in Indian and Coloured polling stations. The NP retained its majority but lost 30 seats, securing 48% of the vote.
13 September, A march which is attended by diplomats from many countries passes peacefully, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other dignitaries. In Johannesburg 20,000 people marched, in Uitenhage 80,000, in East London 40,000, in Durban 20,000 and in Port Elizabeth 50,000.
20 September, After the general election, F.W. de Klerk is inaugurated as the new State President.
25 September, Judgment is delivered in the Appeal Case of the Delmas Treason Trial. The sentences of all those convicted are overturned. This ends the longest running political trial in South Africa with 437 days spent in court.
15 October, After 26 years in prison, Rivonia trialists Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba  Wilton Mkwayi are released alongside Oscar Mpetha, the veteran ANC and SACP Cape Leader, and Japhta Masemola, a PAC leader. Their release was greeted with scenes of wild celebration around the country.
10 November, Damian de Lange, Ian Robertson and Susan Donelly, three White members of the ANC, receive 25, 20 and 18 years respectively after being convicted on 32 charges of terrorism.
8 December, The Conference for a Democratic Future is attended by 4600 delegates representing 2000 organisations at Wits University. Smangaliso Mkhatshwa served as conference chairman, and Walter Sisulu was given a rousing welcome. The conference adopts the Harare Declaration.
13 December, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk meet for the first time to discuss the country’s political future.
14 December, The General Assembly, at its sixteenth Special Session, adopts by consensus the "Declaration on Apartheid and its Destructive Consequences in Southern Africa," which calls for negotiations to end apartheid and to establish a non-racial democracy. It laid down steps needed to create a climate conducive to negotiations, modalities of negotiations and principles for a new constitution.
15 December, Five anti-apartheid activists including Moses Chikane, Madikwe Thomas Manthata, Popo Molefe and Mosiuoa Lekota are released from prison after having their sentence, as part of the Delmas Trial, overturned by the Supreme Court.

• Morris, M., 2004. Every Step of the Way – The Journey to freedom in South Africa. South Africa: HSRC Press
• Bishop Desmond Tutu interview, Free Nelson Mandela, Online. Available at: [Accessed on 23 November 2009]
• Watson, W (2007). Brick by Brick – An Informal guide to the History of South Africa. Claremont, South Africa: New Africa Book (Pty) Ltd
• Jeffery, A., 2009. People’s War: New light on the struggle for South Africa. South Africa: Jonathan Ball Publishers.
• Vice-Presidents Task Force on Combating Terrorism, 1989. “African Terrorism: African National Congress” in Terrorist Group Profiles. Pennsylvania: Diane Publishing
• Wright, J, (2009),  Background to political violence: Pietermaritzburg region 1987-8  5 November, [online] Available at [Accessed 21 October 2011]
• SAHA, 2011. “Repressing the Leadership” from UDF 25 Years [online]. Available at [Accessed 30 August 2011]
• Gilbey, E., 1993. The Lady: the life and times of Winnie Mandela. London: Jonathan Cape
• Shubin, V., 2008. “The USSR strengthens its relationship with the ANC” in ANC: A View from Moscow. South Africa: Jacana Media.

Last updated : 10-May-2012

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-Oct-2011