African National Congress (ANC)

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Alfred Xuma was elected president of the ANC in 1940

Rejuvenation of the ANC and intensification of the struggle 1940s

In 1940, Alfred Xuma was elected the new president of the African National Congress (ANC), and a period of greater action was introduced. Xuma was still moderate, and called for the unity of all African people. He managed to streamline the running of the ANC. This he accomplished by introducing new communication lines, improving the financial position and organisational efficiency. This revival was also a result of the mass urbanisation during the war, bad living conditions and inflation - all linked to global developments. These gave the black population reason to expect better conditions.

In 1944, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) was formed by members of the ANC who wanted to follow a more active policy focusing on the mobilisation of the masses. Xuma was initially rather sceptical of the ANCYL and their ideas. The leaders who formed the ANCYL were, among others, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Anton Lembede. The ANCYL issued a Programme of Action, which the ANC adopted officially in 1949, implemented by James Moroka and Sisulu.

In 1943 the ANC had started allowing women to become members of the organisation, and in the same year, the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) was formed. In 1943, Xuma and the ANC’s Atlantic Charter Committee produced a politically significant document entitled African Claims, which chartered the path to racial equality in South Africa - that they hoped would follow the conclusion of the Second World War. In 1946, Xuma travelled to New York as an unofficial delegate to the United Nations, where he lobbied successfully against the South African Government’s plans to incorporate South West Africa (Namibia) into the Union. In 1947 the ANC signed an agreement with the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses, and formed the Congress Alliance.

The Atlantic Charter Committee

In December 1942, the Annual Conference of the African National Congress (ANC) requested its President, Dr. A.B. Xuma, to appoint a committee to study the Atlantic Charter and draft a bill of rights to be presented to the peace conference at the end of the Second World War. (The Atlantic Charter had been proclaimed on August 14, 1941, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, as a statement of the peace aims of the Allies.)

Accordingly, an Atlantic Charter Committee - consisting of prominent African professionals and intellectuals of varied political views - met on December 13 and 14, 1943, in Bloemfontein. Professor Z.K. Matthews was elected Chairman. The report of this Committee captured as "Africans Claims in South Africa" was unanimously adopted by the ANC's annual conference on 16 December 1943.

This statement of the aspirations of the African people was one of the most important documents of the ANC. It was, however, spurned by the South African Government. Dr. Xuma requested an interview with Prime Minister Jan Smuts to discuss it, but received a reply that Smuts was “not prepared to discuss proposals which are wildly impracticable”.

Last updated : 22-Nov-2012

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