Although the African National Congress, or ANC, was formed in 1912, it did not play a significant role in South African political life until the 1940s. From then onward, the ANC used a variety of strategies to resist the imposition of apartheid in South Africa. This system of government, implemented in 1948, introduced racial segregation. White South Africans lived privileged lives while the black majority was discriminated against in virtually all areas of life.
During the 1940s, the Communist Party of South Africa organized political resistance to the government, for example through bus boycotts and protests against housing policies. In 1944, the ANC set up a youth wing which began to get involved in these mass protests. Official ANC policy changed in 1949 when it adopted the youth-wing-influenced “Programme of Action,” a pledge to resist the recently imposed apartheid system through strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience.
ANC resistance remained largely nonviolent throughout the 1950s. The 1952 Defiance Campaign involved people volunteering to break the law, for example by entering “whites only” parks, breaking curfew and refusing to carry their identity passes. Around 8,000 people were arrested. The campaign did not meet its goal of breaking apartheid, but ANC membership rose from 7,000 to 100,000. State action in heavily fining or even jailing participants forced the ANC to abandon the campaign after a few months. ANC leader Albert Lutuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 for his role in this nonviolent campaign of resistance.
After the Sharpville massacre in 1960, when police killed 69 protestors and wounded a further 180, attitudes within the ANC began to harden. The following year, ANC activists, including Nelson Mandela, formed an armed wing called “Umkhonto weSizwe,” or Spear of the Nation, popularly known as MK. Although the armed resistance campaign initially focused on acts of sabotage, such as the destruction of electricity pylons, in the 1970s and 1980s the campaign escalated to include attacks on police stations and car bombs.
Mobilizing the International Community
The ANC encouraged the international community to pressure the South African government for change by imposing a series of boycotts. Playwrights refused to let their works be performed in South Africa, actors refused the right to broadcast TV programs and films on South African stations, and the 240,000-strong Associated Actors and Artists of America unanimously agreed not to work in South Africa. Overseas tours by all-white South African sports teams were met with protests, and South African athletes were unable to compete in the Olympic Games between 1964 and 1992.
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- ANC: A Brief History of the African National Congress
- BBC Archive: Apartheid in South Africa
- Apartheid Museum: Resistance to Apartheid
- South African History Online: ANC Adopts the Programme of Action
- South African History Online: Defiance Campaign 1952
- Nobel Prize: The Nobel Peace Prize 1960, Albert Lutuli
- South African History Online: Sharpville Massacre
- South African History Online: Umkhonto weSizwe
- Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory: Biography
- South African History Online: Umkhonto weSizwe and the Armed Struggle
- South African History Online: Umkhonto weSizwe Timeline
- South African History Online: The British Anti-Apartheid Boycott
- ANC: Some Important Developments in the Movement for a Cultural Boycott
- South African History Online: Football in South Africa
- South African History Online: South Africa is banned from the Olympic Games
- Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images