The UN General Assembly adopts resolution 1881, requesting South Africa to release all political prisoners


United Nations

Thursday, 10 October 1963

With the inception of apartheid in 1948, numerous repressive laws limited the freedom and movement of black South Africans. External resistance to the policy came in the form of international condemnation, while internal resistance came from political organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC). By 1950, the ANC's Programme of Action was implemented, which called for a series of strikes and boycotts to undermine the administration of the apartheid government. This led to a number of arrests and violent clashes with police, involving other political organizations such as the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and resulting in incidents such as Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, and the founding of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961.

By 1963, the headquarters of MK were raided and its leaders were arrested. The Rivionia Trial followed in October 1963, in which Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, amongst others, were accused of committing acts of sabotage, terrorism and communism. On 11 October 1963, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted resolution (XVIII), requesting the South African government to abandon the Rivonia Trial and to grant unconditional release to all political prisoners and to all persons imprisoned, interned or subjected to other restrictions for opposing the policy of apartheid. The vote was 106 to 1, with only South Africa voting against.

The apartheid government proceeded with the trial and in June 1964, sentenced 8 of the accused to life imprisonment. The response of the international community was to impose further economic and cultural sanctions on South Africa, which were finally lifted with the collapse of apartheid in 1994.

• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: Feite en Fratse oor 1000 jaar. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.
O’Malley P. ‘1963’, from Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Dialog, [online], available at (Accessed: 17 September 2012)

Last updated : 10-Oct-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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