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Apartheid Resistance Essay

For Educators: Anti-Apartheid Movement

Introductory Essay: The Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Congressional Black Caucus

Apartheid means separateness. Apartheid was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the South African National Party government between 1948 and 1994. This system created a society of enormous repression for black South Africans.

These policies of racial separation began long before 1948. In 1910, a series of laws were introduced to limit the rights of the black majority. Laws like the Mines and Works Act of 1911, limited the kind of jobs that black workers could have, reducing them to exclusively doing menial work, while securing the better job opportunities for white workers. Laws were also introduced to restrict land ownership and use by the black majority. The Native Land Act of 1913 set aside less than 10% of South African territory as reservations for black people and barred them from buying land outside these areas.

Policies like these also limited the political influence of black South Africans by depriving them of the right to vote or to protest unfair labor practices. Despite these political, economic, and social challenges, groups like the African National Congress (ANC) formed to stage resistance and liberation movements to free black South Africans from these atrocities. The conflicts intensified and, out of fear, white South Africans rallied great support behind the National Party to win the 1948 election in South Africa, thus ensuring the opportunity to put into place an even greater repressive government against the majority black population.

The National Party immediately passed a series of new laws that established the separation of races and suppressed political dissent. In 1950, the Population Registration Act was created to establish racial classifications based on skin color and ethnic backgrounds. Discriminatory laws were also established to hinder the voting process, target black businesses and property owners, as well as continue removing and resettling black South Africans on reservations. The labor bureau and trade unions also discriminated against black workers and thus weakened the urban African working class.

The anti-apartheid movement was spearheaded by the black community in the United States. As leaders of this community, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was instrumental in organizing and supporting activities that brought national and global attention to the racist and inhumane treatment of blacks in South Africa. The CBC's efforts to raise awareness about South Africa's apartheid system ultimately led to the passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.

Representative Ronald V. Dellums (D-CA) introduced the CBC's first bill concerning apartheid in 1972. Over the next 14 years, CBC members sponsored more than 15 bills concerning apartheid. Members sponsored hearings, organized rallies, and participated in protests in Washington D.C., as well as in their home districts. Their efforts, in conjunction with the efforts of community activists, students and other organizations, brought widespread attention to the racist and inhumane treatment of blacks in South Africa.

Prior to 1986, CBC members, along with students and other community activists, brought widespread attention to South Africa through a number of rallies and protests in Washington, D.C. and their home districts. The CBC was also involved in the establishment of TransAfrica in 1977. TransAfrica is a foreign policy advocacy organization designed to increase awareness of issues concerning Africa and the Caribbean. TransAfrica, with the support of the CBC and several other grassroots organizations, led the movement to dissociate from South Africa. As a result of these efforts, scores of universities and businesses withdrew investment dollars from South Africa.

In 1984, in the face of escalating violence and repression in South Africa and the refusal of the Reagan administration to take measures against the Botha regime, a group of Washington-based anti-apartheid and civil rights leaders launched the Free South Africa Movement. Randall Robinson, then director of TransAfrica, along with Mary Frances Berry, U.S. Delegate and CBC Member Walter Fauntroy, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, arranged a meeting with the South African ambassador. During that meeting, Norton left to call the media to announce that the other three would not leave the embassy until their demands—that the South African government release all political prisoners immediately and dismantle apartheid—were met. The media and supporters were there to capture the removal of Robinson, Fauntroy, and Berry in handcuffs, and the daily protests outside the embassy began. The protests spread from the embassy in Washington, D.C., to South African consulates and other symbols of the South African government around the United States. Over the next two years, at least 6,000 people would be arrested at embassy and consulate protests including major figures from the civil rights movement, members of Congress and other political figures, and many artists and entertainers.

Additional recommended readings for teachers and students:

Downing, David. Apartheid in South Africa (Witness to History). Heinemann: Chicago, 2004. (Non-Fiction)

Connolly, Sean. Apartheid in South Africa (Troubled World). Heinemann Library: Chicago, 2001. (Non-Fiction)

Internal resistance to apartheid in South Africa originated from several independent sectors of society and alternatively took the form of social movements, passive resistance, or guerrilla warfare. Mass action against the ruling National Party government, coupled with South Africa's growing international isolation and economic sanctions, were instrumental factors in ending racial segregation and discrimination.[1] Both black and white South African activists such as Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Harry Schwarz, and Joe Slovo were involved with various anti-apartheid causes. By the 1980s, there was continuous interplay between violent and non-violent action, and this interplay was a notable feature of resistance against apartheid from 1983 until South Africa's first multiracial elections under a universal franchise in 1994.[6]

Passive resistance to apartheid was initiated by the African National Congress (ANC) with its Defiance Campaign in the early 1950s.[2] Subsequent civil disobedience protests targeted curfews, pass laws, and "petty apartheid" segregation in public facilities. Some anti-apartheid demonstrations resulted in widespread rioting in Port Elizabeth and East London in 1952, but organised destruction of property was not deliberately employed until 1959.[7] That year, anger over pass laws and environmental regulations perceived as unjust by black farmers resulted in a series of arsons targeting sugarcane plantations.[7] Organisations such as the ANC, the South African Communist Party, and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) remained preoccupied with organising student strikes and work boycotts between 1959 and 1960.[7] The Sharpeville Massacre marked a shift in the tactics of some anti-apartheid movements, including the ANC and PAC, from peaceful non-cooperation to the formation of armed resistance wings.[8]

Mass strikes and student demonstrations continued into the 1970s, charged by growing black unemployment, the unpopularity of the South African Border War, and a newly assertive Black Consciousness Movement.[9] The brutal suppression of the 1976 Soweto uprising radicalised an entire generation of black activists and greatly bolstered the strength of the ANC's guerrilla force, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).[10] From 1976 to 1987 MK carried out a series of successful bombing attacks which targeted government facilities, transportation lines, power stations, and other civil infrastructure. South Africa's military often retaliated by raiding ANC safe houses in neighbouring states.[11]

The National Party made several attempts to reform the apartheid system, beginning with the Constitutional Referendum of 1983. This introduced a Tricameral Parliament, which allowed for some parliamentary representation of Coloureds and Indians, but continue to deny political rights to black South Africans.[1] The resulting controversy triggered a new wave of anti-apartheid social movements and community groups which articulated their interests through a national front in politics, the United Democratic Front (UDF).[1] Simultaneously, inter-factional rivalry between the ANC, the PAC, and the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO), a third militant force, escalated into sectarian violence as the three groups jockeyed for influence.[12] The government took the opportunity to declare a state of emergency in 1986 and detain thousands of its political opponents without trial.[13]

Secret bilateral negotiations to end apartheid commenced in 1987 as the National Party reacted to increased external pressure and the atmosphere of political unrest.[1] Leading ANC officials such as Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu were released from prison between 1987 and 1989, and in 1990 the ANC and PAC were formally delisted as banned organisations by President F.W. de Klerk. The same year, MK reached a formal ceasefire with the South African Defence Force.[12] Apartheid was abolished on June 17, 1991, pending general elections set for April 1994.[14]

African National Congress[edit]

Main articles: African National Congress and Umkhonto we Sizwe

Although its creation predated apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC) became the primary force in opposition to the government after its conservative leadership was superseded by the organisation's Youth League (ANCYL) in 1949. Led by Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, elected to the ANC's National Executive that year, the ANCYL advocated a radical black nationalist programme that combined the Africanist ideas of Anton Lembede with those of Marxism. They brought the notion that white authority could only be overthrown through mass campaigns. The ideals of the ANC and ANCYL are stated in the ANC official web site[15] and state, concerning the "Tripartite Alliance", "The Alliance is founded on a common commitment to the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution, and the need to unite the largest possible cross-section of South Africans behind these objectives." This cites the actionable intent, their goal to end oppression.

Once the ANCYL had taken control of the ANC, the organisation advocated a policy of open defiance and resistance for the first time. This unleashed the 1950s Programme of Action, instituted in 1949, which laid emphasis on the right of the African people to freedom under the flag of African Nationalism. It laid out plans for strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience, resulting in occasionally violent clashes, with mass protests, stay-aways, boycotts and strikes predominating. The 1950 May Day stay-away was a strong, successful expression of black grievances.

In 1952 the Joint Planning Council, made up of members from the ANC, the South African Indian Congress as well as the Coloured People's Congress, agreed on a plan for the defiance of unfair laws. They wrote to the Prime Minister, DF Malan and demanded that he repeal the Pass Laws, the Group Areas Act, the Bantu Administration Act and other legislation, warning that refusal to do so would be met with a campaign of defiance. The Prime Minister was haughty in his rejoinder, referring the Council to the Native Affairs Department and threatening to treat insolence callously.

The Programme of Action was launched with the Defiance Campaign in June 1952. By defying the laws, the organisation hoped for mass arrests that the government wouldn't be able to cope with. Nelson Mandela led a crowd of 50 men down the streets of a white area in Johannesburg after the 11 pm curfew that forbade black peoples' presence. The group was apprehended, but the rest of the country followed its example. Defiance spread throughout the country and black people disregarded racial laws by, for example, walking through "whites only" entries. At the campaign's zenith, in September 1952, more than 2,500 people from 24 different towns had been arrested for defying various laws.

By the end of the campaign, the government arrested 8,000 people, but was forced to temporarily relax its apartheid legislation. In addition, as a direct result of the campaign, membership of the ANC increased and attention was drawn to apartheid's injustices. Once things had calmed down, however, the government responded with an iron fist, taking several supreme measures—among which were the Unlawful Organisations Act, the Suppression of Communism Act, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Procedures Act. Thus, in the longer term, this spelt defeat for the resistance movement. In December 1952, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and 18 others were tried under the Suppression of Communism Act for leading the Defiance Campaign. They received nine months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act stated that "[a]ny person who in any way whatsoever advises, encourages, incites, commands, aids or procures any other person [...] or uses language calculated to cause any other person to commit an offence by way of protest against a law [...] shall be guilty of an offence".[this quote needs a citation]

The government also constricted the regulation on separate amenities. Protesters had argued to the courts that different amenities for different races ought to be of an equal standard. The Separate Amenities Act removed the façade of mere separation; it gave the owners of public amenities the right to bar people on the basis of colour or race and made it lawful for different races to be treated inequitably. Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli and other famous ANC, Indian Congress and trade union chiefs were all vetoed under the Suppression of Communism Act. The proscription meant that the headship was now restricted to its homes and adjacent areas and they were banned from attending public gatherings.

Though cruelly limited, the movement was still able to struggle against the oppressive instruments of the state. More importantly, collaboration between the ANC and NIC had increased and strengthened through the Defiance Campaign. Support for the ANC and its endeavours increased. In August 1953, the ANC Cape conference suggested an Assembly of the people.

Meanwhile, on the global stage, India demanded that apartheid be challenged by the United Nations. It led to the establishment of a UN commission on apartheid. This first encouraged black South Africans in their campaign, but, after five months, the African and Indian Congresses opted to call it off because of the increasing number of riots, strikes and heavier sentences on those who took part. During the campaign, almost 8,000 black and Indian people had been detained. At the same time, however, ANC membership grew from 7,000 to 100,000, and the number of subdivisions went from 14 at the start of the campaign to 87 at its end. There was also a change in headship. Shortly before the campaign's end, Albert Luthuli was elected as the new ANC president.

A National Convention of all South Africans was proposed by Professor Z. K, Matthews at the Cape ANC conference on 15 August 1953. The intention was to study the national problems on an all-inclusive basis and outline a manifesto of amity. In March 1954, the ANC, the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the Coloured People's Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats (SACOD) and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) met and founded the National Action Council for the Congress of the People. Delegates were drawn from each of these establishments and a nationwide organiser was assigned. A campaign was publicised for the drafting of a freedom charter, and a call was made for 10,000 unpaid assistants to help with the conscription of views from across the country and the organisation of the Congress of the People. Demands were documented and sent to the local board of the National Action Council in preparation for drafting the Charter.

The Congress of the People was held from 26 to 27 June 1955 in Kliptown, just south of Johannesburg. Under the attentive gaze of the constabulary, 3,000 delegates gathered to revise and accept the Freedom Charter that had been endorsed by the ANC's National Executive on the eve of the Congress. Among the organisations present were the Indian Congress and the ANC. The Freedom Charter, which articulated a vision for South Africa radically different from the partition policy of apartheid, emphasising that South Africa should be a just and non-racial society. It called for a one-person-one-vote democracy within a single unified state and stated that all people should be treated equally before the law, that land should be "shared among those who work it" and that the people should "share in the country's wealth"—a statement often been interpreted as a call for socialist nationalisation. The congress delegates had consented to almost all the sections of the charter when the police announced that they suspected treason and recorded the names and addresses of all those present.

In 1956 the Federation of South African Women was founded and led by Lilian Ngoyi and the more famous Helen Joseph. On 9 August that year, the women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, protesting against the pass laws. On the morning of 5 December 1956, however, the police detained 156 Congress Alliance leaders. 104 African, 23 white, 21 Indian and eight Coloured people were charged with high treason and plotting a violent overthrow of the state, to be replaced by a communist government. The charge was based on statements and speeches made during both the Defiance Campaign and the Congress of the People. The Freedom Charter was used as proof of the Alliance's communist intent and their conspiracy to oust the government. The State relied greatly on the evidence of Professor Arthur Murray, an ostensible authority on Marxism and Communism. His evidence was that the ANC papers were full of such communist terms as "comrade" and "proletariat", often found in the writings of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Halfway through the drawn-out trial, charges against 61 of the accused were withdrawn, and, five years after their arrest, the remaining 30 were acquitted after the court held that the state had failed to prove its case.

PAC and the Sharpeville massacre[edit]

Main articles: Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and Sharpeville massacre

In 1959 a group of disenchanted ANC members broke away from the ANC and formed the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), saying the ANC was too strongly influenced by white communists. First on the PAC's agenda was a series of nationwide demonstrations against the pass laws. The PAC called for blacks to demonstrate against pass books on 21 March 1960. One of the mass demonstrations organised by the PAC took place at Sharpeville, a township near Vereeniging. Estimates of the size of the crowd vary from 3,000 to 20,000.[16][17] The crowd converged on the Sharpeville police station, singing and offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books. A group of about 300 police panicked and opened fire on the demonstrators after the crowd trampled down the fence surrounding the police station. They killed 69 people and injured 186. All the victims were black, and most of them had been shot in the back. Many witnesses stated that the crowd was not violent, but Colonel J. Pienaar, the senior police officer in charge on the day, said, "Hordes of natives surrounded the police station. My car was struck with a stone. If they do these things they must learn their lesson the hard way". The event became known as the Sharpeville massacre. In its aftermath the government banned the African National Congress (ANC) and the PAC.

The Sharpeville Massacre helped shape ANC policy. Before Sharpeville those advocating the use of organised violence, had been marginalised as too radical by the ANC's leadership. After Sharpeville Mandela was allowed to launch his guerrilla struggle (called the "M" Plan). The military wings of the ANC and the PAC respectively, were never a military threat to the state.

Resistance goes underground[edit]

Sharpeville signalled that the South African government was not going to yield to the mood of black nationalism then sweeping across Africa, and that white South Africans did not accept that they were "colonials" to be swept into the sea by "decolonisation". Sharpeville thus foreshadowed the coming conflict between black nationalists and Afrikaner nationalists over the next 30 years.

In the wake of the shooting, a massive stay-away from work was organised and demonstrations continued. Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd declared a state of emergency, giving security forces the right to detain people without trial. Over 18,000 were arrested, including much of the ANC and PAC leadership, and both organisations were banned. The National Party government felt that outlawing the ANC and PAC would put an end to their operations. This was not the case. Some leaders went into exile abroad, while others stayed in South Africa and pursued the fight domestically. They went underground and initiated secret armed opposition groups.

The ANC and PAC ran campaigns of sabotage and terrorism through their armed wings, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, MK) and Poqo ("Pure" or "Alone"). The ANC leader, Chief Albert Luthuli, did not support an armed struggle, but there was growing backing for a violent struggle as people became angrier by the government's unwillingness to listen to them. In June 1961 the ANC executive agreed to the formation of MK.

Nelson Mandela, who was the commander of MK, had developed the "M Plan" (Mandela Plan), a programme of controlled sabotage, launching a guerrilla war modelled upon the FLN's struggle in Algeria. Its policy involved the targeting of state buildings for sabotage without resorting to murder. On 16 December 1961 MK carried out its first acts of sabotage by assaulting post offices and other structures in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Many other acts of sabotage would take place over the next few years. In its first 18 months, MK carried out about 200 acts of sabotage, but despite its policy of avoiding killings, some deaths did occur.[citation needed] The headquarters were at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, just outside Johannesburg.

Mandela began planning for MK members to be given military training outside South Africa and managed to slip past authorities as he himself moved in and out of the country, earning him the moniker "The Black Pimpernel". Mandela initially resisted arrest within South Africa, but in August 1962, after receiving some inside information, the police put up a roadblock and captured him. MK's success declined after this, and the police infiltrated the organisation.

A witch-hunt was launched against the dissident establishments. Many people were outlawed or placed under house arrest. In this way, the ANC net was shattered by the mid-1960s. Some people were held in detention, where they were often tormented or executed. In 1963, through a leak from informant Gerard Ludi, the police found the location of the MK headquarters at Lilliesleaf. In July, they raided the farm and arrested many major leaders of the ANC and MK, including Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada. They were detained and indicted with sabotage and attempting to bring down the government. At the same time, police collected evidence to be used in the trial, which enabled them to arrest other such people, like Denis Goldberg. Especially harmful was the information on Operation Mayibuye (Operation Comeback), a plan for bringing exiles back into the country. It also revealed that MK was planning to use guerrilla warfare.

Some ANC members, including Oliver Tambo, avoided capture and escaped South Africa to pursue the ANC's interests from beyond the country's boundaries. Tambo lead the ANC in exile for another 30 years. Many supporters also left South Africa for military training under MK.

The PAC's secretive martial arm was called Poqo, meaning "go it alone" or "pure" in the Xhosa tongue. Poqo was prepared to take lives in the quest for liberation. It murdered whites, police informants and black people who supported the government. It sought to arrange a national revolution to conquer the white government, but poor organisation and in-house nuisances crippled the PAC and Poqo.

The PAC did not have adequate direction. When Robert Sobukwe (jailed following the Sharpeville massacre) was discharged from Robben Island in 1969, he was placed under house arrest in Kimberley until he died in 1978. Police repeatedly lengthened his incarceration through the "Sobukwe clause", which permitted the state to detain people even after they had served their sentences. Many other PAC principals were taken into custody on 21 March 1960, and those released were hampered by bans.

The PAC's management difficulties also existed in exile. When they were outlawed, PAC leaders set up headquarters, in among places, Dar es Salaam, London and the United States. In 1962, Potlako Leballo (1915–1986) left the country for Maseru, Basutoland, and became the PAC's acting president. He and Mandela had arranged to meet but Mandela was arrested the day before Leballo reached Basutoland. When British intelligence in Maseru warned the South Africans that two female PAC couriers had crossed into South Africa to deliver letters the police confiscated correspondence addressed to 70 PAC cells. A wave of arrests followed, and 3,246 PAC and Poqo members went to jail. This led to the crumbling of the PAC within South Africa; the organisation's capacity to fight was further diminished when a large arms shipment from Ghana via Egypt failed to make a landing.

Leballo also annoyed external PAC leaders through his attempt, with Sobukwe's assent, to militarise the external party structure on Maoist Red Army lines. In 1968, the OAU Liberation Committee stepped in to back Leballo but the PAC was eventually expelled from Maseru (where it was allied to the opposition Basutoland Congress Party) and Lusaka (which was friendlier to the ANC). All in all, MK ran a far more successful guerrilla campaign than Poqo. Between 1974 and 1976 Leballo trained the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) in Libya and then 500 Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA) troops. American pressures split the PAC into a "reformist-diplomatic" group under Sibeko, Make, and Pokela; and a Maoist group under Leballo based in Ghana and Ugandan (Museveni) resistance controlled areas of Zaire (Congo). The 500 strong APLA force was destroyed by the Tanzanian military at Chunya on 11 March 1980 for refusing to accept the reformist-diplomatic leadership. Leballo was influential in the South African 1985 student risings and pivotal in removing Leabua Jonathan's regime in Lesotho, the stress of which caused his death. The PAC never recovered from the 1980 massacre of Leballo's troops and his death and won a paltry 1.2% of the vote in the 1994 South African election.

The widely publicised Rivonia Trial began in October 1963. Ten men stood accused of treason, trying to depose the government and sabotage. Nelson Mandela was tried, along with those arrested at Lilliesleaf and another 24 co-conspirators. Many of these people, however, had already fled the country, Tambo being but one.

The ANC used the lawsuit to draw international interest to its cause. During the trial, Mandela gave his legendary "I am prepared to die" diatribe. In June 1964, eight were found guilty of terrorism, sabotage, planning and executing guerrilla warfare, and working towards an armed invasion of the country. The treason charge was dropped. All eight were sentenced to life imprisonment. They did not get the death penalty, as this hazarded too much international criticism. Goldberg was sent to the Pretoria jail, and the other seven were all banished to the prison on Robben Island. Bram Fischer, the defence trial attorney, was himself arrested and tried shortly thereafter. The instructions that Mandela gave to make MK an African force were ignored: it continued to be organised and led by the SACP. Consequently, there were serious mutinies in Angolan camps by Soweto and Cape student recruits angry at the corrupt and brutal consequences of minority control.

The trial was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, and was a major force in the introduction of international sanctions against the South African government. After Sharpeville the ANC and PAC were banned. The South African Communist Party denied it existed, having dissolved in 1950 to escape banning as the CPSA. Leaders like Mandela and Sobukwe were either in jail or in exile.

By incarcerating leaders of MK and the ANC, the government was able to break the potency of the ANC within South Africa's borders, and greatly affect its efficiency outside of them. The ANC faced many problems in the aftermath of the Rivonia Trial, its inner administration cruelly afflicted. Exiled leaders understood that conveying skilled guerrillas into South Africa would be complicated, as bordering states were unfriendly towards the ANC. Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Bechuanaland (now Botswana) were still in colonial hands, and South West Africa (now Namibia) was controlled by the South African government. Thus, by 1964, the government had essentially broken the activist movements. The first armed invasion in South Africa's history by an African force was curiously the 1978 attack by the Lesotho Liberation (Army (LLA), a 178 strong force trained by Leballo, which was mostly wiped out in 1979. A second LLA was the creature of South African intelligence services backed by former CIA operatives (Ray Steiner Cline), former Rhodesian Army personnel, and anti-communist American and Asian organisations.

At the same time, international criticism of apartheid increased. The United Nations denounced the trial and commenced steps for the introduction of sanctions. The PAC and Poqo persisted in their activities through the late 1960s and 1970s, but, because of their use of violence, members were under continuous police surveillance, and there were few acts of damaging sabotage. The ANC looked into ways of infiltrating South Africa in spite of its lack of an organisational presence.

Although the ANC attempted to reconstruct itself, there would be no real action until the 1970s, when striking militancy began to reappear. At the end of the 1960s, new organisations and ideas would form to confront apartheid. The next key act of opposition would come only in 1976, however, with the Soweto uprising.

The government's effort at defeating all opposition had been effective. The State of Emergency was de-proclaimed; the economy boomed; and the government began implementing apartheid by building the infrastructures of the ten separate Homelands, and relocating blacks into these homelands. In 1966, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd was stabbed to death in parliament, but his policies continued under B.J. Vorster and later P.W. Botha.

Black Consciousness Movement[edit]

Main article: Black Consciousness Movement

Prior to the 1960s, the NP government had been most effective in crushing anti-apartheid opposition within South Africa by outlawing movements like the ANC and PAC, and driving their leaders into exile or captivity. This planted the seeds for the struggle, particularly at such tertiary-education organisations as the University of the North and Zululand University. These institutions were fashioned out of the Extension of University Education Act of 1959, which guaranteed that black and white students would be taught individually and inequitably.

After the banning of the ANC and PAC, and the Rivonia Trial, the struggle within South Africa had been dealt a stern blow. The age bracket that had seen the Sharpeville massacre had become apathetic in its gloom and despair. This changed in the late 1960s and most notably from the mid-1970s, when new devotion came from the latest, more radical generation. During this epoch, new anti-apartheid ideas and establishments were created, and they gathered support from across South Africa.

The surfacing of the South African Black Consciousness Movement was influenced by its American equivalent, the American Black Power movement, and directors such as Malcolm X. African heads like Kenneth Kaunda also stirred ideas of autonomy and Black Pride by means of their anti-colonialist writings. Scholars grew in assurance and became far more candid about the NP's bigoted policies and the repression of the black people.

During the 1970s, resistance gained force, first channelled through trade unions and strikes, and then spearheaded by the South African Students' Organisation, under the charismatic leadership of Steve Biko. A medical student, Biko was the main force behind the growth of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement, which stressed the need for psychological liberation, black pride, and non-violent opposition to apartheid.[18]

Founded by Biko, the BC faction materialised out of the ideas of the civil rights movement and Black Power movement in the USA. The motto of the movement was "Black is Beautiful", first made popular by boxer Mohammed Ali. BC endorsed black pride and African customs, and did much to alter feelings of inadequacy, while also raising awareness of the fallacy of blacks being seen as inferior. It defied practices and merchandise that were meant to make black people "whiter", such as hair straighteners and skin lighteners. Western culture was toured as destructive and alien to Africa. Black people became conscious of their own distinctive identity and self-worth, and grew more outspoken about their right to freedom.

The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) was the first organisation to represent students in South Africa, but it had a principally white membership, and black students saw this as an impediment. White students had concerns more scholastic than political, and, although the administration was multi-racial, it was not tackling many of the issues of the mounting number of black students since 1960. This resulted in the 1967 creation of the University Christian Movement (UCM), an organisation rooted in African-American philosophy.

In July 1967, the annual NUSAS symposium took place at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. White students were permitted to live on university grounds, but black students were relegated to accommodation further away in a church vestibule. This later led to the creation of the South African Students Organisation (SASO), under Steve Biko, in 1969.

The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was an umbrella organisation for groups such as SASO. It was created in 1967, and among its members were the Azanian People's Organisation, the black Community Programme (which directed welfare schemes for blacks), the Black People's Convention (which, at first, attempted to unite charitable associations like that for the Education and Cultural Advancement of African People of South Africa) and the South African Students Movement (SASM), which represented high-school learners. The BPC finally expanded into a political administration, with Steve Biko as its honorary president.

When the BCM's principles were illuminated, a number of fresh organisations, staunch in their endorsement of black liberation, came into being. The Azanian People's Organisation was only launched in 1978, a long time after the birth of the Black Consciousness Movement, as a medium for its message.

The BCM drew most of its backing from high schools and tertiary institutions. Black Consciousness ethics were crucial in lifting consciousness amongst black people of their value and right to a better existence, along with the need to insist on these. The BCM's non-violent approach subsided in favour of a more radical element as its resolve to attain liberty was met with state hostility.

After the carnage in Soweto the ANC's Nelson Mandela grudgingly concurred that bloodshed was the only means left to convince the NP to accede to commands for an end to its apartheid policy. A subversive plan of terror was mapped out, with Steve Biko and the BCM to the fore. The Black Consciousness Movement and other opinionated elements were prohibited during the 1970s because the government saw them as dangerous. Black Consciousness in South Africa adopted a drastic theory, much like socialism, as the liberation movement progressed to challenging class divisions and shifting from an ethnic stress to focusing more on non-racialism. The BCM became more worried about the destiny of the black people as workers, believing that "economic and political exploitation has reduced the black people into a class".

With Black Consciousness increasing throughout black communities, a number of other organisations were formed to combat apartheid. In 1972, the Black People's Convention was founded, and the black Allied Worker's Union, formed in 1973, focused on black labour matters. The black community programmes gave attention to the more global issues of black communities. School learners began to confront the Bantu education policy, designed to prepare them to be second-class citizens. They created the South African Student's Movement (SASM). It was particularly popular in Soweto, where the 1976 insurrection against Bantu Education would prove to be a crossroads in the fight against apartheid.

Taken into custody on 18 August 1977, Steve Biko was brutally tortured by unidentified security personnel until he lapsed into a coma. He went for three days without medical treatment and finally died in Pretoria. At the subsequent inquest, the magistrate ruled that no-one was to blame, but the South African Medical Association eventually took action against the doctors who had failed to treat Biko.

There was tremendous reaction both within and outside South Africa. Foreign countries imposed even more stringent sanctions, and the United Nations imposed an arms embargo. Young blacks inside South Africa committed themselves even more fervently to the struggle against apartheid, under the catchphrase "Liberation before education". Black communities became highly politicised.

The Black Consciousness Movement began to change its focus during the 1980s from being on issues of nation and community to issues of class and, perhaps as a result, had far less of an impact than in the mid-'seventies. Still, there is some evidence to suggest that it retained at least some influence, particularly in workers' organisations.

The role of Black Consciousness could be clearly seen in the approach of the National Forum, which believed that the struggle ought to hold little or no place for whites. This ideal, of blacks leading the resistance campaign, was an important aim of the traditional Black Consciousness groups, and it shaped the thinking of many 'eighties activists, most notably the workforce. Furthermore, the NF focused on workers' issues, which became more and more important to BC supporters.

The Azanian People's Organisation was the leading Black Consciousness group of the 1980s. It got most of its support from young black men and women—many of them educated at colleges and universities. The organisation had a lot of support in Soweto and also amongst journalists, helping to popularise its views. It focused, too, on workers' issues, but it refused to form any ties with whites.

Although it did not achieve quite the same groundswell of support that it had in the late 1970s, Black Consciousness still influenced the thinking of a few resistance groups.

Soweto uprising[edit]

Main article: Soweto uprising

In 1974 the Afrikaans Medium Decree forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as languages of instruction. The intention was to forcibly reverse the decline of Afrikaans among black Africans. The Afrikaner-dominated government used the clause of the 1909 Constitution that recognised only English and Afrikaans as official languages as pretext to do so.

The decree was resented deeply by blacks as Afrikaans was widely viewed, in the words of Desmond Tutu, then Dean of Johannesburg as "the language of the oppressor". Teacher organisations such as the African Teachers Association of South Africa objected to the decree.

The resentment grew until 30 April 1976, when children at Orlando West Junior School in Soweto went on strike, refusing to go to school. Their rebellion then spread to many other schools in Soweto. Students formed an Action Committee (later known as the Soweto Students' Representative Council) that organised a mass rally for 16 June 1976. The protest was intended to be peaceful.

In a confrontation with police, who had barricaded the road along the intended route, stones were thrown. Attempts to disperse the crowd with dogs and tear gas failed; when the police saw they were surrounded by the students, they fired shots into the crowd, at which point pandemonium broke out.

In the first day of rioting 23 people were killed in escalating violence. The following day 1,500 heavily armed police officers were deployed to Soweto. Crowd control methods used by South African police at the time included mainly dispersement techniques, and many of the officers shot indiscriminately, killing 176 people, most by police violence.[19][20]

Student organisations[edit]

Student organisations played a significant role in the Soweto uprisings, and after 1976 protests by school children became frequent. There were two major urban school boycotts, in 1980 and 1983. Both involved black, Indian and coloured children, and both went on for months. There were also extended protests in rural areas in 1985 and 1986. In all of these areas, schools were closed and thousands of students, teachers and parents were arrested.

South African Students Movement[edit]

Students from Orlando West and Diepkloof High Schools (both in Soweto) created the African Students Movement in 1970. This spread to the Eastern Cape and Transvaal, drawing other high schools. In March 1972, the South African Students Movement (SASM) was instituted.

SASM gave support to its members with school work and exams, and with progress from lower school levels to university. Security forces pestered its members continually until, in 1973, some of its leaders fled the country. In 1974 and 1975, some affiliates were captured and tried under the Suppression of Communism and Terrorism Acts. This flagged the SASM's progress. Many school headmasters and -mistresses forbade the organisation from playing a role in their schools.

When the Southern Transvaal local Bantu Education Department concluded that all junior secondary black students had to be taught in Afrikaans in 1974, SASM limbs at Naledi High School and Orlando West Secondary Schools opted to vent their grievances on school books and refused to attend their schools This form of struggle spread fast to other schools in Soweto and hit boiling point around 8 June 1976. When law enforcement attempted to arrest a regional SASM secretary, they were stoned and had their cars torched.

On 13 June 1976, nearly 400 SASM associates gathered and chose to start a movement for mass action. An Action Committee was shaped with two agents from each school in Soweto. This board became known as the Soweto Students' Representatives Council (SSRC). The protest was set aside for 16 June 1976, and the organisers were determined only to use aggression if they were assaulted by the police.

National Union of South African Students[edit]

Main article: National Union of South African Students

After the Sharpeville Massacre, some black student organisations came out but were short-lived under state proscription and antagonism from university powers. They were also unsuccessful in co-operating effectively with one another, resulting in a dearth of harmony and force.

By 1963, one of the few envoys for tertiary students was the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). Although the organisation was meant to be non-racial and anti-government, it was made up primarily of white English students from customarily broad-minded universities such as those in Natal, Cape Town, the Witwatersrand and Grahamstown. These students were had compassion for the effort against the state. By 1967, however, NUSAS was forbidden from functioning on black universities, making it almost impossible for black Student Representative Councils to join the union.

South African Students Organisation[edit]

Main article: South African Students Organisation

Growing displeasure among black students and the expansion of Black Consciousness led to the incarnation of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) at Turfloop. In July 1969, Steve Biko became the organisation's inaugural head. This boosted the mood of the students and the Black Consciousness Movement. By means of the unified configuration of SASO, the principles of Black Consciousness came to the forefront as a fresh incentive for the strugglers.

Congress of South African Students[edit]

The Congress of South African Students (COSAS) was aimed at co-ordinating the education struggle and organised strikes, boycotts and mass protests around community issues. After 1976 it made a number of demands from the Department of Education and Training (DET), including the scrapping of matric examination fees. It barred many DET officials from entering schools, demanded that all students pass their exams – "pass one, pass all"—and disrupted exams.

National Education Crisis Committee[edit]

In 1986, following school boycotts, the National Education Crisis Committee (NECC) was constituted from parents, teachers and students. It encouraged students to return to their studies, taking on forms of protest less disruptive to their education. Consumer boycotts were recommended instead and teachers and students were encouraged to work together to develop an alternative education system.