African National Congress

views updated May 17 2018

African National Congress


The origins of the African National Congress (ANC) were a conference of black South African notables assembled in 1912 to protest impending legal restrictions on African land ownership. Until the 1940s, the ANC remained decorously circumspect: lobbying, submitting memorandums, and relying heavily on white liberal intermediaries. During World War II (1939-1945), the ANC began to build a mass membership structure and attempted to mobilize popular support by contesting local advisory board elections in black townships. By this time, several of its leaders were also members of the Communist Party. Communists had initially concentrated on winning white worker support but switched their efforts to blacks in the 1ate 1920s.

Within the ANC, both communists and a group of young self-professed Africanists who formed a Youth League helped to influence the ANC to embrace more aggressive tactics. It adopted in 1949 a Program of Action calling for strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience as means toward a goal of African self-determination. The ANCs radicalization coincided with the accession to government of the (Afrikaner) National Party (NP). In power, Afrikaner nationalists began to tighten and extend racial segregation policies. In practice, the NPs apartheid policies sought to confine black participation in the urban economy to unskilled and semiskilled labor.

The Communist Party was banned in 1950. Thereafter its members would work within the ANC. Communist influence as well as older liberal traditions instilled by the Methodist schools that trained most African political leaders ensured that although the ANC itself remained an exclusively African body, it defined its program on a broader basis. It sought allies in the Indian Congress movement, founded in Natal by Mohandas Gandhi in 1894, and in 1952 encouraged the establishment of a Congress of Democrats for white sympathizers.

The ANCs Freedom Charter, adopted in 1956, referred to a democratic future in which all races would enjoy equal rights. In 1952 a Defiance Campaign against new apartheid laws failed to win any concessions but succeeded in swelling membership to 100,000. Six subsequent years of mass-based militant resistance helped to convince a number of ANC principals, including its patrician but popular deputy president, Nelson Mandela, that the organization had exhausted the available options of peaceful protest. A breakaway movement, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), formed in 1959 as a more radical alternative. The Pan-Africanists emphasized African racial identity and criticized the role of the Communist Party in watering down the ANCs nationalist predispositions. In fact, the Communist Partys influence was most evident in the mild socialism of the Freedom Charter. In 1960 the PAC committed itself to resisting the pass laws. In Sharpeville on March 21, outside Vereeniging, police were confronted by a crowd of five thousand people, and the tense standoff culminated with the police firing and killing eighty. In the national tumult that followed, the government banned both the PAC and the ANC. The ANC reconstituted itself underground and in 1961 formed an armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). In 1963 Umkhontos high command was arrested and most of its members sentenced to life imprisonment for their leadership of a sabotage campaign.

For the next thirty years, under the leadership of Mandelas close professional associate and friend, fellow exYouth Leaguer and attorney Oliver Tambo, the ANC would base itself in Dar es Salaam and Lusaka. Only in the mid-1970s could it begin rebuilding its clandestine organization in South Africa. In exile, the ANC strengthened its alliance with the Communist Party, and in stages between 1969 and 1985 it opened its ranks to whites, Indians, and coloreds (in South Africa, any person of mixed racial descent). Survival in exile required discipline and authority, and communist organizational models were influential. Today, Leninist tenets of democratic centralism remain in the organizations constitution. After 1976, ANC guerrillas succeeded in attracting public attention with bold attacks on symbolic targets. So-called armed propaganda brought the ANC considerable public support both in South Africa and internationally, though Umkhontos campaigning hardly represented a serious military threat to white security.

Meanwhile a charismatic cult developed around the imprisoned leaders on Robben Island, especially Nelson Mandela. Mandelas stature was a key factor in achieving for the ANC the degree of recognition or acceptance it enjoyed outside communist countries: By the late 1980s meetings between its leaders and Western statesmen served to underline its status as a government in waiting. The military command structure controlled the destinies of most of the refugees who joined the ANC after 1976. In this part of the organization communists were especially powerful.

However, around its foreign missions and its own educational establishment the ANC began to foster a group with administrative and technical skills, many of its members the recipients of U.S. and western European higher educations. Members of this group began to develop policy blueprints for a post-apartheid liberal democracy. From within this community the ANC also began to make the first cautious moves toward a negotiated settlement in the mid-1980s, a process in which Thabo Mbeki, the head of the ANCs directorate of international affairs, was a principal actor. Separately, from inside prison, Nelson Mandela began his own program of meetings and conversations with senior government officials and cabinet ministers. In February 1990 the South African government repealed its prohibitions of the ANC and other exiled organizations.

Ironically, the ANCs development over thirty years as a virtual government in exile was the key to its successful reentry into the domestic terrain of South African politics. The international recognition it received brought with it the financial resources needed to build a mass organization in South Africa of unprecedented scope and sophistication. This organization would not only absorb the exile liberation bureaucrats and returning soldiers but also bring together a variety of movements that had developed inside South Africa during their absence, including some of the homeland-based political parties and the vast federation of civic bodies led beginning in 1983 by the United Democratic Front.

Between 1990 and 1994 the ANC played a decisive role in negotiating a fresh constitutional dispensation. After elections in 1994, Nelson Mandela would lead a transitional Government of National Unity in which the ANC would share power with its old adversary, the National Party. The ANC won successive electoral victories in 1999 and 2004.

In power, the ANCs market-friendly economic policies, encapsulated in the GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) program, have reflected leadership concerns about retaining and attracting investment capital. The rewards of economic liberalization have included increases in GDP (currently around 3.5%) and a measure of white support especially after former National Party leaders joined the ANC and Thabo Mbekis government in 2003. The government has also been successful in promoting a black business class. The ANCs continuing popularity is probably more a consequence of expanded access to pensions and grants. More equitable provisions are unlikely to guarantee that the ANC will hold its political base for very much longer. Free-market policies have failed to check social inequality or unemployment. After more than a decade in office, the ANC today is sharply divided by a conflict over who should succeed President Mbeki. This division reflects deep disagreements between right and left over policy.

SEE ALSO Apartheid; Colonialism; Mandela, Nelson; Mandela, Winnie


Callinicos, Luli. 2004. Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains. Cape Town, South Africa: David Philip.

Davis, Stephen, M. 1987. Apartheids Rebels: Inside South Africas Hidden War. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press.

Lodge, Tom. 2004. The ANC and the Development of Party Politics in Modern South Africa. Journal of Modern African Studies 42 (2): 189-219.

South African Democracy Education Trust. 2004. The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Vol. 1 (1960-1970). Cape Town, South Africa: Zebra Press.

Walshe, Peter. 1970. The Rise of African Nationalism in South Africa: The African National Congress, 1912-1952. London: C. Hurst.

Tom Lodge

African National Congress

views updated Jun 11 2018

African National Congress

LEADER: Nelson Mandela



The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 under the name the South African Native National Congress. On January 8, 1912, hundreds of South Africa's educated elite converged in Bloemfontein to create a national organization that would protest racial discrimination and demand equality under the law. The membership of the organization identified itself as being moderate. While pressing for racial equality, the ANC also openly supported British rule in South Africa. Blacks in South Africa struggled under legislation that hampered rights in the workplace and restricted the areas where they could live. The ANC has evolved from what was considered to be an extremist organization under the discredited apartheid system to a mainstream governing group in South Africa. Nelson Mandela has become one of the world's most widely respected figures.

In 1923, the group renamed itself as the ANC and identified its primary goal of ensuring racial equality to blacks in South Africa. In 1943, a splinter organization was created by members in the ANC who felt the group was too passive in its resistance while racial discrimination moved closer toward apartheid. This group, the Congress Youth League (CYL), engaged in strikes, rallies, and demonstrations. Eventually, the CYL rejoined the ANC and several of its members assumed leadership roles in the ANC, including Nelson Mandela. The ANC continued to expand in the 1950s, and as a result was banned by the government and many of its leadership were imprisoned.

In 1961, the ANC established a military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (spear of the nation) to begin an armed struggle against the policies of the South African government. The group targeted government facilities and not people directly. However, by 1964, police investigations of the group led to raids and arrests, which ended Umkhonto. Although the militant wing had been eradicated, the ANC continued its resistance to apartheid and was implicated in incidents during the 1980s, targeting multinational corporations operating in South Africa. In 1990, the ANC was legalized, which ended its violent operations. Following its legalization and with the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the ANC continued its struggle to end apartheid. By 1994, apartheid officially ended, paving the way for the ANC to gain control of the newly democratically elected government and for Nelson Mandela to become president. Mandela served as president until 1999 when his deputy in the ANC, Thabo Mbeki was elected to the presidency.


The presence of gold and diamonds in South Africa has created a history of struggle between colonial powers, thus creating the environment for racial discrimination. In the 1880s, the Dutch, who were the first to settle in South Africa, struggled with the British ruling government. This struggle was exacerbated by the group attempting to establish its own South African national identity called Afrikaners. The Afrikaners argued that they possessed a unique identity rooted in their belief that they were a distinct group with their own fatherland in South Africa. After a bloody three-year conflict, the ruling British government sought to increase the number of English speakers in South Africa by encouraging large numbers of Britons to emigrate.

During this period, Alfred Milner, British high commissioner in South Africa, expressed in the report by the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC) the belief that blacks and whites could never be recognized as equals. However, the three-year war with the Afrikaners was under the cause of abhorring the racially discriminating policies supported by the Afrikaners. As a result, the British received support from the black Africans during the conflict. Therefore, after the war, the SANAC was established to develop a "native policy." Educated African elite testified before the commission, denouncing institutionalized discrimination. However, the commission concluded that territorial separations, as well as separate voter's criteria should be established. The commission also asserted that there should be no political equality between the races.

In the agreement created to form the Union of South Africa in 1910, the question of suffrage for blacks was left to the self-governing colonies to decide. The Cape and Natal colonies used property ownership to qualify a black person for voting rights, while the Orange River Colony and Transvaal denied the vote to all blacks. This was one of the first pieces of legislation that marked the institutionalization of racial discrimination. Three additional legislations were key in creating the environment from which the ANC would emerge to protest. The Native Labour Regulation Act (No. 15), passed in 1911, established that it was a criminal offense for Africans, but not for whites, to break labor contracts. In addition, the Mines and Works Act (No. 12), also passed in 1911, restricted the Africans to semiskilled and unskilled labor in the mines while allowing the whites to monopolize the skilled-labor jobs. Finally, the most important act in establishing a culture of racial inequalities was the impetus for the conference where the ANC was developed. The Natives Land Act (No. 27) passed in 1913 and divided South Africa into regions where either blacks or whites could own land. Although blacks made up two-thirds of the population, they were restricted to merely 7.5 percent of the land. In addition, the act made it illegal for blacks to reside outside of their relegated lands, unless they were employed by whites.



Nelson Mandela is the most widely recognized leader of the ANC. He joined the organization as a young man, and in 1943 served as a leader of the Congress Youth Leaders to mobilize protests against racial discrimination. In 1961, Mandela participated in the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Believing that guerilla warfare was the next step, Mandela traveled throughout Africa to obtain financial support and training for militants. Mandela was arrested upon his return and sentenced to five years for leaving the country without a permit and inciting people. In 1964, Mandela was given a life sentence for treason for his activities with the ANC. In 1990, Mandela was released from prison and assumed leadership of the ANC. He worked with the reformation movement to create a new government in South Africa. In 1994, he was elected president and served until 1999.

While the Natives Land Act was being debated, hundreds of South African elites met in Bloemfontein and established the South African Native National Congress. On January 12, 1912, the organization was established and its goals identified. The congress was composed of moderates such as the founding president John L. Dube, a minister and school teacher. The group acknowledged that British rule had been beneficial to South African development in creating the rule of law, promoting education, and introducing Christianity. As a result, the group sought reformation to the British policies as opposed to ending British rule. The group identified its goals as seeking an end to racial discrimination and creating equal treatment of the races under the law. In 1914, the congress sent a delegation to London to protest the Natives Land Act, where the colonial secretary expressed the inability to help. Again, in 1919, the congress sent a delegation who met with Prime Minister Lloyd George. However, the prime minister determined that the issue needed to be solved by the South African government.

By 1923, the congress had renamed itself the African National Congress and continued its moderate push for racial equality. However, during the next decade the ANC would lose much of its influence due to leadership problems and the group's passive stance. In the 1940s, a group of young leaders revived the ANC. This group included Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulo, Olvier Tambo, and Anton Lembede. In 1943, this group of leaders established the Congress Youth League (CYL) as a way to mobilize mass protests against inequality. As apartheid was being institutionalized in 1948, the ANC adopted the CYL leaders and established a campaign of defiance. As ANC membership grew in the 1950s, so did the government's reaction. The defiance campaigns led by the ANC included rallies, demonstrations, and strikes. The government responded to the campaign by arresting demonstrators and banning leaders under the Suppression of Communism Act.

By 1961, the ANC had been banned and began to operate as an underground organization. In 1961, the militant wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, began to target attacks on police stations and power plants. Umkhonto carefully organized the attacks in order to avoid taking human lives. Its first activities occurred in 1961 with the targeting of government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. By 1964, Umkhonto leaders were arrested and, along with the previously arrested Nelson Mandela, were tried for treason. The arrests, as well as an orchestrated police effort, succeeded in eradicating Unkhonto's activities. However, the violent protests of the ANC would continue.

Umkhonto and the ANC sought to economically and politically disrupt the country by targeting power plants, interfering with rail and telecommunications, and striking government buildings and symbols of apartheid. In 1982, limpet mines were used to attack the Mkuze oil depot, owned by Mobile Oil Company. In 1983, another limpet mine was used in an attack on the Ciskei Consulate. The next year saw several attacks of sabotage claimed by the ANC. In April, the ANC targeted an oil storage facility in Transvaal, causing five fuel tanks to be destroyed and several others damaged by fires. Several days later, the ANC detonated a bomb at the Transkei Consulate in Bloemfontein. In May 1984, the ANC launched a rocket attack against an oil refinery in Durban. During the attack, four ANC operatives were killed, three civilians were killed, and two police officers were injured. Also in May, the ANC struck a gold mine in Johannesburg.


South African Native National Congress formed to protest the Natives Land Act and to call for racial equality.
Delegation sent to Britain is met by colonial secretary who refuses to help.
Subsequent delegation sent to Britain meets with Prime Minister Lloyd George who advises the issue of equality must be solved by the South African government.
Congress Youth Leaders diverge from ANC to mobilize mass protests.
ANC adopts CYL leadership and organization.
Umkhonto manifesto is released in conjunction with the first act of violence against the South African government. The ANC is banned and moves its operations underground.
ANC leaders are arrested and tried for treason and police activities eradicate Umkhonto. However, violence against the government continues.
ANC is legalized and Nelson Mandela is released from prison.
Apartheid is officially ended in South Africa and multiracial elections give the ANC the majority of votes.

By April 1985, the ANC threatened to expand operations against multinational corporations operating in South Africa. The group used explosive devices to strike the offices of the mining businesses in Johannesburg. Businesses continued to be a target of the ANC and in September of 1988, the ANC exploded a bomb in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn in East London. In October 1989, the British Petroleum Oil Company offices in Cape Town became a target as simultaneous explosions occurred. The blasts were in response to the British decision against economic sanctions of South Africa.

Tutu: 'Tyranny' of ANC


Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the African National Congress has done itself tremendous damage by trying to stop the publication of the Truth Commission report.

In the 3,500-page report, the ANC is held responsible for deaths and injuries during its time as an exiled movement trying to overthrow apartheid.

The chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Tutu says the ANC has damaged its international reputation, and he is concerned by a party with such a large government majority acting to try to stop its electorate from having access to information.

Reporting from Johannesburg, the BBC's Africa Correspondent, Jane Standley, says the respected Nobel peace prize winner's criticisms of the ANC will hit hard: she says that the criticisms are clearly meant for the younger generation of ANC leaders, who have been very hostile to the Commission's findings against them.

Archbishop Tutu is seen as a figure of morality and tolerance across the world.

He accused the ANC of tyranny in its last-minute bid to get a court order blocking findings that the party was responsible for gross violations of human rights in its fight against apartheid.

"The fact that they are the majority party in government does not give them privileges. I did not fight against people who thought they were God to replace them by others," Archbishop Tutu told journalists in Pretoria.


But the South African Deputy President and ANC President, Thabo Mbeki, criticised the commission for not heeding the ANC's objections to the report.

"This does not help the process for which the TRC was established," Mr Mbeki told reporters.

South Africa will hold its second all race elections next year and Thabo Mbeki is expected to become president as Nelson Mandela retires from politics.

The report, which calls for a national summit in 1999 on its recommendations, will "reawaken many of the difficult and troubling emotions that the hearings themselves brought," according to President Nelson Mandela.

Desmond Tutu's deputy, Alex Borraine, warned that reconciliation would take "a generation at least."


The Truth Commission recommends that individuals who are found accountable for human rights violations, and who chose not to apply for amnesty, could face prosecution.

Former President PW Botha, Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and Winnie Mandela are among those who stand accused.

The ruling African National Congress is also blamed.

But it is the system of apartheid, condemned as a crime against humanity, which receives the harshest criticism from the TRC's report, which was presented to President Mandela on Thursday by commission chairman Archbishop Tutu.

And President Nelson Mandela publicly asked that the report should be published with everything in it, including the allegations against the ANC.

He is known to have argued in cabinet for full disclosure.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after hearing testimony from over 21,000 victims of apartheid, completed its work on 31 July 1998, except for ongoing amnesty investigations, which will continue until next June.


The handing over of the report was overshadowed by another legal bid to delay publication—by former President FW de Klerk.

Mr de Klerk won a temporary interdict preventing the publication of material linking him to state-sponsored bombings in the 1980s.

The report holds him accountable for killings during his time in office, a period when antiapartheid resistance was met with increasingly brutal suppression.

Sections of the TRC document, which suggest that Mr de Klerk knew about the bombing plans but failed to report them, have been suppressed until the case is heard again in March.

Chief Buthelezi. Leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of the president, have also been implicated in apartheid-era murders.

The report speaks of the former regime and the strategies which supported it as "supporting the notion that the apartheid system was a crime against humanity."

Source: BBC News, 1998

The 1990s brought an increased movement, both national and international, toward the dismantling of apartheid. In 1990, the president of South Africa announced that Nelson Mandela—who was serving a life sentence for his activities with the ANC—would be released and that the ANC would no longer be banned. These two actions began the process by which the ANC ended its violent activities by 1992. ANC exiles began to return to South Africa and the group faced opposition toward its reconciliatory attitude. As South Africa dismantled its policies of apartheid, Nelson Mandela and the ANC worked with the reformers to create a new government. On April 26, 1994, the first multiracial election occurred in South Africa, and the ANC won 62.2 percent of the vote. As a result, Nelson Mandela was elected unanimously as president on May 9, 1994. The ANC has remained in power since 1994.


In his 1964 speech, "I am prepared to die," Nelson Mandela identifies the philosophy of the ANC as well as the philosophy of Umkhonto. He explained that the primary goal of the ANC since its inception was African nationalism. He characterized this nationalism as "freedom and fulfillment for the African people in their own land." He cited the Freedom charter, which calls for a redistribution of land and a nationalization of mines and banks under an economy of private enterprise.

The ANC began as a lawful way to voice opposition against government policies that marginalized blacks. It spent fifty years peacefully protesting the government actions and promoting a non-racial democracy. In 1956, after ANC leaders had been arrested, the South African courts determined that the ANC did not have a policy of violence. However, by 1960, the leadership of the ANC resolved that their peaceful protests had resulted only in increased repression. After a 1960 massacre occurring in Sharpeville, the ANC was declared unlawful. Its leadership decided that its interests and the interests of blacks were not represented in the government. As a result, the group refused to dissolve.

As police violence against blacks escalated, violent protests escalated in response. The leadership of the ANC believed that a civil war was inevitable and sought to create "controlled violence" to avoid such a conflict. The group began with operations of sabotage. It believed that creating an economic disruption through the targeting of multinational corporations and government facilities would force voters to reevaluate their positions. The group targeted power plants, sought the disrupt rail and telecommunications, and attacked government buildings. Attacks were planned in a way that would spare human fatalities. As the acts of sabotage were carried out, the ANC began to prepare for its next level of conflict—guerilla warfare. Other African states were enlisted to help finance and train militants.

As the ANC reclaimed its political standing in the 1990s, the group reasserted its original ideology of racial equality under the law.


Because of the ANC's long history, many groups have held opposing perspectives. While apartheid was policy in South Africa, the government considered the ANC to be a disruptive force. As the ANC embarked on its policy of violence, the group was labeled as a communist organization by both the government and other organizations. In 1971, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement declared its stance against the ANC, calling the group communists. This opposition to the ANC cited the Marxist influences on the policies and agendas of the ANC, as well as the close ties the group held with the Communist Party in South Africa. The ANC and the Communist Party promoted the same primary goal—the removal of white supremacy in South Africa. The ANC asserted that in order to offer an equal footing to blacks, banks and mines should be nationalized. This closely resembled the Communist Party's goal to have a state run on the principles of Marxism.

As apartheid came to an end and the ANC developed into a political party, the group was accused of corruption, misconduct, the misuse of private funds by party leaders, and with a lack of accountability. In 1996, the cabinet minister in charge of health was discovered to have lied to parliament regarding a public affairs program that had been mishandled. The result was a four million dollar program that had not submitted to a proper bidding process. Instead, the contract was awarded to a good friend of the cabinet minister. However, when these charges were discussed by the media, the ANC shifted the blame to a group wanting to oust the minister. In another example, the former wife to Nelson Mandela, in 1996, was under charges of extortion and misuse of private funds. However, the ANC was seen as slow to responding or punishing those found of wrongdoing. In the New York Times article "South African Scandal over 'Sarafina' spotlights corruption in the ANC," Suzanne Daley expresses the view of critics of the ANC by stating, "The party often prizes loyalty over honesty and closes ranks around the accused while slurring the accusers." The ANC does not have a viable opposition political party and, as a result, remains in power.


In 1912, South Africa was in the midst of policy changes that affected the lives and livelihood of blacks. Legislation was passed that created an environment that would eventually lead to the government-advocated policy of apartheid. One such act, the Native Land Act, was the impetus for a group of educated elites to meet and form an organization to oppose the legislation and push for racial equality. As a result the African National Congress was created. The congress began as a moderate political organization that sought to peacefully bring about change. However, as violence toward blacks continued, and the policies of apartheid expanded, the ANC moved toward a policy of violence after 50 years of peaceful protests. Under the militant wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC sought to create economic disruptions by scaring foreign investment. The group targeted utilities, rail and telecommunications, government buildings, and any symbol of apartheid. The group was banned and Umkhonto was eradicated, but the ANC moved its operations underground and continued to hit targets in what it called, "controlled violence." By 1990, the ANC had been restored as a legal organization, ANC leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the policies of apartheid began to be dismantled. In 1994, the first multiracial election was held in South Africa, and the ANC became the ruling party and has remained in power ever since.



Byrnes, Rita M. "A Country Study: South Africa." Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. May 1996.

Daley, Suzanne. "South African Scandal over 'Sarafina' Spotlights Corruption in the ANC." New York Times. October 8, 1996.

Henrard, Kristin. "Post-apartheid South Africa: Transformation and Reconciliation." World Affairs. Vol. 6 No. 1 (July 1, 2003).

Web sites

African National Congress. "I am Prepared to Die: Nelson Mandela's Statement." 〈〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "African National Congress." 〈〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).


Afrikaner Resistance Movement

African National Congress

views updated May 18 2018

African National Congress

The African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa until it became multiracial in the 1990s, was founded on January 8, 1912, in Bloemfontein by chiefs, representatives of African peoples and church organizations, and other prominent individuals. The aim of the ANC was to bring all Africans together and to defend their rights and freedoms in a then racially divided South Africa.

The ANC was formed at a time of rapid change in South Africa. The organization began as a nonviolent civil rights group, but its tactics and strategy changed over time. The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 transformed not only the social, political, and economic structure of South Africa, but the racial attitude of whites towards blacks. The contestations over mining rights, land, and labor gave rise to new laws that discriminated against the black population. Laws were designed to force Africans to leave their land and provide labor for the expanding mining and commercial agriculture industry. The most severe law was the 1913 Land Act, which prevented Africans from buying, renting, or using land except in the so-called reserves. Many communities or families lost their land because of the Land Act. Millions of blacks could not meet their subsistence needs off the land. The Land Act caused overcrowding, land hunger, poverty, and starvation.

The political activism of the ANC dates back to the Land Act of 1913. The Land Act and other laws, including the pass laws, controlled the movements of African people and ensured that they worked either in mines or on farms. The pass laws also stopped Africans from leaving their jobs or striking. In 1919 the ANC in Transvaal led a campaign against the passes. The ANC also supported a militant strike by African mineworkers in 1920. However, there was disagreement over the strategies to be adopted in achieving the goals set by the ANC. Some ANC leaders disagreed with militant actions such as strikes and protests in preference for persuasion, negotiation, and appeals to Britain. But appeals to British authorities in 1914 to protest the Land Act, and in 1919 to ask Britain to recognize African rights, did not achieve these goals.

In the 1920s, government policies became harsher and more racist. A color bar was established to stop blacks from holding semiskilled jobs in some industries. The ANC did not achieve much in this era. J. T. Gumede (1870–1947) was elected president of the ANC in 1927. He tried to revitalize the organization in order to fight these racist policies. Gumede thought that communists could make a contribution to this struggle and he wanted the ANC to cooperate with them. However, in 1930, Gumede was voted out of office, and the ANC became inactive in the 1930s under conservative leadership.

The ANC was very prominent in its opposition to apartheid in the 1940s. The formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944 gave the organization new life and energy, and transformed it into the mass movement it was to become in the 1950s. The leaders of the Youth League, including Nelson Mandela (b. 1918), Walter Sisulu (1912–2003), and Oliver Tambo (1917–1993), aimed to involve the masses in militant struggles. They believed that the past strategy of the ANC could not lead to the liberation of black South Africans.

The militant ideas of the Youth League found support among the emerging urban black workforce. The Youth League drew up a Programme of Action calling for strikes, boycotts, and defiance. The Programme of Action was adopted by the ANC in 1949, the year after the National Party came to power on a pro-apartheid platform. The Programme of Action led to the Defiance Campaign in the 1950s as the ANC joined with other groups in promoting strikes and civil disobedience. The Defiance Campaign was the beginning of a mass movement of resistance to such apartheid laws as the Population Registration Act, the Group Areas Act and Bantu Education Act, and the pass laws.

The government tried to stop the Defiance Campaign by banning its leaders and passing new laws to prevent public disobedience. But the campaign had already made huge gains, including closer cooperation between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress, and the formation of a new South Africa Colored Peoples' Organization (SACPO) and the Congress of Democrats (COD), an organization of white democrats. These organizations, together with the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), formed the Congress Alliance.

The Congress Alliance called for the people to govern and for the land to be shared by those who work it. The alliance called for houses, work, security, and free and equal education. These demands were drawn together into the Freedom Charter, which was adopted at the Congress of the People at Kliptown on June 26, 1955. The government claimed that the Freedom Charter was a communist document and arrested ANC and Congress Alliance leaders and brought them to trial in the famous Treason Trial. The government tried to prove that the ANC and its allies had a policy of violence and planned to overthrow the state.

The struggles of the 1950s brought blacks and whites together on a larger scale in the fight for justice and democracy. The Congress Alliance was an expression of the ANC's policy of nonracialism. This was expressed in the Freedom Charter, which declared that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. But not everyone in the ANC agreed with the policy of nonracialism. A small minority of members, who called themselves Africanists, opposed the Freedom Charter. They objected to the ANC's growing cooperation with whites and Indians, whom they described as foreigners. They were also suspicious of communists who, they felt, brought a foreign ideology into the struggle. The differences between the Africanists and those in the ANC who supported nonracialism could not be overcome. In 1959 the Africanists broke away and formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

Anti-pass law campaigns were taken up by both the ANC and the PAC in 1960. The massacre on March 21, 1960, of sixty-nine peaceful protestors at Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, brought a decade of peaceful protest to an end. The ANC was banned in 1960, and the government declared a state of emergency and arrested thousands of ANC and PAC activists. The following year, the ANC initiated guerrilla attacks. In 1964 its leader, Nelson Mandela, was sentenced to life in prison and the ANC leadership was forced into exile.

The ANC went underground and continued to organize secretly. An underground military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, was formed in December 1961 to "hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom." The ANC continued to be popularly acknowledged as the vehicle of mass resistance to apartheid in the late 1970s and the 1980s. In spite of detentions and bans, the mass movement took to the city streets defiantly. In February 1990, the government was forced to lift the ban on the ANC and other organizations and signaled a desire to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the South African problem.

At the 1991 National Conference of the ANC, Nelson Mandela, who was released from prison in 1990, was elected ANC president. Oliver Tambo, who served as president of the ANC from 1969 to 1991, was elected national chairperson. The negotiations initiated by the ANC resulted in the holding of South Africa's first democratic elections in April 1994. The ANC won these historic elections with over 62 percent of the votes. On May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the president of South Africa. Thabo Mbeki (b. 1942) succeeded Mandela as head of the ANC in 1997 and as president of South Africa in 1999.

see also Apartheid; Mandela, Nelson.


African National Congress: South Africa's National Liberation Movement. Available from

Manifesto of Umkhonto we Sizewe. Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe leaflet, December 16, 1961.

Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa, 3rd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

African National Congress

views updated May 18 2018

African National Congress (ANC) South African political party. It was formed in 1912 with the aim of securing racial equality and full political rights for non-whites. by the 1950s, the ANC was the principal opposition to the apartheid regime. A military wing, Umkhonte We Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’), was set up in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre. It engaged in economic and industrial sabotage. In 1961, the ANC was banned and many of its leaders arrested or forced into exile. In 1964, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, leaders of the ANC, began their long sentences as political prisoners. In 1990, the ANC was legalized, Mandela was released from Robben Island, and many of the legislative pillars of apartheid were dismantled. In 1994, in South Africa's first multiracial elections, the ANC gained more than 60% of the popular vote. Nelson Mandela became the first post-apartheid president of South Africa. In 1997 he was succeeded as leader of the ANC by Thabo Mbeki.

About this article

African National Congress

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic