A series of legislations were passed by the NP led government in the 1950s as it sought to deal with dissent and entrench apartheid. Leading political activists were forced operate underground, some were banned or endorsed out of Cape Town while others were detained and tried. By the late 50s the Defiance Campaign launched by the ANC and its Congress Alliance partners was broken. A new approach for confronting and fighting the apartheid government was needed. In 1959 a group of Africanists led by Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe broke away from the ANC and formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Anti pass campaign was by the PAC organised in 1960 that ended in bloodshed as police fired on unarmed protesters resulting in the death of 69 people and injury of 180. Subsequent to protest the government declared a state of emergency on 30 March 1960 and banned political organizations such as the ANC and PAC. The violent response of the government forced liberation movements to establish more militant methods of waging the struggle against apartheid.

After breaking away from the ANC in 1959, the PAC’s radical ideology gained ground in urban and rural areas of the Western Cape. Braches were opened in various areas such as Paarl and Langa township. The Langa branch which was most vibrant PAC branch in Cape Town solidified the political position of the PAC by 1959. Support for the party came from mainly residents of township single men’ hostels mainly some of who were migrant workers from the Eastern Cape. Consequently, some of the earliest members of the PAC that went for military training came from Cape Town. For instance in 1960 Nana Mahomo from Cape Town left the country just before the March 1960 anti pass campaign.

While this was going on, the PAC now under Potlako Leballo, formed an underground military wing known as Poqo ('Pure') in the 1960s. This became the first black political organization in South Africa that openly accepted the taking of human life as part of its strategy and the PAC was thus manifestly more militant than the ANC. Poqo became an important part of the political landscape in the Western Cape. Incidents such as the Langa Massacre and the Paarl Uprising in the early 60s demonstrated the extent of the Poqo’s presence in Cape and its surrounding areas. In Langa a task force called Lutsha (youth) was formed to act as a military and defence unit of Poqo. Each task force had 10 members and cell leaders in Langa. Members of this group began attacking the police and those perceived to be sympathetic to the government.

The Langa Massacre

The anti pass campaigns of the 1950s laid the foundation for African communities in townships to mobilize more protests against the government. What laid the foundation for the Langa massacre were events that preceded the date on which it occurred. On 21 March 1960 the PAC had called on people to leave their passes at home, march to police stations and surrender themselves up for arrest. Despite the non-violent nature of the campaign, protestors were met with violent opposition from armed policemen, who were jittery after a recent event in Durban where nine policemen were shot. The police panicked at the sight of thousands of protesters at Sharpeville and shot into the crowd. As a consequence 69 people were killed and 180 were injured in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre.

When the news of the massacre reached Cape Town an estimated number of between 5000 and 1000 protestors gathered at the Langa Flats bus terminus around 17h00. This was in direct defiance with the country-wide ban on public meetings and gatherings of more than ten persons imposed by government. The police ordered the crowd to disperse within 3 minutes. When protesters reconvened in defiance, the police charged with batons, tear gassed and shot at the protestors. Three people Cornwell Tshuma, Leonard Mncube and C Makiwane were killed and 26 others were injured. Langa township was gripped by tension and in the turmoil that ensued,   Cape Times employee Richard Lombard was killed by the crowd. A week after the shooting of the protestors, a funeral attended by about 50 000 people was held in Langa.

In the aftermath of the events of 21 March, there was a mass strike in the Peninsula for the abolition of passes and demand for a higher minimum wage for African workers. An estimated 95 per cent of the African population and a substantial number of the coloured community in Cape Town joined the stay away. The police patrolled black townships and placed them under siege for two weeks. On 24 March while the Regional Secretary General of the PAC Philip Kgosana a student at the University of Cape Town - 101 people from Langa handed themselves over to the police for arrest at Caledon Square. On the 25 March between 2000 and 5000 people marched to Caledon Square led by Kgosana and Clarence Makwetu who was the Secretary of the PAC for New Flats branch. Leaders of the march were detained and released on the same day with promises by the commanding officer of Caledon Square Terry Tereblanche that once the tense political situation improved, people would be forced to carry passes in Cape Town. The Minister of Justice suspended passes throughout the country on 25 March 1960. A strike ensued which disrupted economic activity in Cape Town leaving garbage on the streets and cargo still loaded on docking ships. On 30 March 1960 the government declared a State of emergency. On that same date Kgosana led PAC led a march of between 30 000 to 50 000 protestors from Langa and Nyanga to the police headquarters at Caledon Square in Cape Town.

Phillip Kgosana with protestors on his way to Caledon Square. Source: http://www.hrmc.org.za/

The people offered themselves up for arrest for not carrying their passes. Police were temporarily paralyzed with indecision and the event has been seen by some as a critical point in South African history. Kgosana agreed to disperse the protestors in return for a meeting with J B Vorster, then Minister of Justice. He was tricked into dispersing the crowd and was arrested by the police later that same day. Together with other PAC leaders he was charged with incitement, but while he was on bail he skipped the country and went to exile. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and banning all public meetings and detaining several members of the PAC and ANC. The impact of the events in Cape Town was felt in other neighbouring towns such as Paarl, Stellenbosch, Somerset West and Hermanus as anti pass demonstrations spread.

After the government crackdown in the early 1960s, the PAC went underground and began its armed struggle which focused on attacking human targets not government installations. The party attempted to spark an uprising against white minority rule by attacking white people, informers and those suspected to be collaborators with the apartheid government. Cape Town played an important role as a centre for coordinating the attacks. For instance, a man from Libode was instructed by Poqo in Cape Town to kill Mqele Mofu a headman based in Mcambalala location in the Eastern Cape for supporting Chief Kaizer Matanzima. Subsequent to that, in 1963 a group of twenty Poqo men living in Langa township were tried for allegedly attempting to assassinate Matanzima. Letters threatening traditional leaders for collaborating with the apartheid government by supporting the Bantustan leaders in the Eastern Cape were issued by Poqo in Cape Town. On 16 March 1962, Poqo members killed Moyi a policeman in Langa township and attacked police patrol vehicles with petrol bombs and stones. Four members of Poqo found guilty of the murder were hanged on 31 October 1967.

Paarl Uprising

Events such as the anti pass campaign in Paarl, rioting in the suburb of Huguenot by both coloured and African people against a banning order imposed on Elizabeth Mafeking who was president of the African Food and Canning Workers Union, attacks on municipal police in Mbekweni township for morning raids in search of illegal visitors and the response to the PAC’s call on the anti pass campaign. The anti –pass campaign message touched a raw nerve for the Xhosa migrant workers residing in Paarl and they heeded the call. As precursor to the uprising, every branch of the PAC was to recruit 1000 members each. Then on the day of the uprising members would simultaneously lead an attack in different places focusing their assault on strategic places such as police stations and a murder of whites. 

On Thursday 22 November 1962, a group of 250 men carrying axes, pangas and other self made weapons left Mbekweni township and marched to Paarl, a small town not far away from Cape Town. The group dived itself into two with one band aimed at marching to the town’s prison to release fellow comrades in detention. The other group marched to attack the police station.  At tip was conveyed to the police who then sent patrols to deal with the groups. When the police met one group on Paarl’s Main Street, there were violent clashes.  Late in the afternoon, another group of about 75 people attacked the police station and the police shot back killing two people.  As the group retreated, several were shot and others were captured.

Isaac Bangani Tabata. Source: SAHO

After fleeing from the police, some members of the group that attacked the police station met on Loop Street with the group that was heading to attack the prison.  Realizing that their the police were now in pursuit, the group attacked stores, assaulted people in Loop street  killing two people, Ms Rencia Vermeulen and Frans Richards and wounding four others. Police reinforcements were sent from Cape Town to put down the rebellion. Five people who were part of the rebellion were killed and 14 other were wounded. The final death toll from the rebellion was seven people. These included five Poqo members Godfrey Yekiso, Madodana Camagu, John Magigo, Ngenisile Siqwebo. Matthews Mayezana Mali was shot dead by the South African Police on 23 November 1962 while leading a march by a group of PAC demonstrators on their way to the Paarl police station to hand over a list of grievances on the day after the disturbances.

Poor organization and a crackdown by the government succeeded in neutralizing both the PAC and its armed wing. An estimated 3 246 PAC and Poqo members were arrested across the country. Some were sent to Robben Island prison to serve lengthy sentences while others were executed by the government. Despite attempts to reorganize itself as a cohesive political force in the Western Cape, the PAC was greatly weakened and in state of near collapse. Although the PAC established bases in exile in countries such as Tanzania, its armed wing Poqo did not survive. By 1968 the military functions of the PAC were taken over by Azanian People Liberation Army (APLA). The impact of the anti-pass campaign was felt even in rural towns of the Western Cape such as Hermanus, Stellenbosch, Worcester and Somerset West. Protests dispersed by the police through tear gas and police charging with batons. 
Also in the 1960s, the ANC, the SACP, Congress of the Democrats (COD), Coloured People’s Congress (CPC) and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) debated the idea on an armed struggle. At an ANC Working Committee meeting in June 1961 Mandela presented a proposal for a military wing for discussion. On 16 December 1961 uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) (Spear of the Nation) the military wing of the ANC announced its existence by launching its first acts of sabotage.

Some of the leading figures in Sabotage Acts carried out in Cape Town were Looksmart Khulile Ngudle who was the Regional Commander, Dennis Goldberg, Barney Desai and Fred Carneson. Goldberg was responsible for making explosives which were used to commit sabotage. He notes that they preferred avoiding the use of explosives in Cape Town, but chose what he termed ‘cold sabotage’. This involved throwing a rope over a bunch of telephone lines and pulling them down. As a result places such as Somerset West, Strand and Gordon’s Bay were cut off and left without telephone lines. They also dug up cables and cut them off disrupting communications between Cape Town and other coastal towns. In response the security police brought reinforcements from Paarl, Wellington and others areas to assist in patrolling the communication lines. On 19 August 1963 Ngudle was arrested and detained by the security police in Caledon Square was tortured for 16 days. As result he died in detention and the police put a statement claiming he had hanged himself in his pyjama.  Ngudle became the first person to die in detention under the 90 day detention law.  

In 1961 another organization known as the Yu Chi Chan Club or the National Liberation Front (NLF) was formed by the Trotskyist Non European Unity Movement (Subsequent to that, the armed wing of the NEUM known as the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA) was established that same year. One leading figures in the formation of APDUSA was Dr Neville Alexander. The idea of forming APDUSA was taken after the Sharpeville Massacre by the Society of Young Africa (SOYA). It was hoped that this would launch a mass political organization called the African People’s Democratic Union (APDU). In December 1960 Jane Gool, Ali Fataar, and Isaac Bangani Tabata launched APDU in Cape Town. Braches were established in Cape Town and Paarl. In January 1961 NEUM called members to a secret Head Unity Movement Committee meeting where APDU was reconfigured as APDUSA in attempt to appeal to broader mass base. APDUSA was formally launched in Cape Town in April 1962 at its first national conference. Tabata was elected as president.

APDUSA spread took over branches of APDU in Paarl and Cape Town, and extended to Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Pniel. The organization established itself in natal in places such as Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Dundee. In 1964 the NEUM changed its name and became the Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA) but retained the name of its armed wing. In early 1971 numerous members of APDUSA were arrested by the security police under the Terrorism Act in various places including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Natal and Welkom amongst other areas. An estimated 200 members of APDUSA were arrested detained and sentenced to long prison terms while others went to exile. This crippled UMSA and APDUSA effectively quelling the activities of the organization across the country.

Thus, by the end of the 1960s, political organisations and their armed wings were severely crippled by the government’s heavy handed response. The leadership of the ANC, PAC and NEUM was either in prison, banned or in exile. Structures of political organisations opposed to apartheid within South Africa were too weak to pose a threat to the government. This left the political space open for emergence of new organisations and a daunting task for liberation movements to rebuild their structures.

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