History Of The African National Congress, 1912-1990

The African National Congress, currently South Africa's ruling party, endured a rough ride from its formation in 1912 to its current position of power.

The African National Congress (ANC) claimed the overwhelming majority in the historic free elections in South Africa on April the 27th, 1994 that marked the end of the Apartheid era.

This was the first time that blacks and coloureds were allowed to vote alongside whites in the country and the victory was testament to the durability of the ANC, the country's first political party established for the rights of non-whites in the country.

Following the advance of the British during the last three decades of the nineteenth-century, most of the previously independent black tribes, including the Zulu's, the Xhosa's and the Pedi's lost this independence to the new colonial government.

With the advent of the discovery of gold on the 'highveld' area, (previous Transvaal region incorporating Johannesburg), legislation was passed compelling black people to come to the metropolitan areas and work as miners in order to pay tax. This marked the begining of a new era for the black tribes, who had previously been content to live off the land in an informal environment, and spelt the emergence of the conditions that precipitated the notorious apartheid system.

In 1911, one-year after the formation of the British colony known as the Union of South Africa, Pixley ka Isaka Seme addressed the diminishing rights for blacks in the country, urging the people to form one national organisation, united against oppression.

As a consequence, tribal Chiefs and heads of religious groups gathered in Bloemfontein in January 1912, forming the African National Congress, an organisation designed to promote the rights and freedoms of the African people.

More crippling legislation followed. The 1913 Land Act stripped blacks of their rights to land that they already occupied and made it impossible for them to obtain land rights in anything other than impoverished areas demarcated by the government, while at the same time, forcing blacks to work in 'white' areas in order to pay taxes. This created a migrant labour system, and blacks outside of the demarcated areas were required to carry 'passes' indicated their lawful presence in white areas.

In 1919, the ANC in the Transvaal region (now Gauteng) initiated a campaign against the pass laws.

The success of Mahatma Gandi's non-violent protests in South Africa led to conflict within the ANC, however, as some members advocated this approach instead of the most confrontational strike action. Appeals by ANC leaders to British leaders failed, however, as London continually ignored their protests.

As the ANC maintained its passive approach, organisations such as the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union and a number of other subsequent socialist-oriented societies began to gain ground as they addressed the needs of blacks, who had been increasingly forced into the mines and other menial jobs through legislation. JT Gumede, elected ANC President, urged alliances with these parties, advocating active opposition, but the conservative and elitist ANC leadership voted him out of office.

In 1948, the Afrikaner-oriented National Party was voted in by the white-electorate, necessitating a new approach by the ANC. No longer could it afford to remain an elitist movement with a passive-opposition agenda and a new militancy and populism began to define the party. The ANC Youth League was formed in 1944 and this organisation was the primary mover behind the 1949 Programme of Action and the subsequent Defiance Campaign of the 1950's.

The Defiance Campaign preached non-compliance with the savage apartheid legislation; the Group Areas Act and the Bantu Educations being two onerous examples. The campaign forced the hand of the apartheid government, who took to banning and arresting campaign leaders, white, black, indian and coloured and passing even stricted legislation.

Other organisations partnered the ANC in these acts of defiance, the SA Indian Congress, The SA Coloured People's Organisation, the predominatly white Congress of Democrats and the SA Congress of Trade Unions, all of whom passed the Freedom Charter in 1955.

Tensions grew as increased resistance was met with greater force and even within the ANC, party members rejected the decision by leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Govan Mbeki to partner with whites and indians whom they felt were 'settlers'. Consequently, a breakaway group, the Pan-African Congress (PAC) was formed.

The Anti Pass Campaign precipitated the notorious Shareville massacre of 1960, an event that received widescale media coverage for the police opening fire on an unarmed crowd, killing 69 people and wounding 186. After this, the government banned a host of organisations, including the ANC and the PAC and declared a state of emergency.

In 1961, left with no other option, the ANC launched the armed struggle against the government.

The Military Wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe carried out over 200 acts of sabotage within an eighteen month period, prompting the government to make the Death sentence a competent verdict for sabotage.

The leaders of the movement were arrested in 1963 and prosecuted during the Rivonia Treason Trial, perhaps the most famous of whom was Nelson Mandela, subsequently jailed until the early 1990's.

The ANC was then forced to adopt a different strategy, appealing for international support and operating in a more covert manner within South Africa.

An increasing number of strikes typified the 1970's and early 1980's, the Soweto Riots of 1976 in which police opened fire - and killed - unarmed schoolchildren included.

As a result of international pressure and defiance by the people, the National Party introduced reforms to apartheid but these were merely token gestures designed to appease the black majority.

In 1995 when the ANC called for the people to make townships ungovernable, the government declared a State of Emergency, detaining over 300,000 people without trial and violence became the definable characteristic of the time with thousands losing their lives.

The corner was turned in 1990 when President PW Botha was replaced as leader of the country by fellow-National Party member FW de Klerk.

As a consequence of increased internal destabilisation and external economic sanctions by countries opposed to apartheid, de Klerk unbanned a number of organisations including the ANC and the South Africa Communist Party in February of that year.

Nelson Mandela was released, and soon elected president of the ANC who four years later swept to power with a 63% majority in the first free elections.

Mandela was elected President of South Africa afterwards and succeeded by ANC leader Thabo Mbeki in 1997.

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