The ANC and the PAC Turn to Violence

South Africa Table of Contents

Prohibited from operating peacefully or even having a legal existence in South Africa, both the ANC and the PAC established underground organizations in 1961 to carry out their struggle against the government. The militant wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK--Spear of the Nation, also known as Umkhonto), targeted strategic places such as police stations and power plants but carefully avoided taking any human lives. Poqo (Blacks Only), the militant wing of the PAC, engaged in a campaign of terror, targeting in particular African chiefs and headmen believed to be collaborators with the government and killing them. Some young white students and professionals established their own organization, the antiapartheid African Resistance Movement, and carried out bomb attacks on strategic targets, including one at the Johannesburg railway station that killed at least one person.

By 1964 the police had succeeded in crushing all of these movements. Seventeen Umkhonto leaders, including Walter Sisulu, had been arrested at a farmhouse at Rivonia near Johannesburg in July 1963 and, along with Nelson Mandela--who had already been imprisoned on other charges--were tried for treason. Eight of them, including Mandela, were sent to prison for life. Albert Luthuli had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960, but the government confined him to his rural home in Zululand until his death in 1967. Tambo escaped from South Africa and became president of the ANC in exile. Robert Sobukwe of Poqo was jailed on Robben Island until 1969 and then placed under a banning order and house arrest in Kimberley until his death in 1978. The Johannesburg railway station bomber, John Harris, was hanged. He marched to the gallows singing "We shall overcome."

The government campaign to crush internal resistance was orchestrated by John Vorster, then minister of justice, and by General Hendrik J. (H.J.) van den Bergh, head of the Bureau of State Security (BOSS). Both were former members of the Ossewabrandwag who had been interned for pro-Nazi activities during World War II. Vorster and van den Bergh used new security legislation to put down the resistance. In particular, the General Law Amendment Act of 1963 allowed the police to detain people for ninety days without charging them and without allowing them access to a lawyer. At the end of that period, the police could re-arrest and re-detain them for a further ninety days. During the period of detention, no court could order a person's release; only the minister of justice had that authority. Because of his success in defeating the ANC and the PAC, John Vorster became prime minister of South Africa in 1966 when Verwoerd was assassinated by a coloured parliamentary messenger.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress