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IB DP History Study Notes

4.2.8 Key Groups in the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Dive into the intricate formation, objectives, strategies, and figures of influential groups that stood against apartheid in South Africa.

ANC (African National Congress)

Formation

  • The ANC was originally established in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). Its aim was to unify African people and represent their grievances against the backdrop of racial segregation.

Objectives

  • Initial Phase (1912-1949): Primarily to represent the black majority and voice concerns using constitutional means.
  • Post-1949: Aimed to directly confront apartheid laws using strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience.

Strategies

  • Early years: Used delegation, petitions, and representations to voice African grievances.
  • 1940s-1950s: Adopted the Programme of Action in 1949, endorsing strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience.
  • 1960s onwards: As the environment became increasingly repressive, the ANC, in partnership with MK, resorted to armed resistance.

Key Figures

  • Nelson Mandela: Central in transitioning the ANC towards active resistance. He was arrested and imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activities.
  • Oliver Tambo: He led the ANC in exile, fostering global alliances and gathering international opposition to apartheid.
  • Walter Sisulu: A core strategist and the backbone of the ANC, nurturing leaders and guiding the movement's tactics.

Contributions

  • Led the Defiance Campaign in 1952, challenging apartheid laws.
  • Pivotal in the Congress of the People in 1955, resulting in the Freedom Charter.
  • Ensured global awareness of apartheid's cruelties.

Challenges and Opposition

  • Banned in 1960, leading to decades of covert operations.
  • Constant surveillance and harassment by the apartheid state.
  • Many leaders, including Mandela, were arrested, crippling the movement temporarily.

SACP (South African Communist Party)

Formation

  • Emerged in 1921 as the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), serving as a beacon for Marxist-Leninist thought in the country.

Objectives

  • Short-term: Annihilation of apartheid and racial capitalism.
  • Long-term: Birth of a socialist South Africa with worker control.

Strategies

  • Promoted workers' strikes and labour movements.
  • Strategically aligned with the ANC, recognising the interconnectedness of racial and class struggles.

Key Figures

  • Joe Slovo: A crucial leader in both the SACP and MK, pivotal in fostering the alliance between the two.
  • Ruth First: A fearless journalist who used her pen as a weapon against apartheid until her assassination.

Contributions

  • Ensured ideological depth to the anti-apartheid struggle.
  • Boosted the labour movement, emphasising the link between racial suppression and economic exploitation.

Challenges and Opposition

  • Officially banned in 1950, leading to underground operations.
  • SACP leaders and members often faced the brunt of state-led violence and arrests.

MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe)

Formation

  • Birthed in 1961 by the ANC in alliance with the SACP, MK emerged as a response to the brutal Sharpeville massacre and the subsequent banning of anti-apartheid organisations.

Objectives

  • Initially, MK aimed for acts of sabotage against government installations, avoiding human casualties.
  • As the struggle intensified, there was a gradual shift towards guerilla warfare.

Strategies

  • Targeted infrastructure like power plants and transportation networks.
  • Later, included ambushes and bomb attacks against military and police targets.
  • Built a network of safe houses and secret training camps both within South Africa and in neighbouring countries.

Key Figures

  • Nelson Mandela: One of MK's founding members, he believed in its necessity to topple apartheid.
  • Joe Slovo and Chris Hani: They strategised and executed several of MK's operations from within South Africa and from bases abroad.

Contributions

  • Demonstrated to the apartheid regime that the oppressed masses were capable of organised retaliation.
  • Engaged in significant operations like the Church Street bombing in 1983, creating ripples in the apartheid establishment.

Challenges and Opposition

  • While its operations grabbed headlines, MK faced logistical problems, including acquiring arms and safe passage for its operatives.
  • Infiltration by government spies often compromised their operations.
  • International support was pivotal but came with its own challenges, as global geopolitics sometimes influenced the movement's direction.

The ANC, SACP, and MK weren't just organisations; they were manifestations of the will of the South African people. Their collective struggle was marked by sacrifices, strategic shifts, and unyielding resilience in the face of brutal oppression. These groups, with their unique approaches and shared objectives, paved the way for the eventual dismantling of apartheid.

FAQ

Yes, there were internal divisions within the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle. While united against apartheid, members disagreed on strategies and tactics. Some advocated for non-violence and negotiations, while others believed in the necessity of armed resistance. Additionally, the alliance with the SACP was a point of contention. Some members were wary of the communist influence within the ANC. However, the leadership of key figures like Mandela, Sisulu, and Tambo, and the pressing need to challenge apartheid, often overshadowed these divisions, ensuring the ANC remained a cohesive force.

Despite differences in their ultimate objectives – the ANC wanting a non-racial democratic South Africa and the SACP aiming for a socialist state – their immediate goals overlapped significantly. Both groups were united in their opposition to apartheid. The SACP believed that apartheid was an outcome of capitalist exploitation, with racial segregation serving the interests of capitalism. Thus, the anti-apartheid struggle was, in essence, a fight against both racial and economic oppression. This shared short-term objective against a common enemy strengthened the bond between the ANC and SACP, leading to a formidable partnership.

International geopolitics played a pivotal role in the strategies and operations of MK. The Cold War era saw superpowers taking interest in regional conflicts, including South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle. Many Eastern Bloc countries, sympathetic to the ANC and MK, provided training, financial aid, and arms. On the flip side, the apartheid regime often framed its fight against the ANC and MK as a fight against communism to gain Western support. Additionally, neighbouring African countries, based on their relations with superpowers and their stance on apartheid, either supported or opposed MK's operations from their territories, affecting MK's effectiveness and range of operations.

The ANC's transition from peaceful means to advocating for armed resistance was a result of escalating state-led violence and the realization that constitutional methods were yielding limited results. Key events, such as the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, showcased the ruthlessness of the apartheid regime. Furthermore, the banning of anti-apartheid organisations meant conventional methods of protest became almost impossible. Key figures within the ANC, particularly Nelson Mandela, believed that they had no choice but to turn to armed resistance to effectively challenge the state. This shift was significant, marking a more assertive and confrontational stance against apartheid.

While the ANC, SACP, and MK had distinct roles, their activities were deeply intertwined, especially post-1940s. The ANC provided the political leadership, voicing the grievances of the black majority. The SACP, with its ideological grounding, often played the role of a thought leader, emphasising the connection between racial oppression and economic exploitation. MK, as the armed wing primarily of the ANC, executed strategic acts of sabotage against apartheid machinery. There were instances of joint meetings, shared memberships, and coordination at various levels, ensuring the movements were complementary. This collaborative approach magnified their collective impact against the apartheid regime.

Practice Questions

Evaluate the contributions of both the SACP and MK in the anti-apartheid movement of South Africa between 1948 and 1964.

The SACP, with its Marxist-Leninist ideology, added a profound depth to the anti-apartheid struggle, intertwining racial oppression with economic exploitation. Their alliance with the ANC exemplified the belief that the fight against apartheid was not just a racial struggle but also a class struggle. Meanwhile, MK, the military wing of the ANC, was instrumental in providing a tangible, forceful resistance against the oppressive regime. Their acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare tactics highlighted the lengths to which oppressed South Africans were willing to go. Both entities reinforced the seriousness of the anti-apartheid movement and, in their distinct ways, challenged the very foundations of the apartheid regime.

Discuss the significance of key figures within the ANC during the anti-apartheid movement and their influence on the organisation's strategies and objectives.

Key figures within the ANC, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, played pivotal roles in shaping the organisation's direction. Mandela, with his charismatic leadership, not only gave the ANC a global face but also was instrumental in the ANC's shift from peaceful protests to armed resistance. Tambo's diplomatic skills made him adept at garnering international support, ensuring the ANC's objectives resonated globally. Sisulu, on the other hand, was a linchpin within the organisation, ensuring continuity of purpose and offering guidance on strategy. Collectively, these figures ensured the ANC remained adaptable, cohesive, and focused on its ultimate objective: the dismantling of apartheid.

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Written by: Maddie
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Oxford University - BA History

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