Home History 322 lecture list Wallace G. Mills Hist. 322 17 African Nationalism

Origins and Development of African Nationalism

- the term ‘African nationalism’ has been used in a very broad way. As a general definition, African nationalism in South Africa can be seen, broadly, as all political actions and ideological elements to improve the status, the rights and position of Africans in the emerging society imposed by white intrusion and conquest.

- the movement does not look back nor want to restore some earlier political or social situation. Thus, it is clearly a secondary form of resistance.

- it showed up 1st and most clearly in the early phases in the Cape Colony because that was the only area which had any significant political rights and opportunities. African political interest and involvement began in the 1870s and became a significant factor from the 1880s. Among the early organisations formed were: Native Voters’ Vigilance Ass., Native Education Ass. and the temperance body, the Independent Order of True Templars.

- as previously noted, the high degree of political unity among Africans in the Cape was broken in the 1890s. In the polarisation of politics in the 1898 elections, Africans were also divided. In the years that followed, that split was deepened and led eventually to the formation of 2 political organisations among Africans: South African Political Association led by Rev. Walter Rubusana in 1902 and the Cape Native Voters Association led by John Tengo Jabavu in 1907. Although the correlation was not complete (i.e., there were exceptions on both sides), membership of the 2 organisations tended to be Xhosa and Mfengu respectively.

- in spite of the division, there were broader, South African issues on which Africans could agree and often work together during the next decade or so:

- the first South Africa wide conference on the South Africa Act in 1910 noted above set the stage for further action. There was a recognition that Africans needed to coordinate their political actions and to speak with greater unity in the new Union of South Africa. A new conference was held in 1912 and the South African Native National Congress (the name was changed to the African National Congress in 1923) was organised. (This ANC document gives some details of that founding convention.)

- it is argued sometimes that this organisation was a class organisation of newly educated and westernised elite seeking to improve its own position and being willing to sell out the majority of other Africans. We shall discuss this more later, but this is a great exaggeration and distortion. It has been advanced by those who are determined that ‘class’ is the only significant determinant of behaviour and human history.

- it is true that most of the leadership of the ANC came from the westernised elite; this is hardly surprising as this kind of organisation is not based in African tradition and it had to operate in an environment that was part of the western political system imposed by conquest and white domination. However, from the ANC’s beginning, elaborate efforts were made to involve others.

- the SANNC (ANC) had a very elaborate and complex constitution modelled on the British parliamentary system; it had 2 houses—an upper house of chiefs and a lower house of commoners. In other words, there was a deliberate effort to involve the traditional African elite (and thus traditionalists generally) and to treat them with great deference and respect.

- moreover, the 1st big issue they contested was the 1913 Native Land Act. Certainly, the implications of the Act were there for all Africans in the restrictions on the right to purchase land, but the biggest immediate impact was not on the elite, but on the African farmers—the ‘squatters’ (i.e., renters) and sharecroppers.

- again the elite came together, raised funds and sent a delegation to London to get the British government to exercise its theoretical rights to protect Africans by disallowing the law; it was ‘theoretical’ because for practical and legal purposes, dominion status made it virtually impossible for the British government to intervene even if it had wanted to. It did not want to; the Liberal government had been deliberately and very speedily trying to get out of all obligations in South Africa.

- it should be noted that the SANNC/ANC was not the only organisation, especially during the interwar period when the ANC was weak and almost moribund in the 1930s.

- because of the special political position in the Cape where some Africans were on the common voters rolls, Africans there often felt the need for more specific organisations to protect and promote their interests, such as:
- Africans were also involved in a number of interracial organisations:
African National Congress
- some scholars have divided the history of the ANC and African nationalism up to the repression following the Sharpeville incident into two stages:
  1. Early, elite stage—up to World War II;
  2. Mass movement stage—from middle 1940s, try to mobilise the masses of Africans and lead resistance to apartheid after 1948 and up until the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960.
- while this periodisation has some validity and usefulness, it is based on analyses taken over without sufficient qualifications from other areas of Africa. If applied too literally, it is simplistic and distorting.
Early stage
- unity among Africans was a focus from the beginning. In 1911, in issuing the call for the conference that led to the formation of the SANNC in 1912, Dr. P. Ka Seme emphasised this:
“The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between Zulus and the Tongans, between the Basutos and every other Native must be buried and forgotten; it has shed among us sufficient blood! We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness and ignorance today.”
- beginning in the first decade of the century, Africans began to attend international conferences (such as the Pan-African Congresses and the League Against Imperialism) in Paris, London, Belgium, etc. Thus, ideas and trends developing elsewhere were quickly brought to South Africa.

- the techniques used were the ‘respectable’ ones—petitions, deputations, and resolutions; the ANC was resolutely dedicated to non-violence. Even passive resistance and civil disobedience were not used until after World War 2.
Objective of the ANC
- for the most part members seemed to want a system like that of Cape ‘liberalism’ (i.e., they conceded that not all Africans were ready for equal rights and for full participation in politics; however, they felt that political rights should be non-racial to anyone possessing the requisite qualifications). They opposed any and all artificial (especially racial) barriers and hindrances in economic and occupational areas.

- here, many scholars have raised the ‘elitist’ charge; some have gone even further to argue that they were perfectly happy and were prepared to ‘sell out’ their uneducated and unassimilated brothers in return for some concessions and privileges for themselves—the ‘betrayal’ of the bourgeoisie.

- this is neither fair nor accurate. In the documents selected in From Protest to Challenge, there is evidence repeated many times of the ‘elite’ rousing themselves and protesting vigorously against laws which affect the masses; the 1913 Land Act is a good example, but there are many others.

- moreover, their proposals never contemplated freezing the situation; they saw their own demands as merely the beginning of a long-term process (i.e., they would open the doors through which over time, more and more Africans would pass).
Ideological Influences on African nationalism
  1. Christianity and postmillennialism
    - right from the beginning, the ideal for South Africa among members of the African nationalist movement was a multiracial, democratic society—i.e., the broadest and most inclusive kind of nationalism. These aspirations were rooted in Christian values and teaching, especially postmillennialism; postmillennialism encompassed the idea of progressive improvement of people and of society towards the eventual achievement of millennial society, or at least one in which Christian principles would be dominant and pervasive, with equality and equity; there would be an end to discrimination, inequality and barriers based upon colour or race.

    - this has been far and away the largest and most consistent influence on African nationalism, especially on the ANC. If one examines the leadership of the ANC, the scale of this influence quickly becomes obvious; many were Christian clergymen and a large proportion of others were active laymen in the Christian churches.
  1. Communism and the Communist Party
    - it is true that the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) emerged in 1921 and some Africans joined.

    - initially, the CPSA supported white workers in their confrontations with capitalists (the Rand strike and similar conflicts and confrontations). There was an inherent problem for Marxists and one with which they have had great difficulty. Originally, they assumed, “Here is the quintessential class struggle of proletariat against capitalism— incipient revolution.”

    - however, you have to look at what the struggle was really about. White workers wanted protection from the competition of African workers, special privileges and higher rates of compensation—i.e., the colour bar and ‘civilised wages’ (several times wages of African workers). Subsequently, this was recognised [although until very recently, most Marxists still maintained despite all the evidence, that the ‘true’ interests of white and black workers were the same]; on orders from Moscow, the CPSA shifted support to Africans as the true representatives of the proletariat.

    - some Africans did become members of the CPSA and a few even went off to Moscow for training, etc. However, these were never very numerous and over time, some became disillusioned and left the party. In spite of claims and white fears, communism was never especially successful among Africans. Even in the post 1948 period, white communists were more visible and influential than African communists.

    - the influence of the CPSA in the ANC was, especially during the interwar period, not very strong. Partly, this was because communists attacked the educated leaders as bourgeois, etc. The latter responded by expelling communists from the ANC.

    - in the 1950s, the ANC became more inclusive and tolerant; it was argued that anyone who opposed apartheid and the National Party (NP) government was welcome and that included communists. The ANC allied itself with the white Congress of Democrats, most of whom were former CPSA members. As is well known, Joe Slovo, the white CPSA member and later general secretary of the CPSA, became an influential member of the ANC leadership during the long years of suppression and exile; he also became an ANC cabinet minister in the transitional government led by Nelson Mandela. Yet, it is untrue to argue, as the NP government as well as anti-communist fanatics in the US, Britain (e.g., Margaret Thatcher), and even Canada did, that the ANC was controlled or dominated by communists.

    - moreover, there was serious opposition to allowing communists into the ANC or even to ally with the Congress of Democrats. The strongest opposition came from Lembede’s followers in the Youth League. This opposition was a major complaint of those who split from the ANC in the late 1950s and formed the Pan Africanist Congress in 1959 (we shall examine this in the next module/lecture).
  1. Booker T. Washington’s Ideas and Approaches
    - Booker T. Washington’s (1856-1915) ideas did appeal to a few South Africans late in the 19th C and early 20th C. Washington had started the famous Tuskegee Institute in 1881.

    - Washington believed that black people needed to concentrate for the immediate future on educational and economic development and avoid politics; until they were equal in these areas, they would not get and probably should not expect to get, much from politics in competition with white people. More militant blacks have sometimes regarded Washington as a bit of an Uncle Tom; that belittles his achievements and is usually rooted in a profound ignorance of the conditions and situation faced by African Americans in Washington’s time. In fact, one site claims that he was not quite as accommodationist as has been charged.

    - when Washington’s ideas were discussed in 1886-87 in the Xhosa-English newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu, Africans in the Cape overwhelmingly rejected his approach.

    - however, Rev. John Dube (1871-1946) was a great admirer of Washington and advocate of his ideas; Dube had spent time in the US being educated and visited Tuskegee. In fact he founded Ohlange Institute modelled on Tuskegee. Dube was 1st president of SANNC and served additional terms as president and on the ANC executive. During the 1930s when he served again as president, he was increasingly out of touch with younger leaders and what they wanted. Thus, it cannot be said that Washington’s ideas had much influence on African nationalism or the ANC. Any influence that they exerted was on people of Dube’s generation
  1. Pan Africanism and the Africanist Tradition.
    - there were 2 traditions in pan Africanism: the ‘Africanist’ stream and the ‘non-racialist’ or ‘equality’ stream. Although Africans from South Africa attended Pan African Conferences and were certainly aware of the ideas of pan Africanism as they evolved in the 20th C, the ‘Africanist’ tradition did not have a major impact and influence on African nationalism in South Africa until the 1940s.

    - pan Africanism was developed by members of the African diaspora, primarily from the western hemisphere; as a result, it was not African in its origins and leadership and ownership did not pass to Africans until 1945.

    - the term ‘pan-African’ was a way of drawing the link between all people with an African ancestry; however, as we shall see, this is rather different from what the term came to mean by the 1960s.

    - pan-Africanism was also a reaction to the fever of racism and intolerance which gripped most of Europe and the West in the late 19th and early 20th Cs; for black people who were increasingly excluded and discriminated against in the western hemisphere and Europe, who were looked down upon and denigrated, pan-Africanism was an attempt to find some alternative.
Dr. Edward Blyden
- Blyden is usually credited with being the first to articulate ideas that came to be denoted as pan-Africanism. He migrated (he would undoubtedly have said ‘returned’) to Africa (Liberia) from the West Indies, before the scramble and while Africa might still be viewed as somewhere to be free of the repression and domination of whites and their far-reaching racism.

- Blyden emphasised the ‘Africanness’ and the uniqueness of ‘race’ of people originating from Africa. In 1881 at the opening of Liberia College, he warned against assimilation. “The African must advance by methods of his own. ... We must show that we are able to go alone, to carve our own way.”

- in 1888 he wrote, “I would rather be a member of the African race now than a Greek in the time of Alexander, a Roman in the Augustan period, or an Anglo-Saxon in the nineteenth century.”

- in 1902, Edward Blyden was the first person to use the term ‘African personality’. “Every race has a soul, and the soul of a race finds expression in its institutions.”
Casely Hayford
- Hayford, who was one of the early elite of West Africa in the late 19th C and thus unusual as a contributor to pan Africanism in the early period, was an admirer of Blyden and contributed an important book in this tradition in 1911, Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation.

- some points to note:
Pan-African Conferences and Congresses
- the 1st conference was organised in 1900 in London by another West Indian, Sylvester Williams. Not many Africans were there; most were from the western hemisphere, including the American, W.E.B. du Bois.

- Du Bois was the organiser of the next 4 congresses :
- while there were Africans at these sessions (often they were students studying abroad), the majority were diaspora blacks and leadership was primarily by them.

- the onset of the depression may be the major reason for the lapse in meetings until the conference in Manchester in 1945, organised by a West Indian lawyer living in London, George Padmore. It was at this conference that Africans came to the fore and in a sense took control of pan-Africanism. Among the delegates were Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, both of whom had been studying and living abroad for many years. Nkrumah would take control of the movement in the 1950s.
Ideology of Pan-Africanism
- the two streams emerged early; we have already noted the beginnings of the ‘Africanist’ stream in discussing Blyden.
Significance of Pan-African movement
  1. It affirmed the worth of black people and therefore rejected the inferiority ascribed by racist thought in the late 19th and 20th Cs.

  2. It helped to launch the struggle for rights and equality for black people in the diaspora; although there were advocates of a return migration to Africa, eventually and especially after 1945, black people in the diaspora focused on rights and justice where they lived.

  3. In Africa, it asserted the right of independence for Africans—“Africa for the Africans.”

    - in addition to the slogan, Pan-Africanism contributed in at least 3 ways:
  4. It held out a lofty ideal for the future of independent Africa. Through pan Africanism, it was hoped that Africa could avoid the terrible mistakes of Europe.

    - by emphasising the unity of all African peoples and shared goals and ideals, it was hoped that nationalism would be a positive influence while avoiding the negative features (xenophobia, narrow parochialism, aggressive expansionism, etc.) which have caused so much bloodshed and horror elsewhere.
- the ANC has mostly adopted the ‘equality’ approach similar to Du Bois with the goal of a multiracial society with equality for all. Certainly, Garvey’s ideas were known in South Africa by the early 1920s. However, the ‘Africanist’ stream did not have a significant impact in South Africa until the early 1940s and the formation of the Youth League inside the ANC. We shall return to this after discussing what happened to the ANC during the interwar period.

- during the 1930s, the ANC became nearly moribund. There are a number of reasons:
  1. Lack of success; in the 1920s, segregation and the colour bar began to be implemented vigorously and protests and delegations were ignored by the white politicians, especially politicians in the National Party.

    - in 1936, after 10 years of campaigning, Africans were removed from the common rolls of voters in the Cape Province.

  2. There was a proliferation of alternatives.
  3. Conflicts among the leaders
    - partly, these were ideological; many of the older leaders were strongly opposed to communists.

    - however, the conflicts also became a generation struggle; younger leaders were becoming increasingly impatient with the non-confrontational, deferential approach of the older leaders.

    - nevertheless, some of it was apparently personal; e.g., Dube and Champion, both Zulus from Natal, were bitter rivals in Natal for most of the 1930s and 40s even though both came to be opposed by the younger leaders in the Youth League, but for different reasons. Champion was a strong Zulu nationalist and had close ties to the Zulu royal house, kind of a preview of Mangusuthu Buthelezi.

- at the end of the 1930s, the ANC was divided, drifting and in danger of disappearing. However, in 1939, Dr. Alfred Xuma became president and under his leadership over the next 10 years, the ANC was rebuilt and revitalized.

African Nationalism after 1945

- under Dr. Alfred Xuma (1893-1962), president of the ANC 1939-1949, the ANC was rebuilt and revitalised; Xuma brought in the younger leaders of the Youth League in the 1940s, he worked with the Communist Party after 1944, and he promoted cooperation with the South African Indian Congress late in the war as well.

Anton Lembede (1914-1947) and the ‘Africanist’ Tradition
- Lembede was a brilliant person who never stopped studying until his early death at 33 years. He accumulated a B.A., LL.B. and M.A. degrees and was working on a doctorate when he died. He was said to be proficient in 6 or 7 languages. A teacher until 1943, he then moved from his native Natal to Johannesburg to article in law, for which he qualified in 1946.

- Lembede joined the ANC in 1943; with Jordan Ngubane and A. P. Mda, he founded the ANC Youth League in 1944 and became its first president.

- there have been no studies of Lembede, so most of what we know about his thinking comes from his followers, especially those who eventually withdrew from the ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1958.

- Lembede studied nationalism and came to the conclusion that it was the force that could be used to mobilise Africans in the struggle to wrest control of South African society from the white minority. However, it could not be a narrow, exclusivist nationalism such as had developed among Afrikaners (he may have been the one to attach the term ‘herrenvolkism’ to Afrikaner nationalism); thus, his African nationalism had to transcend ethnic divisions and identities.

- Lembede also was strongly anti-communist. You can see the striking similarities between his ideas and those of George Padmore. Lembede likely knew Padmore’s book, but perhaps came to many of the same conclusions on his own.

- Lembede called for massive struggle and confrontation with white racism and domination, but I don’t know how specific he was about the exact means. According to his PAC followers’ ideas, he may have perceived the problem much like marxists do—i. e., one of awareness. Africans had to recognise their common identity, their common oppression, and the need for common action and the battle was well on the way to being won. The will of the aroused masses would triumph over all.

- Lembede called for a mobilisation of the masses and during this period, the ANC did become a mass mobilisation movement; the Youth League brought a new generation of leaders into the ANC, including a young Nelson Mandela.

- Lembede died before the triumph of the National Party in the 1948 election. We do not know, therefore, how his thinking might have evolved as the struggle to prevent apartheid developed.


- as noted, under Xuma the ANC was also broadening its alliances to include the Communist Party and S. A. Indian National Congress; as the National Party began to implement its drastic apartheid policies, this continued and the ANC adopted the position that it should work with anyone who opposed apartheid.

- many younger leaders, like Nelson Mandela, dropped the anti-communism and the narrow focus on Africanist thinking.
The Africanists
- although they remained in the ANC, a minority of Youth League members were becoming increasingly frustrated that not only was white domination not being over-thrown, but it was becoming even more entrenched and oppressive. On the other hand, they saw the beginning of independence from colonialism in the rest of Africa, especially the new state of Ghana. While the massive trend for independence did not come until 1959 and the ‘winds of change’ (a slogan used by Harold Macmillan in a tour of African colonies during which the timetables for independence for many colonies was set out), clearly the writing was on the wall.

- eventually, the Africanists came to the conclusion that the main reason for the failure was the ANC’s cooperation with other racial groups, particularly whites, and with communists (many of the communists were white so this was a double damnation).

- after the Congress of the People, which drew up the Freedom Charter in 1955 (see below), the alienation grew worse. Finally, after growing hostilities in the ANC (in the Transvaal particularly) nearly led to physical fighting, the dissidents (when it was clear that they were a minority) broke away and formed the Pan Africanist Congress in 1958 with Robert Sobukwe as the 1st leader.

- from an interview with Sobukwe published in January 1959 (From Protest to Challenge, v.3, pp. 507-8) the following excerpts illustrate some of their complaints, differences with the ANC etc.:

Q. What are your differences with the A.N.C.?

A First of all we differ radically in our conception of the struggle. We firmly hold that we are oppressed as a subject nation—the African nation. To us, therefore, the struggle is a national struggle. Those of the A.N.C. who are its active policy-makers, maintain, in the face of all the hard facts of the S.A. situation, that ours is a class struggle. We are, according to them, oppressed as WORKERS both white and black. But it is significant that they make no attempt whatsoever to organise white workers. Their white allies are all of them bourgeoise!

Secondly we differ in our attitude to ‘co-operation’ with other national groups. Perhaps it might be better to say we differ in our understanding of the term ‘co-operation.’ We believe that co-operation is possible only between equals. There can be no co-operation between oppressor and oppressed, dominating and dominated. That is collaboration, not co-operation. And we cannot collaborate in our own oppression! The A.N.C leadership, on the other hand, would seem to believe that all that is required for people to be ‘equals’ is that they should declare that they are equals, and lo! the trick is done.

At the present moment the A.N.C. leadership regards anybody and everybody who is against the Nationalist government (for whatever reasons) as allies.

This latter attitude is the result of a mentality that continues to speak of South Africa as though it were an island, completely cut off from the continent and, therefore, able to fashion its own policies and programmes, unrelated to and unaffected by those of the other African States. We, on the other hand, have always been acutely aware of the fact that ours is a particular front in a battle raging across the continent. We claim Afrika for the Africans; the A.N.C. claims South Africa for all. To the A.N.C. leadership the present Nationalist government is the properly elected government of South Africa whose policies, however, it does not approve of. And the A.N.C.’s main struggle is to get the Nats out of power. The fact that the Nats are a logical product of past South African history and that what they stand for is approved and supported by the overwhelming majority of whites in the country has apparently escaped the notice of A.N.C. leadership.

We, however, stand for the complete overthrow of white domination. ....

Q. What is your answer to the accusation that you are anti-white?

A. On the material level we just cannot see any possibility of co-operation. To say that we are prepared to accept anybody who subscribes to our Programme is but to state a condition that one knows cannot be fulfilled. From past history, not only of this country but of other countries as well, we know that a group in a privileged position never voluntarily relinquishes that position. If some members of the group appear to be sympathetic to the demands of the less-privileged, it is only in so far as those demands do not threaten the privileges of the favoured group. If they (the privileged) offer assistance, it is for the purpose of ‘directing’ and ‘controlling’ the struggle of the underprivileged and making sure that it does not become ‘dangerous.’

Q. But are you anti-white or not?

A. What is meant by anti-whiteism? Is it not merely an emotional term without a precise signification? Let me put it this way: In every struggle, whether national or class, the masses do not fight an abstraction. They do not hate oppression or capitalism. They concretise these and hate the oppressor, be he the Governor-General or a colonial power, the landlord or the factory-owner, or, in South Africa, the white man. But they hate these groups because they associate them with their oppression! Remove the association and you remove the hatred. In South Africa then, once white domination has been overthrown and the white man is no longer ‘white-man boss’ but is an individual member of society, there will be no reason to hate him and he will not be hated even by the masses.

We are not anti-white, therefore. We do not hate the European because he is white! We hate him because he is an oppressor. And it is plain dishonesty to say I hate the sjambok and not the one who wields it.

Q. Do you regard all whites as oppressors?

A. We regard them all as shareholders in the S.A. Oppressors Company (Pty.) Ltd. There are whites, of course, who are intellectually converted to our cause, but because of their position materially, they cannot fully identify themselves with the struggle of the African people. They want safeguards and check-points all along the way, with the result that the struggle of the people is blunted, stultified and crushed.
- in his opening address to the 1st conference of the PAC in April 1959 in regard to the position of South Africa in relation to the rest of Africa, Sobukwe referred to Padmore’s book, Pan Africanism or Communism (From Protest to Challenge, v.3, p. 513):
“Discussing the future of Afrika, Padmore observes that ‘there is a growing feeling among politically conscious Africans throughout the continent that their destiny is one, that what happens in one part of Afrika to Africans must affect Africans living in other parts’.

“We honour Ghana as the first independent state in modern Afrika which, under the courageous nationalist leadership of Dr. Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party, has actively interested itself in the liberation of the whole continent from White domination, and has held out the vision of a democratic United States of Afrika. We regard it as the sacred duty of every African state to strive ceaselessly and energetically for the creation of a United States of Afrika, stretching from Cape to Cairo, Morocco to Madagascar.

“The days of small, independent countries are gone. Today we have, on the one hand, great powerful countries of the world; America and Russia cover huge tracts of land territorially and number hundreds of millions in population. On the other hand the small weak independent countries of Europe are beginning to realise that for their own survival they have to form military and economic federations, hence NATO and the European market.

“Besides the sense of common historical fate that we share with the other countries of Afrika, it is imperative, for purely practical reasons that the whole of Afrika be united into a single unit, centrally controlled. Only in that way can we solve the immense problems that face the continent.”
- this was the PAC’s answer to the notion of South Africa’s ‘exceptionalism’—i.e., that South Africa was an exception in Africa, that the large number of whites and other minorities in South Africa made it very different from most African colonies and states where there were at most only tiny racial minorities. If South Africa is considered as only a part of the entire continent of Africa, then its minorities are insignificant as a proportion of the total population of Africa. In another document, they mention the 5 million Europeans who had constituted themselves as the ruling class over 250 million indigenous people in Africa.
Passive Resistance
- by the end of World War 2, especially as a result of the Youth League, the ANC adopted a more confrontational approach; however, in line with its past history of non-violence, its policy was to remain within the paradigm of passive resistance. Passive resistance usually involves civil disobedience and the deliberate breaking of the laws, thus forcing the government to undertake large scale arrests of people. There are two dimensions to non-violent, passive resistance:
  1. Moral Confrontation
    - civil order requires that most citizens acknowledge the legitimacy of the law and of the government. Thus, most citizens obey the law voluntarily. When large numbers of citizens deliberately break the law and court arrest, this is a powerful statement of moral disapproval of the law and any government which enforces that law.

    - also, if that government then proceeds to arrest large numbers and especially if they use violence against their citizens, this is a tacit admission that the government has lost moral authority.

    - usually, the message being sent by the civil disobedience is directed to third parties—other citizens in the same country (as in the US civil rights struggle) or to people and governments outside, at the UN, etc.

  2. Administrative Confrontation
    - this is an attempt to overwhelm the system, to overload the prison and court systems with multitudes of law breakers to force the government to change the law.
- non violent, passive resistance was the technique being attempted with the Defiance Campaign, launched 26 June 1952, and efforts against the pass laws. Protesters refused to carry passes or publicly burned them. The problem was that the National Party government was completely immune to the moral dimension (until the 1980s, the National Party was absolutely convinced of the rightness of apartheid). Nor were the vast majority of the politically significant population (i.e., white voters) at all moved by the moral statement. While the actions did gain a great deal of support outside South Africa, including at the UN, the massive production of gold gave the S.A. government the ability to ignore outside opinion; moreover, by trading on fears of communism during the Cold War era, the government also benefited from the unwillingness of many western governments to take many actions beyond words. As a result, with many leaders and tens of thousands of members in prison, the effort had to be abandoned.

- another technique (pioneered by Ghandi and used with great effect in the US civil rights campaign) is boycotts. This was the main tactic in trying to oppose Bantu Education. Parents were urged to take their children from schools; initially, the ANC tried to organise private schools as an alternative. This would have been very difficult to organise and pay for given the low levels of income that Africans were restricted to by the colour bar and apartheid. However, the government passed new laws to make any private schools illegal. Thus, parents were faced with the dilemma of denying their children any education or putting them back into the Bantu Education schools. In fact, the government issued a deadline to parents to get their children back into schools or be prohibited forever. The costs to their children were too great for most parents and the boycott failed.

- other boycotts sometimes had minor successes. A bus boycott in SOWETO was such a minor success. When fares were increased by the government, Africans refused to pay. For several weeks, passengers walked; because SOWETO had been set up so far out of Johannesburg, this meant 2 hours or more each morning and night leaving home by 4 a.m. and not getting home until 8 p.m. or later.

- the ‘stay-at-home’ was another tactic. It had been made illegal for Africans to go on strike. In effect, a ‘stay-at-home’ was really a kind of general strike (i.e., a strike against all employers, including the government, not just one) without being called one. Generally, the government response to a strike was to fire everyone, try to send them all back to reserves and recruit replacement workers. This in fact was always threatened, but if the ‘stay-at-home’ was done on a large enough scale, the effects on the economy prevented the government from following through, although they might try to deal with ‘ringleaders’.

- several times, Africans did stage stay-at-homes, but it could only be done on a short-term basis—a day or two. If prolonged, the stay-at-home became divisive as most Africans had few resources and could ill-afford to give up even a day’s pay. Also, migrant workers were especially unwilling to go along; very quickly, clashes might begin to occur between those trying to enforce a boycott or stay-at-home and those who did not want to comply.

- the threat of being fired was a serious one. Not only was there the loss of income, but anyone who had not been born in the city was liable to lose their right to stay in an urban area and could be ‘endorsed out’—i.e., deported to one of the reserves. Migrants from rural farm areas were especially vulnerable because they did not even have a reserve to go to.

- all these campaigns and opposition had failed to halt or prevent the implementation of apartheid.
The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter
- the ANC’s policy of inter-racial cooperation and coordination reached a high point in June 1955. The ANC was joined by the S. A. Indian National Congress, the S. A. Coloured Peoples Organisation and the Congress of Democrats (most were whites who had previously been members of the South African Communist Party which had been made illegal under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950) in a large conference called the Congress of the People. The overwhelming majority of delegates were Africans (about 2200 out of 2900 by 1 count); however, there were over 300 Indians, over 200 Coloureds and over 100 whites.

- the Indian and Coloured communities were always split. Although they were subjected to subordination and to second class status to whites, they did enjoy some privileges and better status than Africans did. Also, more conservative members were worried about African majority rule and what that would mean.

- the main purpose of the Congress of the People was the adoption of the Freedom Charter. It became the ANC’s programme for over 35 years.

- the Freedom Charter does show the influence of communists (not just the Congress of Democrats as there were communists or at least person who were influenced by marxism in all the organisations which participated). However, most of the provisions were not exceptional in much of the world as democratic socialists would subscribe to them. In fact laws regarding unions, minimum wages, unemployment benefits, etc. etc. are part of the commitments in the UN Charter and the International Labour Organisation.

- certainly, the sections indicating nationalisation and redistribution of land were more radical and these too were called communist in spite of the fact that right-wing, nationalist regimes and dictatorships have often been as quick to nationalise as socialists and communists.

- this so-called ‘communist’ aspect was always useful to the S. A. government in gathering support abroad against the ANC; e.g., they always found good support among right-wing business and conservative groups in the US (especially during Reagan’s presidency) and Margaret Thatcher used it to justify a number of positions her government took regarding South Africa.

- in the negotiations leading to the transitional government in the early 1990s, nationalisation and land redistribution were areas that the ANC agreed to put on hold. As well, in a desire to encourage foreign investment in S. Africa as a means of stimulating economic growth to supply jobs and increased wealth to raise standards of living for Africans, the ANC leadership has been indicating that they will change the ANC platform, not just ignore it as they had been doing.
PAC criticisms of the ANC
- the PAC sharply criticised the types of actions undertaken by the ANC and by the ANC leadership; e.g., they claimed that ANC leaders urged members to break the law while not doing so themselves. The PAC leaders would be at the front, not the back they claimed! This ignored the fact that the ANC leaders were targeted by the government; as a result of so many leaders in jail or banned, the ANC was in fact being crippled. They also condemned the types of campaigns, such as pass law protests.

- they argued that cooperation with other groups, especially whites, confused and disoriented the masses [an ironic feature here was that despite the anti-communism, this was very similar to the charge that communists levelled frequently against social democrats]. It was claimed that most Africans could not distinguish between ‘good’ whites and ‘bad’ whites and as a result, their energies were dissipated and unfocused. Because all individuals in non-African groups had at least some privileges, status, etc., they had some vested interest in the status quo and could never be whole-hearted in wanting its destruction and overthrow.

- as a result, the real power and energies of the masses had never been mobilised; only an Africanist focus could achieve that and bring sufficient energies to overthrow the government and white domination. The Africanists were never specific about how all this could be done, only general statements about what should be done and rather optimistic claims about what the results would be.

- after so much criticism of the ANC and promising so much more successful action in confronting and ending white domination, the PAC leadership was under growing pressure by 1960 to do something. The PAC had not been as successful as they had predicted in building membership and organisation in 1958 and 1959. They had not produced any initiatives that would capture the imaginations of the African masses; they had initiated no challenges to the government. All they had done was talk. (See a critical ANC evaluation of the PAC.)
Sharpeville
- the ANC was preparing another demonstration against the pass laws and for a minimum wage of £1 per day for March 31, 1960. Suddenly, the PAC announced its own pass law protest to take place on March 21st in spite of the fact that the PAC had criticised this kind of protest for being a cause of the failures of the ANC; they had argued that it was a bit of posturing which did not strike a real blow at white domination, and when it failed, many Africans were left disillusioned. Also, they had criticised the ANC for entering such actions with inadequate preparation and organisation. The PAC entered this action with even less preparation and organisation than the ANC. It seems to have been an act of desperation. Interestingly, the ANC was critical but not hostile in regard to the PAC’s preempting of their plans.

- on the 21st, PAC demonstrations were carried out at many locations, especially in the Transvaal . Sobukwe and a number of PAC leaders were arrested as leaders of the protests.

- it was at one of the PAC pass burning protests in front of a police station in a place called Sharpeville (see Bishop Reeves’s account) (near Johannesburg) that the massacre of nearly 100 people took place (the official toll was 69 dead and 180 wounded, but many observers claimed that the toll of dead was higher). A similar incident, but with a much smaller death toll, occurred in Langa, outside Cape Town later the same day.

- it was primarily the ANC that organised the massive protests and demonstrations over the next days (the PAC’s preparations had been very hasty and their organisation was very limited in both numbers and experience). A march in Cape Town had over 30,000; there were other protest marches, strikes, and stay-at-homes. Using the protests as an excuse, the government declared a state of emergency on March 30th. Thousands of people of all races were arrested, often in the middle of the night (the government had obviously prepared lists of critics and opponents) and many organisations, including both the ANC and the PAC, were banned.

- in the wake of the state of emergency and the unprecedented suppression, both the ANC and the PAC tried to engage in guerrilla type action; most leaders of both organisations were arrested or driven into exile.

- in exile, the PAC continued its competition with the ANC; like the ANC, much of the PAC’s support came from the eastern block countries and much of its anti-communism disappeared.

- also, its narrow Africanist focus was reduced; thus, it did broaden its base a bit to include persons from other racial groups (its chaplain in Canada for some years was a white Anglican priest who had served in South Africa). However, its anti-white hostility has continued to be a characteristic of PAC supporters; more recently, it was responsible for a couple of notable terrorist attacks against whites during the lead-up to the 1994 election and for indiscriminate attacks on whites (the attackers who killed the young, white, female American aid worker in the African township in Cape Town claimed to be PAC supporters).

- it should be noted that in the wake of the SOWETO riots in the late 1970s, the students also became divided between the Africanists, now calling themselves Azanians (the official name for the PAC is the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania), and those who favoured the traditional ANC policy of multiracialism for South Africa.
South Africa after Sharpeville
- the banning of the ANC, PAC, and a number of other organisations drove the opposition underground. Moreover, the next 10-12 years witnessed extremely heavy-handed suppression and violence by the state. After almost 60 years, the remaining ANC leadership reluctantly decided that the policy of non-violence would have to be abandoned. The ANC organised Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) and the PAC set up its Poqo. The ANC especially tried to ensure that attacks were sabotage and directed at property; thus, they tried to avoid killing people. Poqo soon came to be restricted mostly to the rural areas of the Transkei. Because of the disturbances there, the state of emergency was still in effect in the Transkei in 1972 when I was there.

- these clandestine organisations never really developed momentum as the police were extremely successful in penetrating the organisations and arresting the leaders. It came out at later trials that the police had sometimes known in advance of acts of sabotage, but had allowed them to go forward. Apparently, this would provide justification for new laws giving even more power to the state and to the police.

- the harsh repression seemed to work; most of the leadership was silenced in one way or another (prison, exile, banning, or simply terrorised). Who could you trust? There were so many informers (many under severe pressure and even torture themselves).

- white opponents were also hounded; most members of the Congress of Democrats ended in jail or in exile. Many white liberals were also arrested (often in jail, they were given the choice—jail or banning or ‘exit visa’ [exile, never to return; in fact in the 1970s, the government did ease up and allowed these people to return for visits to their families]. Others emigrated into voluntary exile.

- South Africa truly became a police state. While the harshest actions were always against non-whites, most whites, while ambiguous (they were afraid of what might happen if the police were not there), were also afraid of the police. Even with so many powers and freedom of action under the host of new laws, the police were still cavalier about any nominal restraints. The police knew that even if they acted illegally, they would be protected and rarely held accountable.

- the creation of SASO (South African Students Organisation) under the leadership of Steve Biko in 1970 and a renewed period of criticism showed that the government, which had been trying to project a better image, was still determined to crush any opposition to apartheid. In 1971-72, there were a series of student strikes, starting in the ‘Bantu’ universities but spreading to the English-language universities for whites. A couple of the Bantu universities were closed for periods of time and students there threatened with permanent expulsions. What surprised many people though was the way white students were treated. In Cape Town, white students protesting outside the parliament buildings were attacked by police wielding clubs; in seeking to escape, some students ran into the Anglican cathedral, but they were pursued down the aisles and continued to be beaten with clubs.

- everyone knew that the police regularly committed torture and murder of non-whites in detention. Biko’s death brought world wide attention in 1977, but he was only one of many over the years. However, it was made an offence with severe penalties to report it. Ironically, we got most information about these goings-on when the government prosecuted someone for breaking the press law, even though they often tried to keep the substantive issue out of the trials.

- furthermore, the police and prison people were caught in so many lies and preconcocted stories that judges often commented in great disgust about the individuals and even about their suspicions that the lying had sometimes been coordinated and initiated by higher up officers!

- as long as Verwoerd was alive, the government continued the absolute logic of the ideology; Verwoerd was a true believer.

- John Vorster, Verwoerd’s successor after the assassination, represented ‘baaskap’ (i.e., literally ‘bossship’ or ‘white man boss’ and white domination) without the ideological fanaticism. Thus, there was not much let-up in the repression, but the government did begin to give up belief in some obvious impossibilities—that complete separation was possible. However, it was many years later before it began to admit it. For example, by the early 1970s, the colour bar began to be breached. At one point, it was acknowledged that in the post office alone, over 19,000 jobs that by law were for whites only were being filled by non-whites who had been so employed for many years. The government still termed them ‘temporary’ (which meant that they did not get benefits of permanent employees), primarily to avoid admitting that such employees were essential and evidence that apartheid was impossible.

HOME History 322 list Top of the page