Liberation history Timeline 1950-1959


In the 1950s the National Party-led government began implementing and consolidating apartheid by enacting legislation that entrenched racial discrimination, the most important of which were the Population Registration Act, the Groups Areas Act, the Immorality Amendment Act and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act. The period also witnessed a convergence of forces opposed to apartheid as different anti-apartheid movements began to cooperate and coordinate resistance more effectively than they had before, as evidenced in holding of the Congress of the People in Kliptown and the adoption of the Freedom Charter. Organisations opposed to apartheid launched boycotts, demonstrations and marches to protest against the tightening grip of the government’s racist polices. During the 1950s women were at the forefront of resistance to apartheid in marches and demonstrations. The government responded by arresting and banning the leaders of those opposed to its policies – a case in point being the 1956 Treason Trial. 

Florence Matomela leads an anti-pass demonstration resulting in the burning of passes in Port Elizabeth.
Nelson Mandela succeeds Ashley Peter Mda as president of African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).
Walter Sisulu’s book South Africa Behind Bars is handed out among the representatives of the different countries during a session of the United Nations Organisations (UNO).
January, A crowd of Blacks in Newclare, Johannesburg attack a Black policeman attempting to arrest an African civilian allegedly in position of liquor.
6-8 January, The last annual conference of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) before its dissolution is held in Johannesburg. It attacks the African National Congress’ (ANC) Programme of Action.
February, The ANC National Executive appoints its Council of Action. It consists

Dr James Moroka as President-General
G. Radebe (Transvaal Congress) as Secretary
C.S.R Ramohanoe (Transvaal President) and two ANCYL members G.M. Pitje and Oliver Tambo.
March, Dr A.B. Xuma resigns from the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) after differences with the ANC Youth League.
25 March, The ANC and Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) hold a ‘Defend Free Speech’ convention in Johannesburg in response to the Suppression of Communism Act and proclaim 1 May as Freedom Day, calling on all organisations to protest by staging demonstrations. At this convention Dr. James Moroka gives his first public address.
May, The Government publishes the Unlawful Organisations Bill, subsequently known as the Suppression of Communism Act.
Sam Kahn and Dr Yusuf Dadoo have restrictions imposed on them under the Riotous Assemblies Act. They are prevented from speaking in eight major centres.
1 May, A general strike against all discriminatory laws and for full franchise rights for all is held. Police open fire in the Alexandra Township and other areas on the Reef, killing 18 and wounding 30 people.
5-6 May, An emergency meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSA is convened in Cape Town to discuss the impending Unlawful Organisations Bill. The meeting considers how the CPSA is going to deal with the Government’s threat.
12 May, The Immorality Amendment Act No 21 of 1950 is passed, and prohibits “adultery, attempted adultery or related immoral acts” between black and white people. The Act in essence criminalised sexual intercourse between different racial groups.
African Drum magazine is founded by Robert Crisp and is used to depict Black South Africans as ‘noble savages’.
14 May, The ANC Working Committee calls an emergency conference. The Conference is attended by the representatives from the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), African People’s Organisation (APO), ANC Youth League, Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU) and the CPSA. After a lengthy discussion on the Unlawful Organisations Bill and the Group Areas Bill the conference adopts a resolution accepted by all represented organisations. To read the resolutions of the conference click here.
15 May, Two thousand demonstrators gather at the Cape Town City Hall to protest against the Unlawful Organisations Bill.
20 May, Jordan K. Ngubane writes an editorial on the events of 1 May entitled ‘Post-Mortem on a Tragedy’ which is published in Inkundla ya Bantu.
21 May, The ANC’s NEC meets at Thaba ‘Nchu and decides to call a national one-day stay at home protest on 26 June. This was to protest against the Unlawful Organisations Bill which it felt was aimed at Africans. To read the statement on this meeting click here.
28 May, A ‘United Anti-Fascist Rally’ is held in Durban and is addressed by Dr. James Moroka.
30 May, The ANCYL (Transvaal) issues a statement supporting the National Day of Protest proposed by the ANC.
June, The Central Committee of the CPSA meets in Cape Town to discuss the impending banning of the organisation. The options for the Party are either to go underground or to dissolve rather than face a host of breaches of law and subsequent penalties, which would curtail members’ ability to fight and advance the cause.  Dr. Yusuf Dadoo proposes that  the Party goes underground.  Only Bill Andrews and Michael Harmel oppose dissolution of the Party. Moses Kotane, JB Marks, and E.T Mofutsanyana point out the dangers of going underground without preparation. The CPSA declares that it will dissolve itself a few days before the Government passes the Suppression of Communism Act.
11 June, The ANC and the SAIC decide to proclaim a “National Day of Mourning“, on 26 June, with a countrywide stay-at-home strike. They favour a stay-at-home strike and prayer because of the shootings on 1 May.
15 June, A flyer is issued in support of the National Day of Protest.
16 June, Rev J.J. Skomolo writes a letter to Professor Z.K. Matthews with regards to the National Day of Protest. He cautions against holding the stay at home protest given the violent response by the police during the May protest. To read his letter click here
18 June, Walter Sisulu addresses a meeting at New Brighton in Port Elizabeth and tells the crowd about the decision that everyone should stay away from their work on 26 June as a sign of protest against the “Notorious Bill of the Malan Government”, the Unlawful Organisations Bill.
20 June, Sam Khan, a Native Representative in Parliament, announces in the House of Assembly that CPSA will dissolve from this day onwards. He states that:

“Recognising that on the day the Suppression of Communism Bill becomes law, everyone of our members, merely by virtue of their membership, may be liable to be imprisoned without the option of a fine for a maximum of ten years, the Central Committee of the Communist Party has decided to dissolve the party as from today, Tuesday 20 June 1950” (Levy, n.d.: 94)
26 June, A Day of National Protest and Mourning is held countrywide. June 26 is observed as South African Freedom Day, until 1994, when the date of the first democratic elections, 27 April, became an official public holiday known as Freedom Day.
Leaders of the Indian Congresses, APO and CPSA pledge their support and join the ANC on a coordinating committee with Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Cachalia as joint secretaries. 
The Durban City Council dismisses 334 Indian municipal council workers as against 80 African workers. This is a deliberate attempt to divide workers and also discourage them from heeding the call to stay at home.
The Suppression of Communism Act is approved by parliament. The Minister of Justice appoints a liquidator, a Mr Villiers Louw, to wind up the affairs of the Party. 
7 July, Population Registration Act, Act No 30 of 1950 is passed. This act enforces registration according to a government determined colour classification.
The Group Areas Act No 41 of 1950 is passed. The Act divided South African residential areas along racial and ethnic lines, designating residential areas for Blacks, Whites, Indians, and Coloureds.
17 July, The Internal Security Act (Suppression of Communism Act) No 44 of 1950 comes into force.
26 July, A ‘Report on the National Day of Protest’ is issued by the ANC Secretary-General and initialled by Nelson Mandela.
20 August, Walter Sisulu officiates at a meeting held in Lady Selborne, a non-white township in Pretoria.
ANC and SAIC leaders are arrested and charged for promoting Communism in terms of the newly passed Suppression of Communism Act. They are released on £100 bail.
September, The first round of ‘naming’ letters are sent out which creates the Minister of Justice’s list of ‘office-bearers, members or active supporters’ of the CPSA.
11 September, Jan Smuts dies on his farm Doornkloof, near Irene close to Pretoria, after suffering a coronary thrombosis and several heart attacks.
30 September – 2 October, Walter Sisulu speaks at the congress of the Transvaal branch of the ANC, held at Springs.
November, Despite appearing on the final list of communists, Bram Fischer is granted admission to senior advocate thus becoming a member of the Queens Council.
Dr. Yusuf Dadoo makes a statement welcoming the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the treatment of Indians in South Africa.
12 November, J.B Marks, a member of the CPSA, is elected Transvaal President of the ANC. As a result Selope Thema forms the “National Minded Bloc”, a conservative breakaway faction that opposes the co-operation between the ANC and the CPSA.
6 December, Walter Sisulu, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and Michael Harmel speak at a meeting of the South African Peace Movement in the Ambagsaal, Johannesburg.
15-17 December, The ANC hosts its annual conference. At the conference, the NEC submits its draft report.
26 December, William H. Andrews passes away in Cape Town at the age of 80. Dr. Yusuf Dadoo speaks at his funeral.
The African Drum magazine is taken over by Jim Bailey, and the magazine is renamed Drum. It is to become a legendary resource for anti-apartheid content during the 1950s.
The Black Building Workers Act No 27 is passed.  While the Act provided for the training of black artisans in the building trade, it made it an offence for a black person to do any skilled work except in areas designated for black people.
Sonia Bunting attends the World Youth Congress in Berlin as part of a delegation led by Ahmed Kathrada
February, The Franchise Action Council (FRAC) is established in Cape Town to defend the Coloured vote after the Separate Representation of Voters’ Bill is introduced in Parliament. Former CPSA member Reginald September is elected secretary and the committee includes Johnson Ngwevela, Sam Kahn, Fred Carneson and John Gomas. The President of APO, S.M Rahim resigns in disgust and joins FRAC. He declares the APO a moribund organisation.
1 March, Dr. D.F Malan announces the Separate Representation of Voters Bill to remove Coloureds from the common voters roll in Cape.
30 March, The Group Areas Act comes into effect. A Land Tenure Board is set up under the Act to set aside separate areas for various racial groups.
April, The Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) issues a statement entitled ‘A Declaration to the People of South African by the Non-European Unity Movement’. The statement decried racial discrimination in South Africa and compared to Nazi ideology Germany.
May, The War Veterans Torch Commandos, consisting largely of white ex-servicemen opposing government march to the parliament to protest against the Separate Representation of Voters Bill.
7 May, FRAC launches a one-day work and school stay away in Cape Town to protest against the Separate Representation of Voters Bill.
14 May, The cabinet votes for the removal of the Coloured people from the voters roll.
23 May, S.M. Makgatho, president of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) from 1917 to 1924, dies in Riverside, Pretoria at the age of 90.
7 June, Pixely ka Isaka Seme president of the ANC from 1930 to 1937 dies in Johannesburg. His funeral is attended by over 2000 mourners.
15-18 June, The ANC’s NEC meets to deliberate further on what actions to take in expressing their discontent against the National Party government. The ANC also invites the SAIC and FRAC to discuss a joint campaign of civil disobedience and general strikes against the government.
18 June, The Suppression of Communism Amendment Act No 50 and The Separate Representation of Voters Act No 46 are passed.
6 July, The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act No 52 is passed
17 July, The Bantu Authorities Act No 68 is passed. It provided for the abolition of the Native Representative Council (NRC) and the establishment of tribal authorities in the reserves.
29 July, The ANC calls a meeting in Johannesburg in which the SAIC, the APO and FRAC executives are invited to chart way forward for the Defiance Campaign. However APO rejects the ANC invitation and never attends the meeting. FRAC is invited as an observer since it was not a national organisation. An ultimatum has to be addressed to the Government to repeal all discriminating Legislation before or on 29 February 1952, and if this does not take place a mass contravention of such legislation will be launched in all sections of the country.
8 November, The Joint Planning Council completes its work and makes its report available to the executive committees of the ANC and the SAIC.
23 November, M.B.Yengwa and other members of the ANC Youth League in Natal nominate Albert Luthuli for Presidency of the ANC in Natal and Luthuli is subsequently elected to this position. In his address to the Annual Conference of the ANC in Natal, Albert Luthuli calls for unity among Africans and redefines the challenges that face them in the light of new pieces of apartheid legislation being introduced by the Malan Government.
28 November, Clements Kadalie, founder of the Industrial and Commercial Worker’s Union (ICWU), dies at his home in East London.
December, Nelson Mandela is banned under the Riotous Assemblies Act.
Walter Sisulu, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, J.B. Marks and Yusuf Cachalia (all members of the Joint Planning Council) together with R.T. Chari, former secretary of the Indian High Commissioner in the Union, visit Basutoland. They have discussions there with headmen about the inauguration of the Protectorate by the Union of South Africa.
15-17 December, The ANC adopts a report of the Joint Planning Council at its Bloemfontein conference where Dr. James Moroka gives his presidential address. The draft report of the NEC is also submitted.
20 December, I.B. Tabata gives the opening address at the first conference of the Society of Young Africa.
1951-1956 The removal of Coloured voters from the common roll trig­gers a prolonged constitutional battle.
Brian Percy Bunting is banned.
Father Trevor Huddleston writes to Christian Action asking for financial support in defending and assisting the families of volunteers in the Defiance Campaign.
Florence Matomela, one of the first women volunteers in the Defiance Campaign is arrested and spends six weeks in prison.
Fatima Meer is banned under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Lillian Ngoyi participates in a protest march against the banning of the Secretary-General of the Garment Workers Union (GWU), Solly Sachs.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court sets aside the Separate Representation Voters Bill after an appeal by some Coloureds voters on the grounds that the entrench clause in South Africa requires two-third majority of both houses of parliament in a joint sitting.  
Walter Sisulu travels throughout the country to organise the Defiance Campaign and addresses numerous meetings. Among others, Walter Sisulu visits Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
21 January, A letter from the ANC, co-signed by Dr James Moroka and Walter Sisulu, is sent to the Prime Minister, Dr D.F. Malan. The letter calls for the repeal of repressive legislation and threatens a defiance campaign.
25-27 January, At its 20th annual conference in Johannesburg, the SAIC accepts the report of the Joint Planning Committee. Dr S.M. Molema, National Treasurer of the ANC, delivers the keynote address. Dr. Yusuf Dadoo gives his presidential address which focuses various issues both locally and globally.
29 January, The Prime Minister Dr D.F. Malan responds to the letter of the ANC through his private secretary, Mr A. Camp. In the letter, he lambastes the ANC for writing to him directly instead of going through the Minister of Native Affairs.
11 February, The ANC responds to the Letter from the Prime Minister, Dr D.F. Malan, and tells the Prime Minister that the Department of Native Affairs is not the only channel of communication they can use to communicate with him.
20 February, The SAIC writes a letter to Prime Minister Dr. D.F. Malan informing him of the resolutions made at their 20th conference.
16 March, FRAC calls a special conference in Cape Town to discuss what role Coloured people would play in protests on 6 April 1952 during the tercentenary (300 years) celebrations of Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape.
6 April, During the tercentenary celebrations of Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape, the Joint Planning Council holds mass meetings and demonstrations throughout the country in preparation for the Defiance Campaign. The ANC and TIC issue a flyer entitled “April 6: People Protest Day.”
26 April, Popo Molefe, co-founder of the Azanina People’s Organisation (AZAPO), is born in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.
27 April, Walter Sisulu, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, A.M. Dadoo and Yusuf Cachalia are detained at Idutywa in the Transkei as they entered the area without the necessary permission.
22 May, The leaders of the Congress movement issue a statement condemning the first banning orders under the Suppression of Communism Act.
25 May, Sam Kahn is expelled from Parliament and Fred Carneson from the Cape Provincial Council under the Suppression of Communism Act as their names appeared on the liquidators list of former members of the banned CPSA. At the same time the Guardian is banned under the Suppression of Communism Act.
The Guardian is immediately replaced by The Clarion which is placed under the editorship of Brian Bunting.
31 May, The ANC’s NEC meets in Port Elizabeth and announces that the Defiance Campaign would begin on 26 June.
1 June, A day after receiving his banning orders, Moses Kotane, defies the order and speaks at a public meeting in Alexandra Township. He is arrested the next day.
The ANC and the SAIC’s NEC hold a meeting in Port Elizabeth to discuss the details of the Defiance Campaign.
9 June, Walter Sisulu speaks at a united meeting of the African National Congress and South African Indian Congress in Johannesburg.
22 June, Volunteers make a pledge to participate in the Defiance Campaign.
26 June, The Defiance Campaign of 1952 begins in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Over 8,000 people from all racial groups court imprisonment by contravening selected discriminatory laws and regulations.
The ANC and the SAIC send a memorandum to the United Nations entitled The Disabilities of the Non-White Peoples of South Africa.
27 June, The Black (Native) Laws Amendment Act No 54 is passed.
July, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo makes a statement from the dock before his sentencing at the Johannesburg Magistrates Court for defying his banning order. To read extracts of his statement click here.
11 July, The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act No 67 is passed.
21 July, Walter Sisulu makes a statement before his sentencing for a pass

30 July, Nelson Mandela is served with a warrant for his arrest on a charge of violating the Suppression of Communism Act.  
August, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo set up South Africa's first Black law firm in Chancellor House opposite the Johannesburg Magistrate Courts.
Nelson Mandela writes an article entitled ‘We Defy’ on the aims of the Defiance Campaign which is published in Drum Magazine.
12 August, Twenty leaders are arrested for participating in the Defiance Campaign and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for “perpetrating unlawful acts to bring about political, industrial, social, and economic change in the Union.”  This, by definition of the Act, was tantamount to Communism. Congress leaders are defended by Bram Fischer. Dr Moroka dissociates himself from his fellow trialists. The trial drags on for five months and all the leaders are found guilty of ‘statuary communism’.  The accused included Dr. Jams Moroka, President of the ANC, Walter Sisulu Secretary-General of the ANC, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, President of the SAIC, and Nelson Mandela, President of ANC Youth League, JB Marks, D. Bopape, Dan Tloome, James Philips, Nana Sita, Ahmed Kathrada, Maulvi and Yusuf Cachalia.
30 August, Chief Albert Luthuli issues a statement on the launching of the Defiance Campaign in Natal.
12 September, A delegation of 13 Asian and Arab States request the General Assembly of the United Nations to consider the question of race conflict in South Africa resulting from the apartheid policies of the Government of the Union of South Africa.
18 September, The Minister of Justice, CR Swarts, announces in Parliament that thirty-three trade union officials and eighty-nine other people were served with notices in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act.
22 September, Thousands of supporters of the 20 liberation movement leaders, who are on trial under the Suppression of Communism Act, demonstrate at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court during the preliminary trial.
October, The Mau Mau Rebellion begins in Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta is arrested by the British colonisers on the suspicion of being the main architect of the rebellion. His Africanist approach is influential on the development of Black Consciousness among South African Black activists.
10-12 October, Nelson Mandela is elected as president of the Transvaal African National Congress at its conference to replace the banned J.B Marks.
18 October, Riots break out at Port Elizabeth’s New Brighton train station when a railway constable tries to arrest two Blacks suspected of stealing a tin of paint.
20 October, The ANC’s local leaders in Port Elizabeth issue a statement on the violence which occurred on 18 October.
27 October, The press reports a statement by Dr J.L.Z Njongwe, the ANC President in Western Cape, that “If you hear one day that Ciskei has also gone into action, you will know that the victory will be achieved within five weeks”.
November, The National Action Council (formed by the ANC, SAIC and FRAC) convenes a meeting at Darragh Hall, in Johannesburg, with the intention of forming a Congress of Democrats (COD).
Brian Bunting replaces Sam Kahn as the Native Representative for the Western Cape in Parliament.
8 November, Police fire on demonstrators in Kimberley. Fourteen are killed and 39 wounded.
A flyer entitled ‘Police Shootings Must Stop!’ is issued by the National Action Committee, ANC and SAIC.
10 November, A one-day general strike is held in Port Elizabeth to protest police attacks in Kimberley and East London, which results in 22 dead and 108 injured. The strike also protests against the City Council’s imposition of a curfew and month-long ban on public meetings. In Johannesburg, ANC leaders called on all Africans to keep calm.
12 November, Chief Albert Luthuli is dismissed as a traditional chief by the government after he refuses to resign as the ANC leader in Natal. In his response Albert Luthuli issues a statement entitled ‘The Road to Freedom is via the Cross’.
December, A review of the year by the Working Committee of the ANC (Cape) is circulated to all branches.
2 December, The 20 leaders arrested in connection with the Defiance Campaign are found guilty of ‘statutory communism’ and are sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years.
5 December, The United Nations General Assembly sets up a Commission on the Racial Situation in South Africa.
8 December, A mixed group consisting of three white men, including Patrick Duncan; four white women, thirteen Indian men, six Indian women, ten African men and two African women enter Germiston location in the Witwatersrand area without permits.
17 December, Walter Sisulu is served with notification, in terms of section 9 of the Suppression of Communism Act, whereby he is prohibited, for a period of six months, from attending any meeting in the Union of South Africa.
18-20 December, At the annual ANC conference, Chief Albert Luthuli is elected to replace Dr James Moroka as General-President of the ANC. The conference also passed an emergency resolution which would give the NEC the power to “carry out any decision it might consider expedient to assure the continuance of the struggled in any shape or form” (Levy, 2011, 120).
The National Party, led by DF Malan, wins a majority of the seats in the 1953 South African General Election.
The Black Labour Relations Regulation Act (Black Labour and Settlement of Disputes Act) No 48 is passed.
A national conference of the CPSA is called to officially reconstitute the Party. It is attended by 25 delegates representing cells from all over the country. It is the first formal underground meeting and is held behind the retail shop of an Indian merchant in a small Eastern Transvaal town. At the meeting the name South African Communist Party (SACP) replaces the old Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). Dr. Yusuf Dadoo is elected Chairman of the Central Committee and Moses Kotane as the Secretary.
Billy Nair is invited to join the SACP.
The first three tribal authorities are established in the Transvaal.
Nelson Mandela drafts the M-Plan to organise Black people on a street/block basis so that the ANC would be in touch with the people on a daily basis.  
7 January, Joseph (Joe) Matthews writes a letter to his father, Professor Z. K Matthews, who was visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York informing him about secret meeting between ANC and SAIC leadership.
13 January, Derek Hanekom, Minister of the Department Agriculture and Land Affairs in the first democratic parliament, is born in Cape Town.
24 February, The Public Safety Act No. 3 is passed which allows the government to declare a state of emergency.
4 March, Criminal Law Amendment Act No 8 is passed. This Act makes civil disobedience punishable by a three year prison sentence.
April, The Bantu Education Act No 47 is passed and establishes an inferior education system for Africans based upon a curriculum intended to produce manual laborers and obedient subjects. The government denied funding to mission schools that rejected Bantu Education, leading to the closure of many of the best schools for Africans.
24 April, Chief Albert Luthuli calls off the Defiance Campaign after the introduction of the Criminal Amendment Law Act and the Public Safety Act.
May, An interview with Chief Albert Luthuli appears in Drum Magazine.
9 May, The South African Liberal Party is founded at a meeting of the South African Liberal Association in Cape Town. Founding members include Peter Brown, Margaret Ballinger, Alan Paton, Leo Marquard and Selby Msimang.
June, Nelson Mandela writes an article entitled ‘Searching on the Liberal Party’ which is published in Liberation, a new monthly periodical edited by Michael Harmel.
Nelson Mandela presides over a meeting in the Odin Cinema in Sophiatown alongside Yusuf Cachalia who is later arrested on the platform by the police.
26 June, The first anniversary of the Defiance Campaign is observed as a day of commemoration and rededication.
July, Brian Percival Bunting is expelled from Parliament. Ray Alexander is put forward to replace him.
15 July, Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe, a former teacher and member of the ANC, travel oversees under false names and without passports.
18 July, A memorial to Johannes Nkosi is unveiled in Durban. At the unveiling a message is read out from Moses Kotane, Walter Sisulu, J.B. Marks and Dr. Yusuf Dadoo.
21 July, Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe arrive in London, England. From there they go to Bucharest, Romania, where they attend the communist “World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship”. After this they embark on an extensive tour through the countries behind the iron curtain as guests of the Communists, travelling through Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Communist China.
August, FRAC calls a People’s Convention. Out of this meeting the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO) – later the Coloured People’s Congress – is formed and becomes the successor to the APO. James La Guma is elected president and Reggie September as secretary.
15 August, President of the Cape ANC, Professor Z.K Matthews proposes a Congress of the People in his presidential address to the annual provincial conference of the organisation in Cradock.
20 August, Bram Fischer is served with two notices under the Suppression of Communism Act, banning him from any gathering for two years, from the membership of the Congress of Democrats and the South African Peace Council as well as 15 other organisations, some of which he is not even a member.
22 August, Bram Fischer beats his banning by recording a message for the inaugural conference of the South African Peace Council where he was to have delivered the opening address.
September, Ray Alexander is ordered to resign from her position as General Secretary of the Food and Canning Workers Union (FCWU) and is prohibited from attending any gatherings of any nature in two years.
October, The founding conference of the Congress of Democrats is called by the Springbok Legion, the Johannesburg group of the Congress of Democrats and the Cape Town Democratic League. Rusty Bernstein makes the keynote speech.
9 October, The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act No 49 is passed, this is also known as “petty apartheid”. This Act for instance imposed segregation on all public facilities, including post offices, beaches, stadiums, parks, toilets, cemeteries, buses and trains amongst other facilities.
December, Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe return to South Africa.
13 December, Nelson Mandela speaks for an hour and a half at a big meeting in Soweto. His speech is recorded inaccurately by a policeman, Detective-Sergeant Helberg, and later used as evidence of treason against him.
18-20 December, The annual ANC conference in Queenstown adopts a proposal to call a Congress of the People.
SACPO organises a bus boycott in Cape Town to protest against the introduction of segregation on buses.
The ANC, its youth and women’s league begin to work with other organisations to oppose the Bantu Education Act.
Oliver Tambo is banned and forbidden from addressing or attending gatherings. His banning order, however, does not require him to resign from the ANC.
H.F. Verwoed states in his speech in the Senate that the human reality needs to be racially defined and racially organised under the ‘supremacy of the white race.’
Phylis Naidoo joins the NIC and raises funds for detainees arrested for Treason.
1 January, The Bantu Education Act comes into effect.
6 February, Walter Sisulu addresses an ANC meeting in Durban and gives a comprehensive account of his travels through Eastern Europe, Russia and the People’s Republic of China.
9 February, Walter Sisulu acts as a speaker at a meeting of the “South African Society for Peace and Friendship with the Soviet Union”, which is held in the Ambagsaal, Johannesburg. Sisulu talks of the way in which Communism has been implemented in Russia and China.
14 February, Walter Sisulu acts as a speaker at an ANC meeting, which is held in the Western Black Township of Johannesburg and again relates his visit to Eastern Europe, Russia and China.
March, Brain and Sonia Bunting arrive in the Soviet Union as guests of the All-Soviet Society for Cultural Ties with Foreign Countries (VOKS).
Sam Kahn visits Russia. He is prohibited from attending gatherings and is subsequently convicted of violating his ban, but the conviction is overturned on appeal.
The Torch Printing and Publishing Company (Pty) Ltd is charged with promoting hostility between Blacks and Whites.
16 March, The Riotous Assemblies Act and Suppression of Communism Amendment Act are passed. The Act prohibits listed/banned persons from being members of specific organisations or from attending gatherings and also empowers the Minister of Justice to prohibit any gathering in a public place for specified periods.
24 March, The executives of the ANC, SAIC, SACTU, CPC and COD meet in Tongaat. A joint planning committee is elected which is accountable to the National Action Council. The committee is to plan a Congress of the People. It is made up of eight members from each organisation involved. It also begins to issue a regular newsletter entitled Speaking Together.       
15 April, The Riotous Assemblies Act and Suppression of Communism Amendment Act comes into effect.
17 April, The first National Conference of Women from various organisations was held in the Trades Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa. This leads to the formation of Federation of South Africa Women (FEDSAW).
May, The NEC’s of the ANC, SAIC, COD and SACPO approve a plan campaign known as the ‘Resist Apartheid Campaign’.
Potlako Leballo is expelled from the ANC and suspended as chairman of the executive committee of the Orlando branch of the ANCYL.
2 May, Bulelani Ngcuka, head of the Scorpions and National Prosecuting Authority, is born in Middledrift, Cape Province.
June, The ANC holds a ‘Resist Apartheid’ conference in Johannesburg which declares its solidarity with the people of the Western Areas against their forced removal.
26 June, Police raid a ‘Freedom Rally’ at the Trades Hall in Johannesburg.
23 July, Walter Sisulu is served with notifications which require him, under Section 5 of the Suppression of Communism Act, to resign as member, official or office-bearer from certain organisations and not take part in any gatherings at any place within the Union of South Africa or the area of South West Africa for a period of two years.
24 July, Walter Sisulu is arrested in the Botshabelo Location, Bloemfontein, and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act.
26 July, Walter Sisulu appears before the Magistrate Court of Bloemfontein and is released on ₤50 bail. His case is set down to be heard before the Supreme Court in August 1955.
1 August, The Native Resettlement Act No 19 is passed. The Act gives powers to the Government to remove Africans from any area within and next to the magisterial district of Johannesburg. In essence, this Act wants to effect the removal of Africans from Sophiatown to Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg.
23 August, Ngconde Balfour, politician and Minister of Correctional Service, is born in the Eastern Cape.
September, Walter Sisulu approaches a number of prominent organisations in the USA for funds for the “Campaign Plan” as a representative of the National Action Council of the Congress of the People.
October,  The right wing trade unions, walks out of the South Africa Trades and Labour Council (SATLC) conference held in Durban to form the Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA).
Monty Naicker is served with a two year banning order and is forced to resign from the NIC and other organisations he is involved in.
12 October, The Government bans, under the Suppression of Communism Act, the weekly periodical Advance, one of the few sources of information about non-White political movements.
28 October, Advance is renamed New Age with Brian Bunting as editor.
November, The Orlando Africanist, a newly formed group in Orlando periodically distributes a mimeographed newssheet called The Africanist, which became the mouthpiece of orthodox-nationalist criticism against the ANC’s policy of multiracialism.
30 November, J.G. Strijdom becomes the sixth Prime Minister of South Africa.
December, The ANC’s annual conference, held in Stanger, Durban, approves the activities of the National Action Council. It is decided that the Congress of the People had to be a unique mass meeting of delegates representing all the inhabitants, urban and rural, Black and White. The conference also resolves to reject the Bantu Education Act and calls on African parents to withdraw their children from primary schools indefinitely as from 1 April 1955.
5 December, Pietermaritzburg holds its regional conference of the Congress of the People. The conference is opened by Robert Resha and is attended by 197 delegates.
The government announces that women must carry passes.
The Black Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Amendment Act No 59 is passed. The Act provided for separate conciliation bodies for Black workers except those employed in farming, domestic service, governmental/educational service and in the coal and gold mining industries.
The Women’s Defence of the Constitution League (later called The Black Sash) is formed in Cape Town by Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley, Elizabeth McLaren, Tertia Pybus, Jean Bosazza and Helen Newton-Thompson.
The Tomlinson Commission report is published and calls for a massive job creation programme in the reserves. To rehabilitate the economy in the reserves in the first 10 years, the Commission called for £104 million to be spent each year for 50 000 jobs and for private white investment. The Commission claimed that if this rate of development was maintained, reserves could support a population of 9 million people by 1981.   
February, Moses Kotane and Maulvi Cachalia leave South Africa, without passports, to attend the Asia-African conference in Bandung to be held in April. While on route they are arrested in Cairo, Kotane and Cachalia are detained by the police after their names appeared on ‘The 500 Most Dangerous Communists in the World’ list published by the United States Congress.
Dr M.M. Motala is re-elected chairman of the NIC with S.B. Mungal and AS. Chetty as joint secretaries.
The National Action Council sets dates for the COP elections which would take place between March and 15 April with the actual Congress of the People taking place in June.
9 February, About 60 000 people are forcibly removed from Johannesburg's Western Areas as part of the policy of Group Areas Act. The government removes the Black residents of Sophiatown and declares that the area is set aside for a Whites only suburb, which is to become known as Triomph.
20 February, The National Action Council sets this day as ‘National Demands Day’, a day to collect demands to be included in the Freedom Charter.
March, The ANC’s NEC decides to postpone the date which parents were to withdraw their children from schools.
5-6 March, The South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), the first non-racial union, is formed. The union emerged out of 19 trade unions representing approximately 20 000 workers. Pieter Beyleveld is elected president and Leslie Masina as general secretary.
April, The Sub-Committees of the National Action Council start to sort out demands to be included in the Freedom Charter.
1 April, The government assumes control of Bantu schools through the Bantu Education Act and the ANC, in protest, decides to plan a massive boycott by teachers and students.
7-9 April, A National Council of Education is formed at a weekend conference in Port Elizabeth. It is composed of representatives of organisations opposed to Bantu Education.
12 April, A boycott of Bantu Education takes place on the East Rand and spreads across the Transvaal. This began a series of protests which last a week.
18 April, Moses Kotane and Maulvi Cachalia attend the Bandung Conference as observers. A message of greeting from Dr. Yusuf Dadoo is read out at the conference.
May, The African Education Movement is established by representatives from the churches, ANC and South African Congress of Democrats (COD) in an attempt to improve the standard of alternative education to Bantu Education.
The formation of SACTU is strengthened by the decision of CNETU to dissolve and in turn merge with the new non-racial trade union SACTU.
25-26 June, About 8 000 people representing the ANC, the COD, the SAIC, the Coloured People’s Congress, and SACTU meet in Kliptown, Soweto at the Congress of the People (COP).  The SACTU becomes an active member of the Congress Alliance and is represented on the Alliance's National Co-ordinating Committee.  The ANCYL and Transvaal Indian Youth Congress are active in attending to the delegates’ needs.  The COP adopts the Freedom Charter, which becomes the common programme of the Congresses.
Chief Albert Luthuli, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and Father Trevor Huddleston are each awarded the Isithwalandwe – the ANC’s highest honour.
28 August, At a meeting held at the Bharat Hall, Durban, the Working Committee of the NIC approves the formation of the National Joint Consultative Committee to popularise the Freedom Charter.
1 July, The Criminal Procedure Act No 56 is passed. This Act consolidated the laws relating to procedure and evidence in criminal proceedings.
18 September, Members of the ANC, SACTU and the SACP meet at the Trades Hall, Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, to discuss the Freedom Charter and the way forward.
19-20 September, Police raid the homes of leading political activists across the country seizing papers, telegrams, typewriters, minutes and tape recorders.
27 October, Two thousand women of all races stage a march, co-ordinated by FEDSAW, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to deliver to protest passes for women.
December, Moses Kotane returns home to a welcome party of 400 at Jan Smuts Airport.
17-18 December, At the ANC’s annual conference the Africanist faction launches an attack on the Freedom Charter which accepts multi-racialism.
1956 – 1961 Bram Fischer helps defend the leaders of the Anti-Apartheid movement during the Treason Trial.
African women are issued with reference books amid a storm of protest.
The Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) Act No 64 is passed which denied Black people the option of appealing to the courts against forced removals.
Hilda Bernstein forms the South African Peace Council and becomes its national secretary.
31 January, Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance from 1996, and Minister in the Presidency is born in Kensington, Cape Town.
1 February, The South African government requests the Soviet Union withdraw their consulates.
2 March, The South Africa Act Amendment Act No 9 is passed. This Act gives the force of law to the Separate Representation of Voters Act (1951) and stated that no court of law could enquire into the validity of any law passed by Parliament.
4 March, The Mines and Works Amendment Act No 27 is passed.
16 March, The Riotous Assemblies Act No 17 is passed. In terms of this legislation, gatherings in open-air public places were prohibited if the Minister of Justice considered that they could endanger the public peace. Banishment was also included as a form of punishment.
31 March – 1 April, The Freedom Charter is finally adopted by the ANC at a special conference in Orlando, Johannesburg, despite the disruptions and scuffle between ANC loyalists and Africanists.
May, A National SACTU school is convened, where unions send younger workers and potential organisers to study. The lessons are based on a series of lectures and the sharing of experiences of veteran trade unionists. Among the lecturers are Eli Weinberg, Ray Alexander, L. Friedman, John Nkadimeng and Leon Levy.
4 May, Moses Kotane is arrested under the Urban Areas Act for being in Alexandra Township without a permit.
7 May, The Industrial Conciliation Act (Labour Relations Act) No 28 is passed. The Act ended recognition of trade unions with White, Coloured and Indian membership. It stated that trade unions with mixed membership had to cater exclusively for one racial group or split into exclusive racial sections, each under the guidance of a White-controlled executive.
14 May, A delegation from the Coloured Garment Workers Union (CGWU) meets secretly with Labour Minister F.W. de Klerk at the Department of Labour’s offices.
17 May, Moses Kotane is found guilty of being in Alexandra Township without a permit. He is sentenced to 14 days in prison or ₤1 at the Wynberg Native Commissioner’s Court.
18 May, The Separate Representation of Voters Amendment Act of 1956 is passed which creates a separate roll for Coloured people to elect four members to the House of Assemblies and one to the Senate. The Act also provided for the establishment of a Union Council for Coloured Affairs which would advise the government on various interests of the Coloured Community.
1 June, The Native Administration Amendment Act No 42 of 1956 is passed. This Act empowers government to give Africans banishment orders and exile them to remote rural areas far from their homes.
9 August, Over 20 000 women take part in a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to protest against the extension of passes to women. The march is organised by Helen Joseph and led by Lilian Ngoyi and Dorothy Nyembe. The women requested an interview with Prime Minister, JG Strijdom, who was not there at the time. All the women stood in silence for 30 minutes and then sang a Zulu song: “Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo”, meaning “You strike a woman, you have struck a rock”.
25-26 August, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo issues a statement on the proclamation of the Group Areas Act at a conference convened by the TIC.
4-6 October, The African People of the Union of South Africa at the invitation of Interdenominational African Ministers Federation attends conference held in Bloemfontein to consider the Tomlinson Commission Report.
December, Lillian Ngoyi becomes the first women to be elected to the ANC’s

National Executive Committee (NEC).
5 December, 156 Congress of the People leaders are arrested nationwide and charged with high treason. Among the accused is the left wing newspaper, the Guardian. Bram Fischer helps defend the leaders of the Anti-Apartheid movement during the Treason Trial which lasts until 1961
20 December, The Treason trialists are granted bail with the court proceedings set for January 1957.
The Union Jack is abolished as the official South African national flag.
The Transkeian Territorial Authority replaces the Bunga and takes on limited government responsibilities. In 1931, the Transkei and Pondoland councils were amalgamated to form the United Transkeian Territories General Council (UTTGC) or Bunga. 
7 January, The Alexander Bus Boycott takes place following an increase in bus fare of one-penny by the Public Utility Transport Corporation (PUTCO). This sparked the beginning of a three month long bus boycott of an estimated 70 000 workers and sympathy boycotts across the country. The Alexandra People’s Transport Committee (PTC) was formed with the ANC and other local organisations.
28 January, Twelve police witnesses gives evidence dealing with the documents seized from ten accused, including Farid Adam and Mohammed Asmal during the Treason Trial.
29 January,  Sixteen policemen testify during the Treason Trial on documents seized from ten different accused, including Paul Joseph and A.M Kathrada and other banned members of the TIC and the its Youth Congress. Exhibit No. AMK 75 is a letter from A.M Kathrada declining invitation to attend a cocktail party at the Soviet Consulate because of his banning order.
30 January, For the first time in the Treason Trial a Black witness, Detective Sergeant Tabete, gives evidence.
2 February, Alex Hepple, leader of the Labour Party, introduces a motion in the House of Assembly calling for the convention of all sections of the community to consider the establishment and maintenance of a democratic society.
10 February, Following the Alexandra Bus Boycott, the “A-Pound-a-Day” national minimum wage campaign is launched by SACTU at a Workers Conference.
April, The SACPO rejects the Separate Representation of Voters Act at its first national conference and demand full franchise rights for all and propose to boycott elections to be held for the White parliamentary representatives for the Coloureds.
22 May, The South African government approves race separation in universities.
28 May, Chief Albert Luthuli writes a letter, on behalf of the ANC, to Prime Minister J.C. Strijdom suggesting a multiracial convention to address the country’s problems.
June, During Sir Thomas O'Brien and P.H. de Jonge’s tour in South Africa, representing the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), SACTU presents them with a memorandum stating its desire to co-operate with both international federations in creating a united action against apartheid.
July, The ‘Asinamali’ (we have no money)  Rally is held in Johannesburg and attracts over 500 workers from Klerksdorp, Pretoria, Johannesburg and the East and West Rand.
December, SACPO, after being encouraged by the ANC, reverses its earlier decision to boycott elections at its national congress.
17 December, After preliminary hearings the government drops charges against 73 of the Treason Trialists, including Chief Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo amongst others.
Women in Zeerust destroy their passes, which is followed by massive unrest.
At an SACP conference the Central Committee is elected consisting of 15 members, seven of whom are Executive Members and three members of its Secretariat. The Executive is made up of Dr Yusuf Dadoo (Chairman), Moses Kotane (General Secretary), Walter Sisulu, Bram Fischer, Lionel ‘Rusty’ Bernstein, Joe Slovo and Michael Harmel. The other Central Committee members are J.B. Marks, Dan Tloome, Ruth First, Brian Bunting, Fred Carneson, Ray Alexander, Raymond Mhlaba and M.P. Naicker.
The Congress Alliance organises a general stoppage of work by Blacks to coincide with the general election for parliament for which only Whites could vote.
13 January, The Treason Trial resumes.
February, A strike over wage increases (which had not been provided since 1951) by 3800 African workers erupts at the Amato Textile Mills, Benoni.
17 March, The ANC is banned in several rural districts.
Coloured people elect four White representatives to the House of Assembly in the first communal election since their removal from the common voters roll in 1956.
16 April, White South Africans go to the polls in the second general election since 1948.
30 April, Mbhazima Shilowa, trade unionist and premier of Gauteng in 1999, is born in Oliefantshoek, Northern Province.
May, The Sekhukhuneland revolt against “Bantu” authorities takes place. The government wanted to consolidate racial segregation through the creation of homelands or Bantustans. Similar revolts break out in Tembuland, Pondoland and Zululand.
27 May, Cheryl Carolus, politician, activist and co-founder of the United Women’s Congress, is born in Silvertown on the Cape Flats.
1 August, The main hearings of the Treason Trial begin.
24 August, Prime Minister J.G Strijdom dies.
3 September, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd assumes office as Prime Minister and leader of the National Party.
21 October - 28 October, Demonstrators in Johannesburg protest the issuing of reference books to African women.
2 November, The Africanist faction tries to take charge of the ANC Transvaal Provincial Conference by packing it with people who are not accredited delegates. They submit a letter of disassociation from the ANC.
5-13 December, The All African Peoples Conference is held in Accra, Ghana. The ANC supports this conference but is unable to attend as it is prohibited by the government. To read the resolutions of the conference click here.
13-14 December, The first ANC annual conference after the Africanist breakaway in Durban emphasises unity in the movement.  
Dr. H.F. Verwoerd announces the plan to remove all African repre­sentation in Parliament and moots the idea of independent 'homelands' for Blacks.
The Union Council for Coloured Affairs is established with 12 elected and 15 appointed members.
13, 500 Natal workers join SACTU in a spirit of popular militancy in the wake of the Cato Manor riots.
The ANC’s NEC sends a memorandum to the United Nations to back up the call for international sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Sonia Bunting is banned from attending meetings and ordered to resign from 26 organizations.
Dorothy Nyembe is elected President of the ANC Women’s League in Natal and participates in the call for potato boycotts.
The Extension of University Education Act of 1959 is passed. The Act sets up separate ‘tribal colleges’ for Black university students. In addition, Blacks could no longer freely attend White universities. 
January, An interview with Robert Sobukwe entitled ‘Future of the African Movement’ appears in The Africanist.
28 February, SACTU calls for a national workers conference to be held in all major centres. The response throughout the country was one of the greatest ever to a SACTU campaign for an end to poverty wages and political oppression.
16 March, Tito Mboweni, former governor of the South African Reserve Bank, is born Tzaneen, Northern Province.
4-6 April, The Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) is founded in Orlando by the Africanist faction that had broken away from the ANC. Robert Sobukwe is elected as president and Potlako Leballo as secretary. To read the PAC’s constitution click here.
11 April, Walter Sisulu attends a meeting of the National Consultative Committee in the Congress offices in Johannesburg. The boycott of certain goods and activities on 26 June 1959 inter alia, was discussed.
31 May, The ‘potato boycott’ begins in protest against the slave-like labour conditions of Black labourers on potato farms. It is supported by the ANC and SACTU.
June, Chief Albert Luthuli is confined to his home district in Natal for five years.
16-19 June, Rioting and destruction of government property takes place in Cato Manor, Durban in opposition to forced removals.
19 June, The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act commences. This Act changed existing reserves into ‘self governing’ Bantustans according to ethnicity. Blacks were classified into eight different ethnic groups. Each Bantustan area was allocated a Commissioner General who was entrusted with overseeing development of the area into a self governing state.
26 June, The ANC initiates a boycott of 24 brands of goods.
July, Joe Matthews issues an article in The Liberation entitled “Africanism under the Microscope”.
Robert Sobukwe announces that the PAC will launch a campaign against the pass laws in August, and the aim will be to free South Africa by 1963.
1 August, A secret meeting of FEDSAW and the ANC Women’s League is held in Johannesburg. Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and Ruth First attend.
2 August, Robert Sobukwe delivers State of the National Address on National Heroes Day.
11 August, After the annual conference of the United Party, a group called the ‘Progressives’ walk out as they felt that the policies passed regarding the rights of Africans were unacceptable.
September, The potato boycott  is called off.
October, The first issue of the African Communist, a journal of the SACP, is published.
13 November, The breakaway group from the United Party form the Progressive Party (later renamed the Progressive Federal Party, PFP) at its founding conference in Johannesburg.
5 December, A Christmas party is held in aid of the Treason Trialists and is attended, amongst others, by Walter Sisulu, John Mavuso, Moses Kotane, Marks Ramitloa and Bettie du Toit.
10 December, Human Rights Day is observed by the Congress Alliance throughout South Africa.
16 December, The ANC hosts its last national conference before its banning.
19-20 December, The PAC’s NEC submits its report at the party annual conference. The conference orders the president Robert Sobukwe to call upon the African nation to take Decisive Positive Action against pass laws.  

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Last updated : 04-May-2012

This article was produced by South African History Online on 31-Aug-2011

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