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OPINION: African National Congress used to have real leaders

Once upon a time the African National Congress used to have real leaders. From left: Duma Nokwe, Chief Albert Luthuli, Reverend James Calata, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu singing the real national anthem during a conference held in Queenstown, Eastern Cape - 1953.

Picture by Bob Gosani/DrumIn the late 1920s the ANC’s leaders split over the issue of cooperation with the Communist Party (founded in 1921), and the ensuing victory of the conservatives left the party small and disorganized through the 1930s. In the 1940s, however, the ANC revived under younger leaders who pressed for a more militant stance against segregation in South Africa. The ANC Youth League, founded in 1944, attracted such figures as Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Mandela, who galvanized the movement and challenged the moderate leadership. Under the presidency of Albert Luthuli, the ANC after 1952 began sponsoring nonviolent protests, strikes, boycotts, and marches against the apartheid policies that had been introduced by the National Party government that came to power in 1948. Party membership grew rapidly. A campaign against the pass laws (Blacks were required to carry passes indicating their employment status) and other government policies culminated in the Defiance Campaign of 1952. In the process ANC leaders became a target of police harassment: in 1956 many of its leaders were arrested and charged with treason (known as the Treason Trial, 1956–59).


Oliver Tambo, 197


Oliver Tambo, 197


Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Imag


Move toward militan


In 1960 the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), which had broken away from the ANC in 1959, organized massive demonstrations against the pass laws during which police killed 69 unarmed demonstrators at Sharpeville (south of Johannesburg). At this point the National Party banned, or outlawed, both the ANC and the PAC. Denied legal avenues for political change, the ANC first turned to sabotage and then began to organize outside of South Africa for guerrilla warfare. In 1961 an ANC military organization, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation"), with Mandela as its head, was formed to carry out acts of sabotage as part of its campaign against apartheid. Mandela and other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 (the Rivonia Trial). Although the ANC’s campaign of guerrilla warfare was basically ineffective because of stringent South African internal security measures, surviving ANC cadres kept the organization alive in Tanzania and Zambia under Tambo’s leadership. The ANC began to revive inside South Africa toward the end of the 1970s, following the Soweto uprising in 1976, when the police and army killed more than 600 people, many of them children.


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African National Congress Duma Nokwe James Calata Oliver Tambo Walter Sisulu

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