South African Apartheid
South Africa
Mahatma Gandhi

Anti-Apartheid Struggle

Black South Africans organized themselves as early as 1912 by forming the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) to fight for their rights. John Dube and Sol Plaatje were among the prominent Black Leaders of that time. SANNC transformed into African National Congress (ANC) in 1923.

After the Government of Prime Minister Malan introduced repressive laws from 1948 onward, there was simmering discontent among the Blacks. The emergence of independent nations like India and the popularity of principles of Self Government and protection of Human Rights as enunciated by the newly formed United Nations, resulted in development of a mass movement against Apartheid with goal of Black Majority rule.

  1. Initially the Black Struggle was on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi strategy of Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience. Albert Luthuli of ANC organized many strikes and led civil disobedience movement whereby the Blacks would enter the places and areas reserved for the Whites.
  2. The Freedom Charter in 1955 was announced by ANC at a meeting of a new coalition of Blacks, Asians and Colored people. From hereon, the Freedom Charter became the main programme of ANC. It demanded right to vote to all, right to religion, freedom of expression, right to work, equality before law, equal pay for equal work, free medicare, right to free and compulsory education, and forty hours of work per week with minimum wages and unemployment
  3. With the gathering momentum, awareness and pressure from around the world, even the Church leaders began speaking against
  4. ANC organized numerous peaceful protests, of which the 1957 Bus Boycott Programme in Johannesburg was very successful. It was organized in opposition of the increased bus fare by the government in Johannesburg and soon spread to other areas. 80 percent of Johannesburg Africans lived under the poverty line, and so the raise was far more than the Africans could The goals of the boycott programme was to thwart bus fare increase and demand government to make a study regarding the need for higher wages for Africans. Black South Africans abandoned the public transport and walked to workplace daily for three months. Finally, the government had to bend and it decreased the fares. This was a morale boosting victory for the Blacks and provided energy for increased resistance against the White oppression.
  5. Sharpville Massacre of 1960: After this the movement became violent. The non-whites had gathered peacefully in the town of Sharpville and were protesting against the Pass laws that restricted the freedom of movement of non-whites. The next day (21st of March) around 8000 of them gathered outside a police station to But the Police opened fire against the peaceful protesters and shot dead 69 of them. After this event the Black leadership got divided with most leaders, including Nelson Mandela who till now believed in struggle through non-violent means, advocating violent struggle as the only viable tool to achieve the stated goals of Freedom Charter. The day of 21st March has become the symbol of Human Rights Protection in South Africa and is celebrated each year as a national holiday.
  6. Violent movement against Apartheid: After Sharpville, ANC started violent protests under leaders like Nelson Mandela. There were a series of bomb attacks and killing of policemen. In 1962 Nelson Mandela was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He was jailed for 27 years in prison, spending most of these years on Robben Island. It is to be noted here that the difference between Gandhiji and Nelson Mandela was that non-violence was part of the value system of Gandhiji whereas for Nelson Mandela it was a strategic tool in opposing the government. Nelson Mandela came to believe that for a small minority like the Asians in Africa, the methods of non-violence were the best as they could not violently win against the might of the State. Some leaders like Albert Luthuli continued Non-violent protests, but the popular opinion got further inclined towards violent form of struggle when Luthuli was killed in 1967.
  7. Movement continues with Mandela in jail:

    1. In 1970s, ANC organized protests by the workers as the wages were far low to bear the impact of inflation. But the White Government of the Dutch settlers continued to repress the
    2. In 1976, it made Afrikaans language compulsory in Black schools. Afrikaans was the language spoken by the Dutch of South Africa and was not native to the black South This led to wide protests by the Blacks and the Police responded brutally by killing 200 protesters. It became a vicious cycle of Protests and Police brutality as the killing of 200 protesters resulted in protests in all parts of South Africa and the Police repression made the death toll rise continuously. Steve Biko, an important leader of the protests was beaten to death in 1976 just because he wanted the native Africans to be proud of Blackness.
  8. Anti-Apartheid struggle outside South Africa: Even outside South Africa, the system of Apartheid was criticized.
    1. British Commonwealth: All members of the British Commonwealth, including India, criticized the system of Apartheid and the brutal police repression. South Africa was made to give up its membership of Commonwealth in The same year South Africa declared itself a Republic.
    2. UN: United Nations General Assembly passed many resolutions condemning the
    3. OAU: Within the African continent, the Organization of African Unity was mounting pressure on the South African government to abandon Apartheid and grant the basic human rights to all South Africans.
    4. Decolonization of South West Africa/South African Border War (1966-89) : Geographically, Namibia lay between Angola and South In 1914, South Africa had got German South West Africa, now called Namibia, as a Mandate after the World War I. Mandates were the former colonies of the Central powers, mainly of Germany, which were taken away after their loss in World War I and put under the protection of the member nations of League of Nations to prepare these former colonies for independence.

      South Africa delayed the decolonization of South West Africa for as long as possible and for this it was reprimanded by United Nations (it declared South Africa's occupation of Namibia illegal) Organization of African Unity and Commonwealth of Nations. South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) was fighting for freedom in South-West Africa. In 1975, Angola gained independence from Portugal and the Marxist MPLA government (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola) came to power. MPLA had fought the Angola war of independence from 1961-75. From 1975 onward, MPLA provided safe havens for SWAPO guerrillas and USSR also supported SWAPO through aid and training of fighters - which led to South African invasion of Angola. Cuba sent troops to prevent South African troops from invading Angola. They defeated the South African forces and this served as an important event in progress towards end of Apartheid in South Africa. It was a big moral defeat and enthused Blacks in their movement in South Africa.
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