History of South Africa

Consolidating Apartheid in the 1960s

The ANC and the PAC Turn to Violence

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.

Consolidating Apartheid

The government took several measures in the 1960s to make the theory of apartheid work in practice. The Nationalists wanted particularly to establish alternative political structures for Africans in the homelands or reserves, and to eliminate the squatter camps that had grown up around the major cities in the 1930s and the 1940s. In 1963 the Transkei homeland, poverty-stricken and overpopulated, was made self-governing, and in 1976 it was declared "independent," although no country except South Africa recognized the new state. Other homelands were even less economically viable. Bophuthatswana consisted of nineteen separate pieces of land spread hundreds of kilometers apart, and KwaZulu (formed out of Zululand and other parts of Natal in 1972) was divided into at least eleven fragments interspersed with white farms and coastal lands allocated to whites. The South African government, nonetheless, moved ahead with preparing them for independence.

Under the provisions of the Group Areas Act, urban and rural areas in South Africa were divided into zones in which members of only one racial group could live; all others had to move. In practice, it was blacks who had to move, often under the threat or use of force. Between 1963 and 1985, approximately 3.5 million blacks were removed from areas designated for whites and were sent to the homelands, where they added to the already critical problem of overpopulation. Still, even though the homeland population rose by 69 percent between 1970 and 1980, the numbers of blacks in the cities continued to rise through natural growth and evasion of influx control, so that by 1980, after twenty years of removals, there were twice as many blacks in South Africa's towns as there were whites.

South Africa enjoyed an economic boom in the 1960s. Foreign investors had withdrawn their funds and white immigration had come to a halt in the immediate aftermath of Sharpeville, but Vorster's harsh measures rebuilt confidence in the security of investments and the stability of the state, and money and people returned. Foreign investment in South Africa, attracted by rates of return on capital often running as high as 15 to 20 percent, more than doubled between 1963 and 1972, while high immigration levels helped the white population to increase by 50 percent during the same period. Investment and immigration fueled an impressive economic boom.

South Africa History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress