About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Historical Background: 1960 - 1969

In the early 1960s despite the decolonization of Africa, decolonization in the sub-Sahara lagged. In Rhodesia, the all white government of Ian Smith balked at the British government's moves to granting independence with consequent Black rule-and made a declaration of unilateral independence (UDI) in 1964, a bloody war with the African liberation movements ZANU and ZAPU, which only ended in 1980 with the installation of a Black majority, albeit with built in representation for whites for 20 years. With Mozambique and Angola firmly under the boot of the Portuguese government, despite the emergence of FRELIMO and the MPLA respectively, South Africa was enclosed within a cordon sanitaire.

As a threat, the MK was limited to carrying out sporadic acts of sabotage, an annoyance to whites at best. The threat of the infiltration of MK units from abroad was minimal, since whatever units existed were stationed in camps in Morogoro, Tanganyika, with no resources, little training, few armaments and limited possibilities that even trained units returning from the Soviet or the GDR could even make the trek of some 1,500 kms to the borders of South Africa with only tenuous or no lines of communication to the internal underground. And even if an occasional unit was sent the probability of it being apprehended once it entered South Africa was very high, given the range of the government's intelligence and those that did somehow miraculously survive and carry out a few sabotage operations limited by both the amount of armaments they could carry with them or be supplied with once they made contact in South Africa they had to face the long trek back. The question of them staying in South Africa did not arise. The underground could hardly cope with ensuring its own survival and there was no arsenal of arms stocked in some secret and secure location at their disposal.

The internal underground had been decimated. Attempts to regroup were hesitant and lacking in direction. Had the ANC not been able to draw on the SACP's experience of being able to survive after its banning in 1950, it might not have withstood the government's onslaught.

The MK regrouped internally and had both a distinctively non-African and communist flavor to it, but in the absence of any other flavors the issue was moot. But it was hamstrung. Lines to exile were limited. Operations more limited still since munitions had to be 'manufactured.' Ingenuity took precedence over planning. It created its own opportunities rather than waiting for the opportunities to happen.

With almost the entire leadership in prison for life, committed comrades turning state witness, the ANC wilted in the wind, flattened out against the ground but did not break. Who to trust and not to trust? The remnants of the movement withdrew into itself and started to get as many of the senior leadership structures of both the ANC and the SACP out of the country. Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane, Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils and Duma Nokwe left in 1963, Ruth First and Rusty Bernstein in 1964. For the ANC Dar es Salaam became the new headquarters with Oliver Tambo in charge and a sub-office was opened in London, which handled international affairs. From Dar es the ANC moved to Lusaka in 1964 when Zambia became independent. For the SACP, the reverse prevailed: A headquarters in London with Dr Dadoo in charge and the branch office in Dar es Salaam.

In South Africa, Bram Fischer stayed to work the SACP underground; Wilton Mkwayi stayed to reorganize what was left of underground ANC structures. Sapping the energies of both and their morale was the pervasiveness of enemy agents who were well-trusted comrades. The "Little Rivonia' Trialists were arrested in July 1964, a month after the Rivonia Trialists were convicted and sentenced; and Bram Fisher was arrested in September 1964. For all intents and purposes the remnants of the ANC had been disemboweled.

The problems the movement faced were unique: how do you pursue an armed struggle from abroad when you are unable to get your fighters into the country? And how do you mobilize a mass movement from abroad since to the masses you have become abstractions? The movement would grapple with these questions for the next twenty five years without ever coming to satisfactory answers. In 1967, ANC units teamed up with the Zimbabwean liberation movement, ZAPU, in the Wankie Game Park with a view to helping their comrades - in-arms in their liberation struggle and thereafter making their way into South Africa via Botswana. Suffice to say, the joint operation was a disaster. Scores of Umkhonto soldiers were killed, and more captured and imprisoned. The scale of the failure curtailed all efforts to mount an effective internal guerilla operation MK could not find a way home.

For a time the struggle itself was on hold. In order to refocus, affirm its own commitments, re-establish leaderships both in South Africa and in exile, objectively analyze the new post Rivonia terrain, and develop a strategy that took account of the new realities, the movement and its allies had to step back before it could move forward. By mid-1965, not only MK but also the ANC had effectively been destroyed within South Africa. It would be eight years before there was significant reconstruction of an ANC underground, and eleven years before the resumption of armed activity inside South Africa.1

But in one arena it began to gain a more solid footing, one that would prove of incalculable value in the following decades as television, the new medium of mass communication, changed the way in which protest was held and the created new manner in which the message of struggle against inequity and oppression was conducted. In the late sixties and the early seventies, disillusionment with the Vietnam War the public demand for an end to it became an international phenomenon, as the impact of the first steps in the globalization e itself felt and the anti-apartheid movement spread its wings, providing international support for an end to apartheid.

But television, more than any other medium of communication, needs to put a human face on complex issues. Hence apartheid became synonymous with the imprisonment of Mandela and metamorphosed into a campaign calling for the release of Mandela. Mandela became famous for not being seen. As he got older and the years in prison rolled on, the calls grew shriller, presenting the South African government with a dilemma it was unable to resolve: If it released Mandela it would have to negotiate with him; but if they continued to imprison him and he died, all hell would break loose. The mass uprising the ANC was trying its damnedest to foment would unleash itself.

In the Cold War politics of the 1960s, the west regarded the South African government as a staunch ally; the ANC was seen as communist dominated, an unwitting tool of the Soviets and the liberation movements in Angola and the revolutionary movements in Angola and Mozambique as left-leaning. The hysteria McCarthyism engendered McCarthyism ran the course of any mass hysteria, but it left an ugly legacy. McCarthyism might have receded but fear of communism did not. A series of close encounters: AN American presidential election fought on the claim by Kennedy that there was a "missile gap," his confrontation with Khrushchev in Vienna, the Cuban Missile crisis, the assassination of Kennedy, the preemptory dumping of Khrushchev, the acquisition of nuclear capacity by China, the preeminence of the domino theory in American foreign policy, the United States' escalating involvement in Vietnam conjugated into a stand-off between the two super powers, super in terms of the capacity to annihilate each other and much of the rest of the world, but in terms of economic might and technological innovation worlds apart, although the Soviets had their moment sending the Sputnik into space in 1957 man's emancipation from the boundaries of his planet.

In the March 1966 elections the National Party carried the day with the party's best electoral performance ever. In Natal, the last bastion of the imperial way, over 40 percent of English speaking whites voted for the NP, giving lie to their own belief that thy had always opposed apartheid. If the acquiescence was an unhappy one, the privileges that came with it more than compensated for many.

Without much in way of opposition to hamper its Separate Development policies, the government continued to tinker with regulations to remake the demographic map to conform to the theoretical postulations. But and despite evidence to the contrary from the start the demands of the economy, human behavior and the always unquantifiable impact of the unintended consequences of social engineering, the architects couldn't get it right.

The problem was one of achieving a number of balances simultaneously. First, ensuring a supply of labor to white enterprises, which would come from Black labor in townships adjacent to the towns and from migration from the reserves; however, migration from the reserves had to be controlled when the need for a supply of African labor met demand; the economy of the Reserves was supposed to generate the jobs that would absorb the surplus labor supply and therefore keep excess labor in the homelands.

The projections of population growth, especially of the African population, the limited control South Africa had over the economy, the unpredictability of business cycles, the absence of meaningful investment in the homelands to turn them into anything approaching viability contributed to sprawling joblessness in the Homelands and an unstoppable migration of young people in particular to urban centres. The assumption that decentralization of industry would accompany the Homelands policy and that industry would set up facilities in the white dormitory towns adjacent to the reserves to take advantage of cheaper labor did not materialize despite tax concessions, exemption from having to pay minimum wages and government assistance to build factories. Even government assistance to businesses prepared to set up enterprises within the reserves accomplished little. The efforts were too little, but more important the government's investments in the infrastructures of the Homelands were minimal, thus the higher cost of doing business at almost every interstices of the market more than offset the inducements offered. Moreover, the changing nature of business created a demand for a more educated, skill based labour force, something Bantu education could not provide.

Even when the government poured on the inducements, new jobs for 85,000 Africans were created between 1960 and 1972 in the border areas and the Homelands. The average of a little over 8,000 jobs per year was abysmally short of the 50,000 jobs the Tomlinson Report called for. In housing a similar situation prevailed. The attempt to export workers back to townships in the Homeland was a non-starter. Labour stayed in the urban area but since the government would not build houses for this labour they were for that time illegal residents in South Africa the labourers squatted, aggravating the housing situation, laying the basis for a crisis still beyond relief.

Over 450,000 Africans were resettled in the Homelands between 1960 and 1968. The Tomlinson projections of population growth among racial groups were severely inaccurate, ensuring that even the pieces of the report that did become policy were based on estimates that had no basis in reality the years hence.

And thus while the ANC fiddled, the NP fiddled, too. But the fiddling was of a very different kind.

2

The Morogoro Conference, the ANC's Consultative Conference held in Tanzania in 1969 would provide guidance to the movement until 1985. It was a watershed in the ANC's history. First, it allowed non-Africans to become members of the ANC in exile, but they could not become members of the NEC. Second, and more important, it set up a Revolutionary Council (RC) to take charge of to coordinate the armed and underground struggle in South Africa. This body was open to the SACP and included Slovo, Dadoo, Reg September and Joe Matthews. The RC was directly responsible to the NEC. Thus a body that was composed of all races had the responsibility to run the struggle on a day-to-day basis; it was subordinate to the NEC which met far less frequently. Third, the conference adopted a Strategy and Tactics program that was informed by the SACP's analysis of the struggle as being one of "Colonialism of a Special Type" (CST).

However, this reconfiguration of the structures of the liberation alliance met with some stiff opposition from ANC stalwarts who were concerned that non-Africans had been elected to The issue simmered for six years, came to a climax in 1975 when the "Group of Eight" were expelled from the ANC.2

Morogoro was important in one other important respect: it affirmed the primacy of the armed struggle in the strategic thinking of the movement. A key policy document stated, "The only correct path for the oppressed national groups and their democratic supporters is armed revolutionary struggle."3

Thus, the ANC believed that an armed struggle pitting a small military force embedded in rural and urban areas in a population in which it could swim indefinitely would wage a war of attrition against a superior power, that in time the will of white people to engage in this form of struggle would weaken and bring their government to the negotiating table.

Thus, 'superior forces can be harnessed, weakened and, in the end, destroyed. The absence of the orthodox front, of fighting lines; the need of the enemy to attenuate his resources and lines of communication over vast areas; the need to protect the widely scattered installations on which his economy is dependent; these are among he features which serve in the long run to compensate in favour of the guerilla and for disparity in the starting strength of the adversaries."4

Hence "the Strategy and Tactics program accepted the need for a protracted armed struggle before the "conquest of power" in South Africa by the ANC and it clearly asserted that a successful armed struggle "depended upon political mobilization, an important precursor to theories of "people's war" developed during the early 1980s within the ANC."5

Morogoro was also instrumental in altering the balance of relationships within the liberation movement. None disputed the primacy of the ANC or the subordination of the aspirations of the goals of other alliance members to the imperative of national liberation. But with the elevation of the armed struggle as the instrument of liberation, the MK assumed a greater importance, and since the MK was dominated by the SACP, the SACP assumed a greater sway within the ANC than its actual numbers might warrant.

But whatever the intrigues and like most revolutionary organizations the ANC had more than its share few MK shots were fired in South Africa. Cadres remained in cramped camps in Tanzania, neither fully trained nor fully armed, morale was low, relationships between the rank and file and the leadership were strained, and the leadership could provide no roadmap, either military or political, that pointed in a homeward direction.

The South African government could be forgiven for a degree of smugness. The threat of armed struggle had been contained; internal opposition was either absent or mute, the economy was booming, capital had few scruples unless they reduced profit margins. All was well in the Afrikaner world. Or so it might appear to an observer.

Wankie, as humiliating as it was for the ANC and even more so MK, did not dissuade the South African from its belief that some subversive activity was being planned somewhere and that preemption was the only policy to ensure tranquility. Thus the terrorism Act was further strengthened to provide for indefinite detention of suspects in solitary confinement without trial, suspects being in the eye of the official, the ubiquitous 'reason to believe' justification. The government also established a Bureau of State Security (BOSS) attached to the Prime minister's office, that was exempt from the usual protocols of parliamentary scrutiny, military service became compulsory, African police were increasingly used to patrol border areas. Whenever nothing appeared to threaten, the threat was greatest.

In the ANC's submission to the TRC it referred to the 1960s as the decade in which the government, although hitherto repressive and capricious now assumed the appurtenances of authoritarian. Legislation became more repressive with the focus increasingly on the individual whereas in the fifties the primary emphasis was on groups. Blatant transgressions of human rights, as we understand them today, (my emphasis) became commonplace, social engineering intensified dramatically, usually with little success but with considerable social dislocation.

Central to the new authoritarianism were sweeping restrictions on political activity; increased the powers of the police, and further subversion of the independence of the courts; and sweeping provisions for detention without trial, creating conditions in which the use of torture during interrogation became widespread. Central to this shift was a barrage of security legislation6 that curtailed the space for legitimate political opposition by enlarging the definition of "criminal" offences, which was in some instances applied retrospectively, and presumed the accused guilty until proven innocent. It expanded the powers of police and jailers. It violated the normal tenets of the rule of law by its widespread abrogation of individual rights and denial of due process. The security legislation increased the coercive powers of the state in the maintenance of what was a fundamentally unjust social and political order.

More than this: in permitting detention without trial and solitary confinement for indefinite periods, the security laws drew new zones of penal license that rapidly became blurred. From its inception during the early 1960s, security legislation and its implementation have generated widespread allegations of physical and mental abuse of people held in detention. Individual officers abused their powers of interrogation; interrogation became torture; torture became routine. The methods of torture, both physical and psychological, were honed to a fine art - not as an aberration by a few sadistic individuals, but as a result of training and indoctrination of police officers, both inside the country and with the help of apartheid allies such as the colonial fascists in Mozambique and Angola, and the colonial administration in Algeria and elsewhere. Certain police officers who were torturers in the 1960s later rose to senior positions in the force, indicative of the degree of legitimacy accorded by the apartheid regime to this behaviour.

The torment of prisoners and detainees did not end there; their families and friends were also frequently subjected to sustained harassment, surveillance, and mental torment which, in some cases, proved too much. There have been many tragic cases of spouses and relatives of prisoners breaking under this kind of pressure. Children of women detainees and prisoners in particular often suffered most: while some swelled the ranks of the liberation movement, others were thrown onto the streets to fend for themselves.

South Africa was conquered by force and is today ruled by force ... When the gun is not in use, legal and administrative terror, fear, social and economic pressure, complacency and confusion generated by propaganda and "education" are the devices brought into play... Behind these devices hovers force. Whether in reserve or in actual employment, force is ever present and this has been so since the white man came to Africa.

During the 1960s, concurrent with the creation of the new "security state", the apartheid rulers embarked on radical new forms of social engineering designed to defend and entrench white minority rule, which had far-reaching consequences. A social order already distinctive for deep-seated, legalized inequalities premised upon racial classification now experienced new levels of what has been characterized in authoritarian societies as "bureaucratic terrorism". In essence, bureaucratic terror in South Africa involved the use of state power against individuals and groups who are already economically subordinate, socially discriminated against, and politically without rights.7

The implementation of basic apartheid measures (such as pass laws, influx control, urban areas restrictions, job reservation, separate amenities, and so on) meant that basic "first generation" human rights - such as the franchise, civil equality, and freedom of movement or association - were denied systematically and massively. The ANC would argue that the "brute bureaucratic reality of the apartheid era - an unthinking, everyday denial to individuals of their basic human dignity - is directly analogous to Hannah Arendt's famous characterization of the "banality of evil" in Nazi Germany:8

The cumulative impact of apartheid laws and government actions between 1948 and the late 1960s was immense. They allocated political, social, economic and cultural rights to individuals on the basis of their race. They inhibited such basic rights as freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association for millions of South Africans - and they did so, ironically, at the precise juncture that these and related rights were recognised as basic human rights across the globe. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the same year that the National Party won the whites-only general election on a platform embracing apartheid and swart gevaar.

In the final analysis all this rested on entrenching the dominance of, and accruing privileges for, the white minority in general and Afrikaners in particular. The group -- and the group only -- mattered: to improve its opulence, promote its languages, cultures, education and other amenities, at the expense of the Black majority. In the inverse, the warping of white children's minds, their psychological and physical brutalization in the security forces, the fear psychosis and denial of independent thought within the white community none of these mattered at all -- as long as the National Party elite consolidated its power.

Grand apartheid had at its core a vision of a South Africa that belonged to whites and where Black people either lived in Bantustans or were temporary residents in urban areas, while working for whites.

Implementing this vision was a decades-long process that entailed large population removals as part of an elaborate social and geographical engineering exercise. The Surplus People Project,9 which has produced the most authoritative documentation of the history and scale of forced removals, estimated that between 1960 and 1982 over 3.5 million South Africans were moved as part of this policy. Tens of thousands of other people lived for many years under constant threat of losing their homes, while yet others lost their South African citizenship as boundaries were redrawn to incorporate them into homelands that were earmarked for "independence."

These processes resulted in untold human suffering and misery. Communities were broken up; families were separated and lost their homes and productive resources such as livestock, trees and farming implements. In many cases people were not compensated at all. Resistance to forced removals was met with severe repression by the state and resulted in people being killed and jailed.

The social dislocation caused by forced removals and the destruction of viable and cohesive communities has arguably been one of the most devastating consequences of apartheid.

In most cases communities were put in places far from their original homes and places of work. Jobs were lost, or people forced to become migrant workers in order to support their families. Conditions in resettlement camps were appalling. Often, people were dumped with little more than tents, tin toilets and trucked-in water. Poverty levels increased dramatically in these areas.

As a result of forced removal, many children and old people died from diseases related to malnutrition and poor living conditions.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.