.. ed by Robert Sobukwe. For the first time, the ANC was challenged as the leading voice against apartheid. On March 21, 1960, Robert Sobukwe initiated widespread anti-pass law demonstrations. People gathered in thousands at the police station where passes were to be destroyed. As the morning wore on, the crowd, which journalists found “perfectly amiable,” appeared to the police increasingly menacing (Thompson, 1996, pp.
74-82). In the early afternoon, seventy-five policemen fired some 700 shots into the crowd, killing 69 Africans and wounding 180. Among them were women and children. Most of the dead had been shot in the back. That evening, a thousand miles away, outside Cape Town, the protest drew 10,000 people: again the panic, again the shooting. Two Africans were killed, and 49 injured.
Outrage swept the country, precipitating riots, strikes, and mass demonstrations. The government declared a state of emergency. Both the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress were outlawed. Some 20,000 people were detained. Most were African men, both leaders and so-called “vagrants.” Men and women of all races were rounded up, not just members of the Congress Alliance, but members of the Liberal Party (Jackson, 1987, pp.
27-45). It seemed that the liberation movement must surely be crushed, but detainees were able to conspire while in jail. One group of whites, including members of the multi-racial Liberal Party, agreed that after Sharpeville non-violent protest was futile. Upon release, a group of African men began to recruit like-minded men and women, among them former leaders of the National Union of South African Students and journalists. They formed a sabotage group, recruited black members, and called themselves the National Committee of Liberation (later changed to African Resistance Movement). Their first action in December 1960 went unnoticed, and it was not until October 1961 that their sabotage was reported.
During the following two years, such actions continued sporadically (Jackson, 1987, pp. 45-69). Among black detainees, it was decided to make one last attempt at non-violent protest. After their release, they called an “All African Conference” in March of 1961. Nelson Mandela, momentarily free of bans, was elected to lead a National Action Council, and to renew the demand for a National Convention in order to establish a new union of all South Africans.
In support of the demand, a nationwide stay-at-home strike was to take place over two days in May. Organizing from the underground, Mandela was assisted in his clandestine existence by comrades of all races. In the days leading up to the strike, the government called out police and army. A massive display of force was directed at the African townships. On the second day, Mandela was obliged to call off the strike. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Africans had responded to his call, and in Durban they had been joined by Indian workers.
In Cape Town, for the first time, there was a substantial response from the Colored people. Mandela spoke of the immense courage this took, and he declared, “If the Government reaction is to crush by naked force our non-violent struggle, we will have to reconsider our tactics” (Mandela, 1995, pp. 76-92) Early in June 1961, Mandela took part in secret deliberations with a small group from the outlawed African National Congress. The crucial decision was made: after half a century of non-violence, the policy of the African National Congress must change. The main organization would continue its underground organizing and would remain non-violent, but a select few of the African National Congress would unite to undertake controlled violence.
Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) was formed. Sabotage was to be their first form of action because, as Mandela was to explain, “It did not involve loss of life, and it offered the most hope for future race relations.” (Mandela, 1995, pp. 78-79). Umkhonto`s first acts of sabotage took place on December 16, 1961. A few days earlier, Chief Albert Lutuli had received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
It was as though this event set the seal on a long and extraordinary history for, as he said in his address, the honor must be accepted in the name of the “true patriots of South Africa,” all those in the African National Congress who had “set the organization steadfastly against racial vain-gloriousness” (Tambo, 1968, pp. 56-60). The shootings at Sharpeville had sent waves of outrage around the world. It was as if the international community had suddenly realized the full horror of apartheid and had seen how police violence had escalated through the long years of oppression. The award of the prize to Lutuli was a measure of the worlds sympathy, admiration, and perhaps its guilt (Robinson, 1990, pp.
135-162). In the 1980s, people took the liberation struggle to new heights. In the workplace, in the community, and in the schools, the people aimed to take control of their situation. All areas of life became areas of political struggle. These strugglers were linked to the demand for political power.
Botha, the president back then, was powerless and was forced to resign. The senate then appointed F.W. De Klerk (Robinson, 1990, p. 8). To end apartheid was a decision by President F.W. De Klerk, who then released the imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela unconditionally in February 1990, after he had served 27 years in jail.
At this point, the ANC’s consistent adherence to the principle of non-racial democracy paid enormous dividends. It created a ground base of trust that enabled all political parties, black and white, to meet and to hammer out a transitional constitution (Mandela, 1995, pp. 140-152). The end of Apratheid led to a Government of National Unity far wider and more explicit than the attempts to heal political breaches made by previous South African presidents South Africa then reached a turning point in its history after the first democratic elections in 1994 and the rise to political power of Nelson Mandela. Still, one cannot begin to understand the history of South Africa without considering the effects of four and a half decades of Apartheid. Most black people working today are engaged in dealing with the legacy of the past as retold to them weekly in the South African press reportage on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
For many, the new era in South Africa has brought little appreciable change in the standard of living partially because foreign industries that divested their interests there during the 1980s have been slow to return despite the dramatic political changes that have taken place (Elder, 1993, pp.152-163). The time of post-revolutionary euphoria is coming to a close in South Africa. Continued poverty, inadequate housing, an overburdened education system, and many other leftovers from the Apartheid era still hamper the forging of a new nation and the remaking of ideas about society. South African history has shown how effectively a distorted, but legalized distribution of power can bring about a warped social system when backed by strong-willed security forces, how the moral authority of a determined opposition, even outside the legalized structures, can challenge that power if it can operate from a secure base and receive support from outside. Lets therefore unite our forces, fight, and challenge each one of us for a better future of South African children and let apartheid be no more. Bibliography Elder, G.S.
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