From the book: Book 4: Industrialisation, Rural Change and Nationalism commissioned by The Department of Education

Three documents, fundamental changes that took place in black protest politics and African nationalist thinking during the 1940s, particularly in the African National Congress (ANC). Though one should be wary of imposing artificial periodisations such as decades and centuries on historical developments, in a very real sense the 1940s was a time of regeneration for African politics. It was a watershed separating the inertia and decline of the 1930s from the populism and mass politics of the 1950s.

The first document is a description of the ANC's 1937 conference written by Ralph Bunche, an astute observer. He justifiably depicts the ANC as disorganised and politically bankrupt. What emerges forcefully from Bunche's description is the ANC's stress on moderation and middle-class respectability as well as its servility toward whites in authority. The ANC had by this time been in severe decline for the better part of a decade and was effectively non-functional.

The second document is an ANC report of its delegation to the Minister of Justice in July 1941. At this time, the ANC was being reorganised into a more effective body under the leadership of Dr Alfred Xuma, a medical doctor who had been elected president of the ANC in 1940. Though still decidedly moderate in tone and respectful of white authority, the document demonstrates political initiative on the part of the ANC and shows that popular grievances were starting to be addressed. The deputation, a key method through which the ANC sought redress prior to the 1950s, spoke of an approach to politics that was conservative, elitist and prepared to operate within limits set by the white supremacist state.

The third document, the Programme of Action, was adopted as official ANC policy at its 1949 conference. It marks a turning point in both the history of the ANC and of black politics as a whole. This document rejectsany form of white privilege, asserts the desire of African people for “national freedom” and demands full political representation for African people. Its tone is decidedly Africanist as opposed to the multi-racialism that was to characterise ANC policy from the 1950s onwards. The emphasis on the need for economic, educational and cultural advancement indicates that it saw the struggle as broader than merely winning political rights. And very significantly, for the first time the ANC advocated the use of illegal tactics and civil disobedience.

Several questions arise from this brief analysis of these documents. Firstly, why did African politics experience fundamental transformation at this time? Secondly, where did the revival of the 1940s come from? A short answer to both questions is that these changes arose from a structural shift in the South African economy and society during the late 1930s and 1940s, which in turn manifested itself in the political arena. Its impact is clearly visible in the ANC, which shifted from the moderate and elitist politics of polite delegations and patient petitioning to the mass struggles, defiance and political activism that characterised the 1950s.

As will be demonstrated in this chapter, one cannot fully understand political change of this nature without reference to the underlying social processes that shaped them. To focus simply on the political events themselves would be to gain only a superficial understanding, not only of this particular development but also of politics and human society in general.
Fernand Braudel, recognised as one of the most influential historians of modern times, described events as mere “surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on their strong backs”. However, before discussing the broader social forces that moulded these political changes, we need to establish the nature of African politics before the revival of the 1940s.

periodise ”” to divide into portions of time characterised by the same prevalent features or conditions

inertia ”” literally, resistance to change; thus, a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged; inactivity or lack of progress

populism ”” advocating mass or broad public participation, especially in politics servility - submissiveness; readiness to please or recognise the authority of others; excessive willingness to please others

deputation ”” a body of persons appointed to carry a message or to state a case on behalf of those they represent, usually to a person or institution in authority

What was the nature of African politics before the 1940s?

The history of black politics shows that the latter half of the 1920s was a high point in black resistance. Both the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) and the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) organised mass protests, pass burning campaigns, trade union activity and strikes.

The African National Congress was also politically active during this period despite being hampered by a growing rift between a majority moderate grouping and a minority radical faction within its ranks.

By the early 1930s, however, the ICU had been destroyed by corruption, mismanagement, internal conflict and state repression. The Communist Party was greatly weakened when ideological in-fighting led to widespread expulsions, leaving the organisation with no more than 150 members by the mid-1930s. The fledgling African trade union movement, which had been growing during the 1920s, had collapsed with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

By the early 1930s the ANC had also retreated into internal squabbling and inactivity. Moderates within the organisation wanted to pursue the politically conservative and narrowly elitist strategy of lobbying the government for incremental reform. The radicals, on the other hand, favoured mass action, trade unionism and co-operation with the Communist Party. The ANC had become so severely polarised by these tensions that the moderates banded together at the 1930 conference to reassert their control over the organisation. As a result, an extremely conservative executive committee was elected, arch-conservative Pixley ka Seme became president and many of its radical members were expelled.

The coming to power of these conservatives within the ANC did the organisation serious harm. Their concerns were petty and impractical, and their tenure marked by inactivity and disorganisation, as demonstrated by Bunche's commentary (see page 19).

Seme's main interests were to revive the influence of traditional chiefs in African politics and to promote money-making schemes for African businessmen, himself included. During his presidency the ANC's membership fell to below 1 000 nation-wide and most of its branches withered away. Disorganisation and the drying up of its funds meant that the ANC was no longer even able to publish its newspaper, Abantu Batho. By the mid-1930s the organisation appeared to be dead. Seme managed to cling to the presidency for much of the 1930s by packing poorly-attended annual conferences with his supporters.

The 1930s were undoubtedly a low point in organised African resistance. The main organisations were ineffective in the face of a powerful and unsympathetic state. This was a state committed to preserving white supremacy and that did not hesitate to use force to suppress black demands for political and civil rights. Through the 1930s state power was supported by strong Afrikaner nationalist sentiment and nearly total unanimity among whites about the need to suppress black protest.

Although the main revitalisation of African politics occurred in the 1940s, a turning of the tide can already be detected in the late 1930s. It can be tied to fundamental changes in South African society. By far the most important factor shaping the political environment of the 1940s was that the South African economy experienced sustained growth, especially in industrial production, during the second half of the 1930s and throughout the 1940s.

incremental ”” increasing regularly and a bit at a time

fledgling ”” literally, a young bird just growing flight feathers but still unable to fly; hence, a person or organisation that is immature or inexperienced

Ralphe Bunche’s description of the ANC’s 1937 Conference

Ralphe Bunche, a professor of political science at Howard University, Washington, spent three months in South Africa toward the end of 1937 as part of a two-year round-the-world research trip. From 1946 onwards he held a series of high-ranking posts in the United Nations and in 1950 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as mediator in the conflict over Palestine. These extracts are taken from notes he made during his trip.

[The conference] started out with a procession, led by a band, around the location. Meeting opened with singing of African National Anthem. Then a black preacher announced the programme for the day, which was devoid of any serious considerations, but devoted to social celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the Congress. Said time has come when Africans must “repent of their sins” and must get down on their knees and pray for joy that Congress has continued for 25 years. Christ is the leader of the African National Congress”¦.

The whole a.m. devoted to religious services, the singing of hymns, sermons and scripture reading. The Bishop of Bloemfontein spoke, pointing out the many good things on earth that are God’s work, abjuring complainers and agitators”¦.

Seme, the president of the Congress, who, I am told, gets arrested for bad debts every time he comes to Congress, got up and humbly thanked the Bishop for his “helpful and encouraging thoughts.” Seme in frock coat and white spats, a stovepipe hat and morning pants”¦.

The Congress shows a complete lack of organisation or preparation - a ridiculous waste of time”¦.

First day [of Congress] was completely wasted. Fiddled around on morning of the second day, trying to cook up a programme ”¦ until the Mayor of Bloemfontein came ”¦ to address the Congress. Only a handful of people in the audience this morning - not more than 50.

Rev. Calata in replying to Mayor, said his people had been brought up under chiefs and had learned obedience and loyalty and for this reason accepted the Nat. Rep. Act”¦.

Seme’s presidential address (at long last!). Congress is the founder of the unity movement in this country”¦. The whole tone of the Congress, whenever it has had any at all, has been that of looking back to past achievements - if any”¦. [Seme says] chief aim of Congress is to teach unity and co-operation to Africans.

abjure - to solemnly renounce

Nat. Rep. Act - Bunche is referring to the Representation of Natives Act which was passed by Parliament in 1936. It arose out of the Hertzog Bills (see box on page 27)

Part of the reason for this rapid growth in the urban population was that in the 1940s more Africans started coming to the cities as families with the intention of settling there permanently. Previously, younger males came to the cities on their own as labourers, usually on contract and intending to be no more than temporary workers. In the 1940s the urban African population took on a more permanent character. Shanty towns sprang up on the perimeters of the cities, and people tried to build stable family lives in this squalid environment.

This migration to the cities was set in motion by two independent sets of circumstances, one in the urban economy and the other in the countryside.The expansion of secondary industry in the urban areas generated employment opportunities and created an ever-greater demand for labour.This served to attract people to the cities. At the same time, conditions in the rural areas, both on white farms and in the reserves, had by the latter part of the 1930s deteriorated to the extent that large numbers of people were living in misery and some even faced starvation. This pushed people who were desperate for the basic necessities of survival out of the rural areas.

The rural African population experienced deepening poverty from the latenineteenth century onwards. As a result of colonial conquest, Africans were either pushed into marginal areas, which were later proclaimed as reserves, or were hired as cheap labour for settler farms. Many rented land from white farmers in return either for cash, labour service or part of their crop; they are generally referred to as sharecroppers.

The 1913 Natives Land Act, a key pillar in the state's segregationist policies, prevented Africans from owning land in what it proclaimed to be white areas, thus restricting 70% of the population to 8% of the land area.The Land Act also outlawed sharecropping; this forced many families, who up to that point had been able to make an independent living, either into becoming farm labourers or moving onto already crowded reserve land.Many white farmers took this opportunity to expel sharecroppers from their land, forcing thousands of African families into poverty.

The productive capacity of the reserves declined steadily as a result of the overcrowding and overgrazing of land that was marginal to begin with. By the 1940s this deterioration had progressed to the point that very few families in reserves were able to make a living off the land and were increasingly dependent on the money sent home by migrant labourers. Many of the more desperate families decided to migrate to the cities where there was at least the prospect of employment.

Although poverty in the urban areas was not as bad as in the countryside, urban living conditions were nevertheless squalid and unhealthy. Housing was particularly poor and many people were forced to live in shack settlements with the most rudimentary provisions for water and sanitation. The authorities deliberately restricted the housing available to Africans to a few small official housing estates, or locations as they were called, to discourage Africans from settling permanently in the cities.

In addition, wages were low and did not keep pace with inflation. Price increases in essentials such as maize meal and firewood were particularly steep during the war years. Most workers were unskilled and their wages were not enough to cover their families’ most basic needs. Families often depended on wives working, usually as domestics, or being involved in some form of informal economic activity. Children sometimes contributed by begging for food. People were harassed by the state and local authorities who tried to regulate their lives and deport pass-law offenders. Although one did not quite have starvation conditions in the shanty towns, there was grinding poverty and living conditions were extremely poor.

segregationist policies ”” those policies of the apartheid state that treated people differently on the basis of their race

squalid ”” filthy, neglected, poverty-stricken

How did African working-class discontent manifest itself politically?

From these socio-economic changes and the harsh experience of urban life, there emerged two types of African working-class political action. First, there were a series of informal, spontaneous community protests on issues relating to the cost of living. Second, there were impressive achievements in trade union activity.

Community protests

The community protests were spontaneous in the sense of relying on very basic organisation by community members themselves and thus tended to be fragmented. These protests were an expression of peoples’ dissatisfaction with oppressive living conditions and the high cost of subsistence. They dealt with issues such as poor housing, high transport costs and the lack of personal freedom such as the right to be in the city, to move about freely within its precincts, to brew beer or hawk. Two examples of community struggle during the 1940s that deserve special mention are the Alexandra bus boycotts and the squatter movements that arose on the Witwatersrand from 1944 onwards.

In Alexandra transport had always been a sensitive issue; it was some 15 kilometres from the city centre and there was no train service. The attempt in 1940 to impose a 25% increase in bus fares met strong resistance from the residents of Alexandra. They decided to boycott the bus service. Over the next five years there were occasional boycotts involving tens of thousands of people walking or cycling to work for months on end, and there were numerous negotiations over the bus fare increase. In the end, the Alexandra residents won out. The bus fare was reduced and the bus service reconstituted on a more economic basis with the help of a government subsidy.

From 1944 onward there was a sudden mushrooming of shanty towns on open ground on the outskirts of the Witwatersrand urban complex. In Johannesburg alone there were close to 100 000 squatters within four years. Squatters were drawn from two sources. In the first instance, squatter communities originated from families, usually sub-tenants in the official townships, who moved out onto vacant land and used scraps of wood, sacking and corrugated iron to build shelters. Secondly, squatter communities were continuously supplemented by marginal and desperate families who had migrated from the countryside and who could not afford, or were not able to find, accommodation in the townships.

Squatting was a crucially important strategy for survival because it reduced the cost of subsistence by eliminating the need to pay rent, which usually took up as much as a quarter of an unskilled worker’s wage. Whatever else it might have been, the squatter movement must also be seen as a form of African working-class resistance because squatters acted in open defiance of the law and threats from municipalities. Squatting was for many a clear statement of their dissatisfaction with existing conditions in the formal townships. An important motivation for joining a squatter community was the desire to move away from the regulation and supervision of the townships to a freer environment where people had greater control over their lives.

Trade unionism

The second form of African working-class action was to form trade unions and resort to strikes. The African trade union movement experienced a remarkable revival from the late 1930s onwards as a result of the economic upswing. Besides the grievances of African workers, this revival was also due to the organising skill of handful of white communists and liberals. Because of the weakness of African political organisations, including the ANC, they took it upon themselves to start organising African workers. From virtually no union activity in the mid-1930s, by 1940 there were about 20 unions organising approximately 25 000 workers. Five years later there were as many as 120 unions with a membership exceeding 160 000. This is a clear indication of growing class consciousness and militancy among African workers.

There were a large number of work stoppages throughout the 1940s, many of them being wildcat strikes. A surprising number of these strikes were successful. In an environment of high economic growth, employers were prepared to make concessions and even recognize trade unions rather than have anarchy and sabotage in the workplace.

The main development on the trade union front was the formation of a union among workers on the mines, the African Mineworkers’ Union (AMU), in 1941. The miners had serious grievances because of the harsh conditions in the compounds where they lived and because miners were paid considerably less than industrial workers. That the AMU was able to claim a membership of 25 000 within three years was a considerable achievement. The compound system placed workers under close supervision and made it very difficult to recruit them into unions.

In August 1946 the AMU called a strike in support of its demand for a minimum wage of ten shillings a day. Seventy thousand miners came out on what was by far the largest strike by black workers in South African history to that point. The strike was ruthlessly suppressed by police action which left 12 miners dead and 1 200 wounded. There was no improvement in working conditions and the AMU itself was smashed. Despite its failure, the 1946 miners’ strike was important because it demonstrated that miners could be organised despite the controls of the compound system, and also for the galvanising effect it had on a rising generation of young political activists.

wildcat strike ”” a sudden and unofficial strike not organised by a trade union; spontaneous downing of tools or refusal to work

class consciousness ”” an awareness of one’s place in a social system, especially as it relates to the struggle between the capitalist class and working class

How did organised African politics change during the 1940s?

All of the broader socio-economic and political developments mentioned so far had an impact on the ANC and played a role in its regeneration. In addition, from the latter half of the 1930s the growing prevalence of racist ideologies both at home and abroad created a sense of urgency within the remaining core of the organisation that its decline needed to be stopped and reversed. Developments such as the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the passage of the Hertzog Bills in South Africa in 1936 and the consolidation of an aggressive Afrikaner nationalist movement helped spur what remained of the organisation into action. Once the process of regeneration started, the ANC tended to be swept along by the tide of popular protest, trying to keep up with developments rather than leading from the front. It was only in the 1950s that the organisation started taking the initiative in organising popular protest.

The first significant step in the turnaround of the ANC was the removal in 1937 of Seme as president by delegates who were fed up with his incompetence and inactivity. His successor, the Reverend Zaccheus Mahabane, a Methodist clergyman, had good intentions but achieved little. He was succeeded in 1940 by the energetic and intellectually capable Dr.Alfred Bitini Xuma. The election of Xuma as president represented a decisive break with the old, staid, conservative leadership that had led the ANC down a blind alley.

Nazism ”” the philosophy of the National Socialist German Workers Party. It was an extremely racist and authoritarian philosophy, developed in the 1920s and 1930s by its leader, Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s aggressive nationalism was one of the chief causes of World War 2.

Fascism - an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government, started in the 1920s in Italy by Benito Mussolini

Hertzog Bills ”” Prime Minister J.B.M. Hertzog introduced a set of bills in Parliament in 1926. They proposed to remove Africans in the Cape Province from the common voters roll, to establish a Native Representative Council (partly elected and partly appointed) with limited powers, and to add slightly more land to the reserves that had been formed by the 1913 Natives Land Act. The parliamentary opposition refused to support the bills. Ten years later, though, political alliances had changed and the bills became law as the Representation of Natives Act and the Native Trust and Land Act.

Under Xuma’s leadership, the ANC was restructured so that it became much more efficient and politically effective. After Xuma's reforms, the ANC was better able to respond to the challenges of African working-class dissatisfaction. It was the organisational changes of the early 1940s that eventually made it possible for the ANC to lead the mass protests of the 1950s. What were these reforms?

Xuma and his associates worked on a new constitution for the ANC that was implemented in 1943. The new constitution scrapped the privileged position of chiefs within the ANC, gave equal status to women members ”” which paved the way for the formation of the ANC Women’s League in 1948 - and, very importantly, centralised power in the organisation within a fivemember executive committee. This not only made planning, policy making and the execution of political strategies much more effective but also brought unruly provincial factions to heel. Much effort was put into improving the finances of the organisation, recruiting new members and rebuilding its branch structure. Xuma also hired full-time organisers and forged links with organisations such as the Communist Party and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC). Urban branches were encouraged to hold regular open-air meetings in townships. This tactic generated a significant informal following for the ANC, besides a paid-up membership that reached 6 000 by the end of the 1940s.

Report of a Deputation from the ANC to the Minister of Justice, on 8 July 1941

At 2.30 p.m. July 8th, 1941, a deputation of the African National Congress led by Dr. A.B. Xuma, President-General, waited on the Honourable the Minister of Justice. The deputation was the result of telegraphic protests and letter representations made by the President-General of the Congress about relations regarding the shooting and killing of Africans by police, Police raids, and relation of Police and Africans in general. Dr. Xuma was communicated with by telephone from the Department of Justice and advised to form a deputation of three with himself. He quickly made arrangements with Mr. S.P. Matseke - President Transvaal Congress - and Mr. R.V. Selope Thema M.R.C. as other members of the deputation. Unfortunately, three hours before the deputation was due at the Palace of Justice, Mr. Thema declared his inability to join the deputation, consequently, Mr. Edwin Mofutsanyane substituted for Mr. Thema.

The deputation then met the Minister at 2.30. The members were to the Honourable the Minister by Dr. Xuma who also led the representations made. he, at once, expressed appreciation of the Congress to the Minister for his courtesy and public-mindedness in meeting a deputation of Africans who can give him certain aspects of any question in Native Affairs which no non-African is capable of. In the forty-five minutes that ensued various aspects of Police and the Africans were discussed, such as:

(1) Police Raids on African homes and African people. a. The method in which they are conducted. b. Need and reasons for their abolition.

(2) Reckless use of firearms by police on unarmed Africans a. Shooting, killing of two Africans and wounding one African at Sophiatown, June 15th, 1941. b. Police raid and shooting near Roodepoort on Sunday, July 6th, 1941.

(3) Treatment and arrest of certain cases at Benoni and elsewhere.

(4) Police Raid at Western Native Township, Johannesburg on the 22nd June.

(5) Alleged assault of Pregnant woman by police at Sophiatown.

(6) Difficulty for Africans to prove allegations of assault by police.

(7) Raiding and arresting Africans for Native Beer when the municipalities are allowed to brew and sell beer to Africans.

(8) Abuse of the right to use firearms in self-defence or alibi of action taken in the lawful prosecution of duty.

These and other questions formed the basis of the discussion.

The deputation was most sympathetically received by the Minister, who expressed appreciation of the spirit in which the deputation came, and stated that he expects the police to be exemplary in their conduct and not to break the law in its enforcement. He further stated that where evidence was conclusive he would take severe disciplinary measures against any policemen. It was his desire, he said, that no section of the community be singled out for illtreatment. In conclusion, he urged the deputation to draw a memorandum along the lines of their representations and submit the same to him for substantiation and action.

Dr. Xuma again thanked the Minister for his sympathetic and patient hearing of the deputation’s representations as well as for his appreciation of the good intentions of the deputation.

I understand that the deputation is now engaged in the preparation of their memorandum for the Minister as requested.

Source: Thomas Karis and Gwendolen M. Carter (eds.), From Protest to Challenge, A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa 1882-1964, Volume 2. Standford: Hoover Institution Press, 1973, pp.167-8.

Throughout the 1940s the regeneration of the ANC was continuously pushed by the fevers of working-class discontent. The ANC leadership was both challenged and impressed by the relative success of working-class activism, especially the trade union movement. While the organisation was still elitist in outlook, working-class militancy was rubbing off onto the ANC, though in a limited way as the report of the 1941 delegation to the Minister of Justice illustrates.

The reawakening of the ANC was, however, not without its obstructions. The main problem was agrowing tension between the mainstream ANC leaders who wanted to build a broad multi-racial opposition movement and a minority faction referred to as Africanists who felt that Africans should organise separately. The tensions between the mainstream and the Africanists were to grow so severe that eventually the Africanists broke away from the ANC in 1958 to form the Pan Africanist Congress.

During the 1940s, however, the ideology of Africanism found its main expression in the ANC Youth League that was founded in April 1944. The Youth League was another of Xuma's initiatives. It came about as a result of the executive wanting to draw the bright, young talent of the African intelligentsia into the ANC. Xuma was successful in this regard because the two dozen or so founder members of the Youth League were extraordinarily talented people in their mid 20s and early 30s. Mainly teachers and university-educated professionals, this group included Anton Lembede, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Lembede, a dynamic intellectual, was the leader of the group and the main ideologue of Africanism until his premature death in 1947 at the age of 33.

The Youth League was to be the driving force behind the conversion of the ANC from a moderate, elitist organisation to a mass movement for national liberation. Youth Leaguers made several trenchant criticisms of the ANC and its leadership. They accused the organisation of being out of touch with the masses, of catering to the elite sectors of African society, of being poorly organised and of following a strategy of reacting to discrimination and yielding to oppression rather than taking the initiative and forcing change.

intelligentsia ”” an intellectual and well-educated elite within a particular social group, regarded as possessing culture and political influence

ideologue - a dogmatic or uncompromising adherent of an ideology

trenchant ”” cutting, vigorous, effective; usually used to refer to observations, criticisms or arguments

Youth League members took a keen interest in the spontaneous popular protests occurring around them. They were encouraged by developments such as the successful resistance of the Alexandra residents and growing trade union activity. The 1946 mineworkers’ strike had a formative influence on many Youth Leaguers.

Although members of the Youth League did not organise or lead any of the popular struggles of the 1940s, they did recognise that these spontaneous outbursts presented a political opportunity. It was on the basis of this insight that they started formulating a new political strategy of mass action that would harness this popular anger through the use of boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, non-co-operation and stayaways.

Although the ANC mainstream under the leadership of Xuma had made great strides through the 1940s, this was not enough to satisfy the Youth Leaguers with their ideology of Africanism and ideas of mass action. Not only was there mounting tension between moderates and Africanists in the latter part of the 1940s, but there was also a major swing of sentiment in favour of the Africanists after the National Party came to power in 1948 and it became clear that racist policies would be implemented with renewed vigour. Tensions over strategy and policy came to a head at the 1949 conference of the ANC which marked a turning point in the history of the organisation.

At this conference members of the Youth League, together with those in the broader organisation who favoured a more militant approach, banded together to make their mark on the leadership as well as policy within the ANC. First, the executive changed hands. Xuma, who had resisted the use of more aggressive tactics, was replaced by Dr. James Moroka who supported an activist strategy. Walter Sisulu was voted into the key post of secretary general. His fellow Youth Leaguers Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela were also elected to the executive. Second, the 1949 conference witnessed a change in the official policy of the ANC with the adoption of “The Programme of Action”. This was by far the most militant statement of principles yet adopted by the ANC. It committed the ANC to becoming amass organisation and adopting an activist strategy using tactics such as strikes, stayaways, pass burning and other forms of civil disobedience.

This document is in part a response to the anticipation that government policies would be much less favourable to Africans under the newly-elected National Party government of D.F. Malan. More important, it represents the fruition of several years of struggle within the ANC to revive the organisation by extending its appeal and turning from petition to protest. In contrast to the later Freedom Charter, the Programme of Action also implied endorsement of Africanist goals.


Statement of policy adopted at the ANC Annual Conference, 17 December 1949

The fundamental principles of the programme of action of the African National Congress are inspired by the desire to achieve National freedom. By National freedom we mean freedom from white domination and the attainment of political independence.This implies the rejection of the conception of segregation, apartheid, trusteeship, or White leadership which are all in one way or another motivated by the idea of White domination or domination of the Whites over the Blacks. Like all other people the African people claim the right of self-determination.

With this object in view in the light of these principles we claim and will continue to fight for the political rights tabulated on page 8 of our Bill of Rights such as:-

1. the right of direct representation in all the governing bodies of the country - national, provincial and local, and we resolve to work for the abolition of all differential institutions or bodies specially created for Africans, viz. representative councils, present form of parliamentary representation.

2. to achieve these objectives the following programme of action is suggested:-

a. the creation of a national fund to finance the struggle for national liberation.

b. the appointment of a committee to organise an appeal for funds and to devise ways and means therefore.

c. the regular issue of propaganda material through:-

i. the usual press, newsletter or other means of disseminating our ideas in order to raise the standard of political and national consciousness.

ii. establishment of a national press.

3. appointment of a council of action whose function should be to carry into effect, vigorously and with the utmost determination the programme of action. It should be competent for the council of action to implement our resolve to work for:-

a. the abolition of all differential political institutions the boycotting of which we accept and to undertake a campaign to educate our people on this issue and, in addition, to employ the following weapons: immediate and active boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, non-co-operation and such other means as may bring about the accomplishment and realisation of our aspirations.

b. preparations and making of plans for a national stoppage of work for one day as a mark of protest against the reactionary policy of the Government.

4. Economic

a. The establishment of commercial, industrial, transport and other enterprises in both urban and rural areas.

b. Consolidation of the industrial organisation of the workers for the improvement of their standard of living.

c. Pursuant to paragraph (a) herein instructions be issued to Provincial Congresses to study the economic and social conditions in the reserves and other African settlements and to devise ways and means for their development, establishment of industries and such other enterprises as may give employment to a number of people.

5. Education

It be an instruction to the African National Congress to devise ways and means for:-

a. Raising the standard of Africans in the commercial, industrial and other enterprises and workers in their workers’ organisations by means of providing a common educational forum wherein intellectuals, peasants and workers participate for the common good.

b. Establishment of national centres of education for the purpose of training and educating African youth and provision of large scale scholarships tenable in various overseas countries.

6. Cultural

a. To unite the cultural with the educational and national struggle.

b. The establishment of a national academy of arts and sciences.

7. Congress realises that ultimately the people will be brought together by inspired leadership, under the banner of African Nationalism with courage and determination.


From having been a moderate movement expressing the interests of the elite of African society, by 1949 the ANC was poised to become a mass movement with an activist strategy expressing many working-class interests. Although the ideology and the organisational base necessary for turning the ANC into a mass organisation was already in place by the late 1940s, this was only put into practical effect with the start of the Defiance Campaign in 1952. By the end of the 1950s its populist campaigns had won the ANC a membership of about 100 000 in addition to a large informal following. The apartheid state's response to the popular campaigns of the 1950s was to culminate in the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960 and the brutal suppression of the liberation movement that followed.

This chapter has tried to demonstrate that the political developments of the 1940s were based on fundamental changes in South African society. It has shown how rapid industrialisation together with social change in the South African countryside affected the nature of black protest politics and African nationalist thinking. Spontaneous working-class protest caused by their harsh experience of urban life served as the main catalyst for these political changes.