Liberation history Timeline 1970-1979


By the 1970s a number of leading figures of both the ANC and PAC were in prison while others had fled into exile. Those that remained inside South Africa faced arrest, detention and banning orders. This severely crippled the ability of liberation movements to carry out the work of political mobilisation within the country. The period also saw the rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and student activism which led to the Soweto Uprising, in which students protested against Bantu Education and the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. The heavy-handed response of the government – through a security clampdown on student and political activists and bans of their organisations – forced youth to leave the country in large numbers to join the ANC and PAC. During this period Mozambique, which shares a border with South Africa, and Angola, which shares a border with a Namibia under South African rule, become independent. These countries played an important role for the ANC in exile by allowing the organisation to establish military training camps and safe houses on their territory. A number of political trials also took place during this period, including the trial of SASO and BPC leaders, the Bethal trial, and the trials of the Pretoria Twelve and the Pretoria Six, among others. Lastly, the 1970s saw the formation of the IFP and the establishment of the homelands.

Thabo Mbeki and Max Sisulu are sent to the Soviet Union to receive political and military training and to assist in the reorganisation of the South African Communist Party (SACP). At a meeting of the SACP Central Committee Moses Kotane and J.B. Marks are re-elected to the highest positions in the Party, though in practice Kotane is unable to carry out his duties. Furthermore, the Central Committee is enlarged and younger members such as Chris Hani and Thabo Mbeki are elected to it.
16 February, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and 21 others, who were detained under the Suppression of Communism Act, in May 1969, are acquitted. Three are released but the others, including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, are re-detained and recharged. They are placed in solitary confinement at the Pretoria Central Prison under Section Six of the Terrorism Act.
26 March, The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act No. 26 comes into force. It strips Blacks of their South African citizenship and makes them citizens one of the designated homelands or Bantustans irrespective of their actual residence.
22 April, The general election results return the National Party (NP) to power for the sixth time since 1948, but with a reduced majority. The NP wins 117 seats with 820,968 votes cast. The United Party (UP) wins forty-seven seats with 561,647 votes cast. The Progressive Party (PP) wins one seat with 51,760 votes cast.
15 May, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) expels South Africa.
9 June, Mangosuthu Buthelezi becomes Chief Executive Officer of the Zululand Territorial Authority.
July, The first General Students' Council of the South African Students' Organisation (SASO) is held at Wentworth. The organisation encourages contact between SASO and other multi-racial organisations such as the United Christian Movement (UCM) and the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), but recognition of National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) as a "true" national union of students is withdrawn. Barney Pityana is elected as president to succeed Steve Biko.
23 July, The United Nations Security Council Resolution 282 is adopted and calls upon member states to strengthen the arms embargo against South Africa.
24 August, The second trial of the 19 prisoners (including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) being held under the Terrorism Act begins.
September, The World Council of Churches announces humanitarian grants to liberation movements in Africa.
14 September, The 19 prisoners are acquitted and released, but they are served with restriction orders by the Minister of Justice. As part of her banning order, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is placed under house arrest but frequently violates the imposed conditions. As a result she is arrested and charged on a number of occasions.
16 October, Alfred Nzo submits a letter, on behalf of the ANC, to the United Nations which condemns the announcement by the government of the United Kingdom that it would be resuming arms sales to South Africa’s apartheid government.
Thabo Mbeki is deployed to Lusaka, Zambia where he serves as the assistant secretary of the African National Congress’ (ANC) Revolutionary Council.
PAC headquarters are moved from Lusaka in Zambia to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
January, Steve Biko speaks at the Abe Bailey Institute in Cape Town. In his speech he openly criticises the ANC’s policy of political alliances.
2 January, Oliver Tambo sends a message to the meeting of the Council of the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation in Tripoli.
20 January, Gonville Aubie Ffrench-Beytagh, the Anglican Dean of Johannesburg, is detained by the police under accusations of subversive activities.
February, Minister of Labour Marias Viljoen announces a total exemption for Coloureds from job reservation in the building industry on the Reef and in Pretoria.
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) publishes a statement condemning Britain's proposed sale of helicopters to South Africa.
21 June, The International Court of Justice at The Hague declares that South Africa is under obligation to withdraw its administration from Namibia immediately and thus put an end to its occupation of the territory. Prime Minister John Vorster reacts by indicating that as the judgment is only advisory, it cannot be considered binding, and South Africa will act as it sees fit.
22 June, The South African government denies Robert Sobukhwe a permit to leave South Africa and pursue hi studies in the United States of America.
28 June, Father Cosmos Desmond, a British born Roman Catholic priest, is placed under house arrest in Johannesburg.
July, The SACP paper, Inkululeko-Freedom is launched but it is not published on a regular basis.
9 July, SASO adopts its policy manifesto in which it upholds the doctrine of Black Consciousness.
19 July, Judge William H. Booth, a judge working in the New York City Criminal Court, makes a statement before the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid. He had been in South Africa as an observer at the trial of the Dean of the Johannesburg Anglican Cathedral, Gonville Aubie Ffrench-Beytagh.
August, J.B. Marks falls seriously ill and is transported from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Moscow for lengthy treatment.
25 August, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi calls for a National Convention off all races in South Africa to decide the country's future political direction. The idea is rejected by John Vorster the Prime Minister but is supported as a constructive proposal by both the opposition UP and the PP.
2 October, The Natal Indian Congress (NIC) is formally revived with a focus on civic work.
4 October, The ANC issues a press statement on the idea of a National Convention. While the ANC does not reject the idea, it states that a number of pre-conditions would have to be met if such a convention is to be ‘genuinely sovereign and democratic’.
28 October, Ahmed Timol, a political activist and member of the banned SACP, dies in detention. It is officially confirmed that he died after he plunged from a window on the tenth floor of the John Vorster Square Police Office. The government claimed that he “committed suicide”.
29 October, Alfred Nzo sends a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations with regards to the treatment of political detainees in South Africa.
16 December, Oliver Tambo issues a statement on the tenth anniversary of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) calling on South Africans to rededicate themselves to the struggle for liberation.
Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and Lebowa are granted self-government status.
Military conscription for white youths is extended to one year.
The Commission of Inquiry into Certain Organisations (otherwise known as the Schlebusch Commission) is appointed by the Government to investigate four anti-apartheid civil society organisations – the Christian Institute of Southern African, the SAIRR, the University Christian Movement and the NUSAS.
January, South African Students’ Movement (SASM) is formed and “”¦ pledged itself to building a national movement of high school students who would work with the Black Consciousness (BC) organisation at black universities, [and] the South African Students' Organisation (SASO).”
April, Abram Onkgopotse Tiro, founder member of SASO, is expelled after delivering a critical speech at the Graduation Ceremony at Turfloop campus of the University of the North.
Thirteen people are sentenced in the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA) trial.
14 April, The appeal by the Anglican Dean of Johannesburg, Gonville Aubie Ffrench-Beytagh, against his conviction under the Terrorism Act is upheld in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein. The Dean decides to leave for Britain on the same day.
3 May, The expulsion of Abram Ongkopotse Tiro sparks a student boycott of lectures. The 1146 students involved in the boycott are expelled but are later given an opportunity to reapply but Abram Onkopotse Tiro’s application is turned down. 
12 May, SASO adopts the ‘Alice Declaration’ at a meeting in Alice, Eastern Cape. The declaration calls on students across the country to support Abam Ongkopotse Tiro by closing down Black tertiary institutions through lecture boycotts.
20 May, The Laundry and Dry Cleaning Worker’s Association (LDCWA) is formally launched a meeting at Darragh Hall in Johannesburg with Agnes Molefe as its first secretary. It is the first African union to be established with the help of the Urban Training Project.
1 June, Every major Black campus endorses the strike called for in the ‘Alice Declaration’ which eventually leads to SASO being banned on many campuses. The planned reopening of the University of the North fails as student grievances go beyond the Turfloop expulsions to reiterate long-standing student complaints about domination by White staff, biased curricula and demeaning campus conditions.
2 June, Police carrying batons charge at White students protesting in central Cape Town in solidarity with striking Black students. Student demonstrators are forced to seek shelter at St George’s Cathedral.
July, The Black People's Convention (BPC) is founded at a conference in Edendale to co-ordinate the Black Consciousness Movement. Reverend Mashwabanda Mayatula is elected as the interim leader while Drake Koka is elected as as interim Secretary General.
August, Steve Biko quits his medical studies and becomes a paid staffer at Black Community Programmes (BCP).
1 August, J.B. Marks, political activist and trade unionist, suffers a heart attack and dies in Moscow, USSR.
December, At the Central Committee session of the SCAP in the German Democratic Republic, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo is elected as the SACP Chairman. In addition, since it had become clear that Moses Kotane will no longer be able to carry out his official duties, the post of Assistant General-Secretary is created and Chris Hani is elected to serve in the post.
Mthuli ka Shezi, playwright and political activist, is pushed in front of a moving train and killed at Germiston station after coming to the defense of a group of African women who had been drenched with water by a White station cleaner.
16 December, BPC holds its first annual congress in Hammanskraal, with delegates from 25 newly formed branches (each having at least 25 members). Outgoing interim head Reverend Mashwabanda Mayatula’s address calls for economic justice and puts forward reasons why Blacks should reject homelands. BPC’s Constitution declares it intends to preach and popularise the philosophy of Black Consciousness and Black solidarity. Winifred Kgware is elected national president.
“Sizwe Banzi is dead”, a play by Athol Fugard is banned, as apartheid regulations prevent Africans from performing without a permit.
Vietnamese forces triumph against anti-communist US forces. This prevents US intervention in Angola. Other liberation forces in Africa (Portuguese colonies, Namibia, Rhodesia) make major advances.
The Council for Christian Social Action (CCSA) of the United Church of Christ in the United States writes issues a pamphlet entitled Partners in Apartheid, which reveals facts that aim to discourage foreign national investment in South Africa.
Leon Sullivan, an African-American minister puts forward a six-point “code of conduct” for American companies doing business in South Africa. Within 2 years, 135 firms had declared adherence to the code and withdrawn from the South African market.
South Africans begin to receive reliable broadcasts from “Radio Freedom’ on short wave from Zambia and Tanzania.
The Transport and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) is formed in Johannesburg with the assistance of the Urban Training Project.
At a SACP Central Committee meeting it is decided that Chris Hani should return to South Africa to start creating a permanent underground structure within the country.
January, A massive strike begins in Durban with over 60 000 workers from 150 factories striking against racial oppression.
February, NUSAS and Black Consciousness activists are banned by the Government.
28 March, Mavuso Msimang, the ANC’s Secretary for Administration, presents a memorandum to the Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid. The memorandum looks at the involvement of British business in South Africa.
15-16 June, An International Trade Union conference is held in Geneva and is attended by delegates representing 200 trade unions from across the world. The conference passes various resolutions regarding apartheid. Amongst other resoutions, they call upon governments to sever ties with the South African government and urge organised labour to pressure their governments to refuse any military assistance to South Africa.
July, PAC members Mark Shinners, Isaac Mafatse and Hamilton Keke are released from Robben Island and begin recruiting youths to join the PAC in exile.
7 July, At a meeting in a garage in the town of Heidelberg in Transvaal, Eugene Terre’Blanche and six others launch the ultra right wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB, roughly translated as the ‘Afrikaner Resistance Movement). 
11 July, Oliver Tambo makes a statement at a press conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the tenth anniversary of the arrests at Rivonia.
11 September, Police shoot at striking workers at the Western Deep Levels Mine, near Carltonville, Johannesburg killing 12 and wounding 38.
October, After a visit to South Africa, the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) decide to provide financial support for Black trade unions. The funding would be given to trade unions to employ full time organisers as long as they steered workers away from political action.
7 December,   Robert Resha, political activist and member of the ANC, dies in London.
8-11 November, Homeland leaders attend a Summit meeting in Umtata, which is followed by an “all-race” Bulugha Conference near East London.
16 November, Beyers Naude defies an order to testify in front of the Schlebusch Commission.
Prime Minister John Vorster launches a “détente” policy (the easing of strained relations between nations) with strong regional emphasis. This reflected the government’s attempt to deal with the changing political situation in Southern Africa.  
January, The Johannesburg Council opens it parks, libraries and museums to all races, and ignores separate queues for Blacks and Whites in post offices. Other city councils in Durban, Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg also pledge to remove petty apartheid.
1 February, SASO leader, Abraham Ongkopotse Tiro is killed by a parcel bomb in Botswana. 
12 February, Boy Mvemve (operating under the name John Dube) is killed by a letter bomb in Lusaka, Zambia while sorting mail with Max Sisulu.
27 March, Deputizing for Oliver Tambo, Mzwandile Piliso makes a statement before a meeting of the UN Special Committee again Apartheid in which a number of suggestions are made for action to be taken against the South African government.
25 April, A military coup takes place in Portugal and the dictatorship collapses. This has implications for political dynamic and revolutionary politics in Southern Africa. Liberation movements in Portuguese colonies gain momentum and South African student rebellions under “Viva Frelimo” take place in Universities of the North, Zululand and Fort Hare (African), Western Cape (coloured) and Durban-Westville (Indian).
May, The banning order imposed on Robert Sobukhwe expires, but is immediately renewed for another five years. 
May, The UN Special Committee against Apartheid begins “”¦a series of meetings in Dublin, East Berlin, and Geneva, aimed at galvanising a ‘concerted international action to eradicate apartheid’.” (SADET, 2006: 63)
14 May, The trial of ex-political prisoner and SACP veteran Harry Gwala and nine other ANC members starts in Pietermaritzburg.
25 September, SASO/BPC participates in a Pro-Frelimo rally at University of the North. Several leaders are detained without trial.
October, The Afrikaans Medium Decree is issued by the Minister of Bantu Education and Development, MC Botha. The decree makes the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in Black schools compulsory from Standard 5. The African Teachers Association (ATASA) launches a campaign against the policy but the decree is forcibly implemented.
12 November, The United Nations General Assembly, under the leadership of Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, suspends South Africa due to international opposition to the South African government’s policy of apartheid.
16 December, A tombstone for J.B. Marks is unveiled in the Novodevichye Cemetery, Moscow, which is traditionally reserved for the most prominent figures in Soviet political, academic and cultural life.
January, The trial of SASO and BPC leaders arrested in September 1974 begins in the Pretoria Supreme Court. Among those tried are Mosiuoa Lekota, Barney Pityana, Mweni Musa, Nkwenkwe Nkomo, Aubrey Maitshe Mokoape, Strini Moddley, Saths Cooper, Zithulele Cindi, Muntu Myeza and Pandelani Nefolovhodwe. The accused are charged with conspiring to bring about revolutionary change and inciting anti-white hostility, the trial lasts 17 months.
Mamphela Ramphele establishes the Zanempilo Community Health Centre in Zinyoka, outside King Wiliam’s Town.
March, The ANC’s Revolutionary Council (RC) sends a general directive that all its units should go into action. The RC also sets up a special sub-committee on recruitment and training.
7-10 April, The ninth extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers of the OAU is held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. At the session Oliver Tambo makes a statement on the situation in South Africa.
21 March, The Inkatha National Cultural Liberation Movement (INCLM), later the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), is launched at KwaMzimela, Northern Kwazulu by Mongosuthu Buthelezi.
8 May, Bram Fischer, member of SACP and political activist, dies of cancer at his brother’s house in Bloemfontein.
25 June, Mozambique gains independence under the leadership of FRELIMO (Liberation Front of Mozambique) with Samora Machel as president.
August, South African Forces enter Angola to support UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) during ‘Operation Savannah’.
9 August, Moses Kotane is awarded the Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe, the ANC’s highest honour which is awarded to those who have made an outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle.
31 August, Desmond Tutu is installed as the first Black Anglican Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg.
October, Beyers Naude is convicted by the Pretoria Regional Court for defying his order to appear before the Schlebusch Commission and is fined R50 or one month in prison.
31 October, Oliver Tambo, on behalf of the ANC, issues a statement condemning the invasion of Angola by South African troops.
11 November, Angola gains independence from Portuguese rule under the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) with Dr Agostinho Neto as its first president.
December, An ANC National Executive Committee meeting discusses plans to re-launch MK.
14 December, PAC member Michael Matsobane organises the youth in Kagiso under the banner of the Young African Christian Movement (YACM). The movement later changed its name to the Young African Religious Movement (YARM). Together with other PAC members such as Johnson Nyathi and Aaron Khoza, they are elected to the executive committee.
The BPC holds its fourth national conference in King William’s Town. The delegates refine the definition of Black Consciousness to a movement with the ANC’s multiracialism and begin to use the name Azania to refer to South Africa.
December, Sobukhwe is invited to attend the presidential celebrations of President William Tolbert in Monrovia, Liberia which would be held in January 1976.
11 December, Alfred Nzo makes a statement, on behalf of the ANC, on the expulsion of a ‘conspiratorial clique’ from the ANC.
Internal Security Amendment Act No. 79 is passed. This act makes it possible to detain suspects without authorization from a judge for an unlimited period of time.
The MK begins training young recruits in Swaziland and sending them back into South Africa to ‘strengthen the underground structures’ (SADET, 2004: 462).
23 January, The ANC issues a statement on the National Executive Committee’s decision to expel eight members during its September 1975 session held in Morogoro, Tanzania.
21 March, Alfred Nzo makes a statement at a meeting for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the Special Committee Against Apartheid.
3-7 May, Steve Biko is subpoenaed to testify for the defense in SASO/BPC trial. He uses his testimony to discuss the history, aims and principles of Black Consciousness.
6 May, Desmond Tutu warns Prime Minister John Vorster of violence in a correspondence.
24 May, Soweto pupils reject the Orlando Diepkloof School Board’s demand that they return to school after they had walked out in protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction.
13 June, Over 400 students attend a meeting held in Orlando. At the meeting “Tsietsi Mashinini, a 19-year-old-leader of a SASM branch, called for a mass demonstration against the use of Afrikaans the following Wednesday, 16 June.”
ANC underground structures issue pamphlets calling on the community to support students and linking the student struggle to the struggle for national liberation.
16 June, Student anger and grievances against Bantu education explode. Tens of thousands of high school students take to the streets to protest against compulsory use of Afrikaans at schools. Police opened fire on marching students, killing thirteen-year old Hector Petersen and at least three others. This begins what becomes known as the Soweto youth uprising. The student uprising spreads to other parts of the country leaving over 1,000 dead, most of whom are killed by the police. The Soweto Uprising  was a “dramatic climax of the escalating wave of struggles in the first half of the 1970s.”
17 June, Due to the Soweto unrest, parliament meets in an Extraordinary Session at the request of Colin Eglin, leader of the opposition, who demands the resignation of M.C. Botha, Minister of Bantu Administration and Development.
A strong police contingent is present in Soweto. Approximately 300, predominantly white, Wits students march through Johannesburg city centre to protest against the  killing of schoolchildren and are joined by many Black workers.
18 June, Student protests spread with most of the protest action taking place in the East and West Rand as well as in Alexandra township.  
July-December, Black schools and universities are continually disrupted by violence, arson and protests.
18 July, The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid comes into force.
4-6 August, The first three-day stay-away is staged by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC).
5 August, Mapetla Mohapi dies in police custody. The police claim he hung himself using a pair of jeans and produce a ‘suicide note’ but an inquest fails to make a finding on the suicide claim.
23-25 August, The second stay-away, called by the SSRC, is held.
13-15 September, The third stay-away organised by the SSRC is held.
19 September, Demonstrations are held against the visit of Henry Kissinger to Pretoria. Kissinger was scheduled to meet the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) Ian Smith to discuss majority rule in Rhodesia.
23 September, There is renewed student rioting in Johannesburg resulting in the arrest of  hundreds of students.
October, David Sibeko, the PAC’s representative addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
October, A small MK unit led by Naledi Tsiki infiltrates into South Africa from Swaziland. Their mission is to blow up the railway line north of Dikgale, Northern Transvaal (later Northern Province).
26 October, Transkei becomes the first independent homeland and the South African government revokes the citizenship of its residents.
Oliver Tambo makes a statement entitled ‘Support our people until power is restored to them’ at a plenary meeting of the UNs General Assembly.
28 October, Beyers Naude is arrested for refusing to pay the R50 fine which he was slapped with after refusing to appear before the Schlebusch Commission.
30 November, Tokyo Sexwale, Charles Ramusi, Robert Manci and Amos ‘Malume’ Lubisi infiltrate into South Africa from Swaziland. They are picked up by two policemen while waiting for their contact on the South Africa side of the border. Tokyo Sexwale manages to throw a hand grenade into the front of the van injuring the two policemen but giving time for the MK guerrillas to escape back to Swaziland.
Steve Biko is released after being detained.
21 December, The SASO/BPC trial comes to an end with all nine defendants being convicted and sentenced. They are sent to Robben Island where they serve their sentences.
January, Catholic schools start admitting Black pupils despite the prohibition by the government.
April, An SACP Central Committee meeting is convened in the German Democratic Republic and adopts a document entitled ‘The Way Forward from Soweto’. The Executive Secretariat is dissolved and replaced with the Politburo, consisting of Moses Kotane, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Mabhida, Joe Slovo and Thabo Mbeki.
29 April, M.P. Naicker dies while travelling from London to Berlin.
8 May, M.P. Naicker is buried in London. To read Dr. Yusuf Dadoo’s tribute, click here and to read Oliver Tambo’s tribute click here.
16 May, Winnie Mandela is banished to Brandfort in the Orange Free State. She is forced to live there for eight years.
21-22 May, The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, visits South Africa at the invitation of Harry Oppenheimer. He meets the Soweto student leaders, Black and White community leaders, newspaper editors and addresses a business dinner. He maintains that economic pressure can bring about radical changes.
June, The ANC distributes a leaflet entitled ‘Let us Advance our Liberation Struggle’ through a ‘leaflet bomb’ in Johannesburg.
15 June, The member states of the Commonwealth sign the Gleneagles Agreement which discouraged the international community from having any sporting contact with South Africa.
August,  Modderdam squatter camp, near Cape Town, is destroyed by the police.
A tricameral parliament is proposed by the government, but is rejected by the Labour Party.
18 August, Steve Biko is arrested at a roadblock outside King William’s Town along with a friend, Peter Jones. To read the events that lead to his death click here.
The Riekert Commission is appointed by the Prime Minister to “inquire into, report on and make recommendations in connection with a wide range of laws that dated back to 1936” relating to labour matters. (SADET, 2004: 229)
22-26 August, The World Conference for Action Against Apartheid, organised by the UN and OAU, takes place in Lagos, Nigeria. The conference is attended by representatives of more than 100 governments, organisations and liberation movements. Oliver Tambo makes a speech entitled ‘Crucial Stage in the Struggle for Liberation of Southern Africa
12 September, Steve Biko dies at the Pretoria prison hospital after being transported in the back of a police van from Port Elizabeth with a brain injury.
25 September, Steve Biko’s funeral is attended by diplomats from 13 Western nations. However, police action prevents thousands of mourners from all over the country from attending the funeral.
16 October A total of 128 members of the United States Congress, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, send a written request to the South African Ambassador in Washington urging the government to invite an appropriate international body to examine South Africa’s laws and practices relating to detention and to make recommendations, with special reference to the death of Steve Biko.
19 October, Following a Cabinet decision on 18 October, the government, by proclamation under the Internal Security Act, declares 18 organisations unlawful, arrests some 70 leading Africans, placing a number of people under restriction orders and closing down the daily newspaper The World and its associate the Weekend World. The South African Police jail dozens of government opponents who were not previously detained, including Percy Qoboza the editor of The World.  Banning orders are issued to Beyers Naudé and Donald Woods, two prominent Whites who had publicly supported Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). Justice Minister, Jimmy Kruger imposes bans on all movements affiliated with the BCM. The actions provoke worldwide shock and protests.
26 October, The Attorney General of the Transvaal, Jacobus E Nothling, announces that an inquest into Biko’s death will be held, but that he would not institute criminal proceedings.
28 October, The Attorney General of the Eastern Cape, Carel van der Walt, also declines to institute criminal proceedings against Biko’s killers.
14 November, The inquest into the death of Steve Biko begins in Pretoria.
December, The PAC Central Committee convenes a meeting in attempt to find a solution to the tensions and develop a policy to manage cadres. The meeting resolves to convene a consultative conference in April 1978.
1 December, Counsel for Steve Biko’s family, Sydney Kentridge, makes his final submission calling for a verdict that Steve Biko died as the result of a criminal assault on him by one or more of the eight members of the Security Police in whose custody he was held on 6 and 7 September. During his four hour address Sydney Kentridge reserves his most serious criticism for two Security Police officers, Colonel Piet Goosen and Major Harold Snyman and two doctors who examined Steve Biko, Dr Ivor Lang and Dr Benjamin Tucker.
2 December, The fifteen-day inquest into the death of Steve Biko ends with a three-minute finding by the presiding magistrate, Martinus Prins, who rules that no one can be found criminally responsible for his death in detention. The verdict causes deep concern within South Africa and a storm of protest overseas. Shock is expressed by the United States Secretary of State and consternation by the United Nations Secretary-General.
6 December, Bophuthatswana another homeland becomes independent.
12 December, Oliver Tambo addresses the first congress of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in Luanda, Angola.
14 December, The UN General Assembly adopts Resolution 32/105B which proclaims an International Anti-Apartheid Year to begin on 21 March 1978. The ANC distributes leaflets through a ‘leaflet bomb’ in Cape Town.
Operation Sibasa, one of the largest war exercises, is staged in bushveld areas of Transvaal bordering on Mozambique, Rhodesia and Botswana in an effort to dispel militant action.
The PAC adopts the “New Road to Revolution” as a military strategy which remained in use until the unbanning of political parties. APLA was reorganized with assistance from the Tanzanian government.  
January, Government destroys the Unibel squatter camp in Crossroads, Cape Town.
8 January, Anti-apartheid activist and academic, Dr Rick Turner, is assassinated at his home in Durban by members of the South Africa security forces.
2 February, The Attorney-General of the Eastern Cape announces that he will not prosecute any police involved in the arrest and detention of Steve Biko.
18 February, The first elections of the government sponsored Soweto Community Council are poorly attended. David Thebehali becomes “mayor” with 97 votes.
27 February, Robert Sobukwe dies of lung complications at the Kimberley General Hospital.
10 March, After an international campaign of protest, Percy Qoboza and nine other leaders are released from detention.
11 March, Mongusuthu Buthelezi is forced by militant youths to leave Robert Sobukwe’s funeral.
21 March, The UNs International Anti-Apartheid Year begins. Oliver Tambo makes a statement at the meeting to launch the campaign.
April, The trial of the “Pretoria 12” ends with six people given severe sentences and six acquitted. During the trial a large number of witnesses refused to give evidence when taken to the witness box and the main state witness Ian Rwaxa revoked his evidence four days in to the trial. A total of 2,690 pages of evidence was recorded.
28 April, The Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) is founded out of three organisations – the Black People’s Convention (BPC), the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and the Black Community Programmes (BCP).
4 May, AZAPO leaders, Ishmael Mkhabela and Lybon Mabasa are arrested in Soweto.
19 May, Moses Kotane dies in Moscow.
26 May, Moses Kotane is buried at Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow.
12 September, On the eve of the first anniversary of the death of Steve Biko, police arrest sixteen people including Steve Biko’s brother, his sister and her husband and close friends of the family. No reason is given but police say the arrests are preventive measures covered by the 1977 Internal Security Act.
29 September, P.W. Botha replaces John Voster as Prime Minister.
October, Oliver Tambo and five colleagues make a study-visit to Vietnam.
10 October, Indres Naidoo makes a statement at a meeting of the Special Committee against Apartheid which is held in observance of the Day of Solidarity with South African political prisoners.
11 October, At a special meeting of the UN General Assembly, Reverend Canon L. John Collins, Michael Manley, General Abdel Nasser, Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Olof Palme and Paul Robeson are given awards in recognition of their contribution to the international campaign against apartheid.
27 December – 1 January, The ANC’s NEC and Revolutionary Council meets in Luanda, Angola. They receive a report of the Vietnam study-visit and decide to set up a Politico-Military Strategy Commission.
The Soweto Civic Association and the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO) are formed.
At the SACP Central Committee meeting Moses Mabhida is elected General Secretary but this is not announced for another year.
January, 1979 is declared the Year of the Spear, a tribute to the hundred years of unbroken struggle since the Battle of Isandlwana of 1879.
27 January, Oliver Tambo makes a statement at the International Conference on the European Economic Community (EEC) and South Africa, organised by the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in Dublin.
21 March, Thabo Mbeki, representing the ANC, addresses a meeting of the Special Committee against Apartheid to commemorate Sharpeville.
20 April, The Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) holds its founding conference. The organisation aimed to be an umbrella organisation geared towards coordinating activities of Black trade unions.
6 April, Solomon Mahlangu, an MK operative is hanged in Pretoria. The ANC issues a statement on his execution.
1 May, Following the recommendations of the Wiehahn Commission, the Industrial Amendment Conciliation Act, No 94 is passed. This is Act set up an Industrial Court “”¦intended to tame the unregulated explosion of African trade unionism.” (SADET, 2004: 45)
2 May, A PAC Presidential Council of three takes over after P.K Leballo leaves for medical treatment in London.
8 May, The Riekert Commission, established to look into increasing productivity and profitability for the South African industry, recommends improved conditions for permanently urbanised Blacks.
11 May, Students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) launch a consumer boycott of Fatti’s & Moni’s products. The boycott lasts until November and is taken up by organisations nationally and internationally.
11 June,  David Sibeko is murdered by PAC dissidents in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania.
21 June, Zephania Mothopeng and 17 other PAC defendants are convicted in the Bethal trial.
26 June, The Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) celebrates 20 years.
August, The Politico-Military Strategy Commission makes a report, which became known as The Green Book, to the ANC’s National Executive Committee. The Green Book came from the ANC delegation which visited Vietnam to learn about their successful conduct of a people’s war.
7 August, The Commonwealth Heads of State issue a proclamation entitled ‘The Lusaka Declaration of the Commonwealth on Racism and Racial Prejudice’.
29 August, Templeton Ntantala and other expelled military members of the PAC form the Azanian People’s Revolutionary Party (APRP). 
30 September, AZAPO is re-launched in Roodeport and Curtis Nkondo is elected as its president.  
30-31 October, An IFP delegation claims to have met the ANC in London to establish a co-operative relationship.
November, The Azanian Students Organisation (AZASO) is formed in Pietermaritzburg by Black students at tertiary institutions such as Fore Hare, University of the North, Durban-Westville and Mapumulo College.
5 November, Oliver Tambo, on behalf of the ANC, issues a statement denying any secret meetings between itself and the IFP.
15 November, James Mange is sentenced to death in a court in Pietermaritzburg for plotting an attack on a police station. His 11 co-accused are handed sentences of between 14 and 19 years in jail. Mange’s sentence is commuted to life imprisonment and he is subsequently sent to serve his sentence on Robben Island.
18 November, The ANC issues a statement condemning the sentences imposed on James Mange and his co-accused.
11 December, Alex Moumbaris, an MK operative, escapes from Pretoria Central Prison along with two other ANC and SACP activists Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee. All were part of the trial known as the ‘Pretoria Six’.

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• Chimurenga, 2009.Staffrider [online] Available at [Accessed 15 April 2009]
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• Malley, P., n.d. “Pre-Transition” from The O’Malley Archives [online] Available at:
• Steve Biko Foundation, 2011. “Steve Biko Timeline” from Steve Biko Foundation [online] Available at
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•, 2011. “Nelson Mandela Timeline” from History-Timelines [online] Available at, T. and Gerhart, G., 1997. From protest to challenge: a documentary history of the African politics in South Africa, 1882-1990, Volume 5: Nadir and Resurgence (1964-1979). Indianapolis: Indiana University Press
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• Kanyane, C (2010), Turfloop a Conscious Pariah: How University of the North Brought in the Age of Barack Obama, ( Victoria), p,43

Last updated : 04-May-2012

This article was produced by South African History Online on 27-Sep-2011

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