The Freedom struggle in Johannesburg

The Turn to Armed Struggle

The banning of the resistance movements, the general response of the state to the wave of protests and its capacity to contain them, revealed deficiencies in the organisational structures of both the ANC and PAC. Both then turned the armed struggle.

The ANC revived the M-Plan, which it had proposed earlier, and by 1961 established Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). MK mounted its first attacks in December 1961. The campaign was mostly symbolic, avoiding human targets. The targets were strategic installations: railway stations, pylons, police stations and other government infrastructure.

The PAC launched Poqo, which mounted a bloodier campaign during 1962 and 1963, targeting Whites in Cape Town, in the hope that this would inspire a general insurrection and the overthrow of the state.

Cultural and Other Forms of Resistance

Civil society was the site of resistance before organised political movements were established, especially through church movements and newspapers aimed at the growing urban intelligentsia.

1. Squatter Rebellions

Throughout the 20th century, ordinary people who were not strictly activists or members of political organisations engaged in forms of resistance that defied the state.

Black emigration to the cities increased exponentially in the decade after 1936. During this time the number of Black people in Johannesburg increased from 229 122 to 384 628 people by 1946 Factors that contributed to this emigration included a failure of the reservesto provide subsistence to its inhabitants (even before the war), a maize shortage after 1941 and the increase in wages in urban areas.

From the early 1940s onwards, squatter movements responded to “the serious shortage of housing which developed during the period of rapid urbanisation”, and developed into an open rebellion on an “unprecedented scale”.

By March 1963, the City Council estimated that there were 92 500 people living in informal settlements in Johannesburg. Virtual states within the state, these settlements in Orlando, Pimville and Alexandra became no-go areas for Whites and state officials, with people’s courts, police and administration established by the residents and their leaders.

2. Insubordination

Charles van Onselen has shown that “in the period up to 1914, increasing militancy among domestic workers was becoming a matter of serious concern for their White employees”. They engaged in acts of desertion, insolence, petty thieving and, more seriously, in sexual assaults, robbery, and violence.

3. Gangsterism and crime

When the system itself makes legitimate forms of resistance difficult and normal life impossible, some are led into lifestyles that defy the norms of legitimacy, and gangsterism was one such manifestation of escape from the strictures of segregation and apartheid. The Amalaita gangs of the early 20th century are one such expression. The Ninevites, who began operating from the 1890s, were a secret gang of criminals and robbers, “the largest Black working class/lumpen proletarian [people who are poorer than the working classes, who don’t have jobs and engage in piece-meal work] organisation in Johannesburg at the time”... read more