Brian Bunting. Moses Kotane, South African Revolutionary
The treason trial dragged on for years, and many of the accused were either in jail, in the court room or severely tied down by restrictions from the day of their arrest on December 5, 1956, until March 29, 1961, when those still before the court were found not guilty by Mr Justice Rumpff. For political leaders of the resistance movement, this was a crippling burden to carry, and the work of the organisations in the Congress alliance undoubtedly suffered. True, not every Congress leader was involved in the treason trial, but even those who had not been charged were liable to bans and restrictions imposed by the Minister of Justice under the Suppression of Communism Act, and by the end of the decade there was hardly a single leading Congressman who had not been struck down in this way.
The effect of a ban at this stage was to remove the victim from public platforms and from public activity on behalf of an ever-increasing list of organisations, as well as to confine him to the magisterial district in which he lived and to make it a criminal offence to meet with any other person for any common purpose. In later years, there were occasions when husbands and wives had to obtain official written permission to consort with one another, since their association without such permission might constitute a violation of a banning order and render them liable to imprisonment without the option of a fine for one year.
For most of the year 1957 Kotane had been tied down by the preparatory examination in the treason trial. The preparatory examination ended on January 30, 1958, and the accused were committed for trial. Kotane was one of 92 accused who were brought before a special three-man court in Pretoria on August 1st, 1958. Following legal argument, the indictment was withdrawn on October 13, but a new trial with only 30 accused opened in Pretoria on January 19, 1959. Kotane was not amongst these 30, but together with the other 61 accused remained on charge until the outcome of the first trial was decided.
As we have already seen, a great deal of political work was carried out by the Congress leaders in the courtroom, despite the constant police surveillance. In fact, the trial compelled the Congressmen to be together in contravention of their bans, and the police could not reasonably put them asunder. In between trial sessions, and after the trial was over, the accused continued with their political work, often at much greater risk and inconvenience. Kotane attended meetings of the secretariat of the Communist Party about three times a week, and in addition attended other meetings of Party sub-committees as well as meetings with other Congressmen, banned and unbanned. In all, there were times when he must have attended up to 20 illegal meetings a week.
Those who worked with him have testified that of all the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party he was the most meticulous, the most reliable and the most careful worker. He was never a minute late for a meeting, and would go to extremes to ensure that all the necessary precautions had been taken for every single meeting he attended. Abstemious and disciplined in his own life, he was highly critical of the slapdash methods some of his colleagues used in their daily work, and equally critical of some of their failings as human beings which, he argued, could have serious implications for Party security. One comrade who was given an hour of his time recalls that their discussion was interrupted by a visit from a Party member who wanted to talk to him about the situation in the ANC. Kotane explained that he was busy, and asked his visitor (whom we shall call N) to return in an hour’s time, which would be three o'clock. At 10 minutes to 3, N was back again. Kotane glanced at his watch and said severely: “When I say three, I mean three, not later and not earlier.” Looking absolutely terrified, N hastily made his departure, returning precisely on the hour as ordered. Kotane was a hard taskmaster; but his methods paid off. The Party was not infiltrated and Party security was not broken until the introduction of the 90-day detention law in 1963 placed the weapon of torture in the hands of the security police.
Nevertheless, the effects of the bannings should not be underestimated. The mere removal of the top leadership from public platforms meant that proceedings had to be handled by figures neither so well known nor so capable and experienced. While the Congress movement was preparing for a massive political strike to coincide with the general elections to be held on April 16,1958, the Africanist element made the first of a series of attempts to capture the leadership of the ANC.
Over the week-end of February 22 and 23, 1958, apparently co-ordinated attacks were made on emergency conferences of the Transvaal and Cape Province ANC held in Johannesburg and. Cape Town respectively. In both instances, the conferences had been called to deal with problems which would probably not have arisen but for the banning of the elected leadership — arbitrary methods of work and control, refusal to deal with the rank and file, or account for funds, etc. At both conferences some of the disgruntled elements, egged on by the Africanists, resorted to violence. In Johannesburg the conference ended in chaos, with the Africanists claiming that a vote of no confidence had been passed in the provincial leadership, the constitution had been suspended, and the way cleared for the installation of Madzunya and Leballo in the leadership. In the chair was the Acting President-General of the ANC Mr D. Nyembe, who declared the conference closed before it had been able to complete its business. Afterwards a Congress car was confiscated and the driver was stabbed. On the Monday morning a raiding party of Sophiatown “volunteers” led by Segale, leader of one of the opposition branches, invaded the ANC office and removed all the Congress records and property.
In Cape Town, a group of Africanists dressed in black shirts and wielding knives and batons made a determined effort to smash up the emergency Cape conference. Hardly had the first paragraph of the executive report been read than they started to fight, but here loyal Congressmen were better organised and the Africanists were summarily ejected from the conference.
The emergence of the Africanists in this period can be explained by a number of factors. In the first place, the overall situation in the country was tense. Unemployment amongst all sections of the population was rising, the economic growth rate was declining, and the gap between white and black wage earners was widening. The poor black majority was getting poorer at the very moment when Government apartheid pressures were growing. Revolts broke out in a number of reserves against Government removal plans, cattle culling, deposition of anti-Government chiefs, the extension of passes to women and other unpopular measures. In January 1958 three pro-government indunas and the sister of the local puppet chief were killed in Zeerust as the people’s anger reached fever pitch. Swarms of police were drafted to the area and within weeks a state of near-civil war had broken out, with daily arrests and beatings by the police and swarms of refugees fleeing to Bechuanaland. Similar tension eventually erupted into revolt in Sekhukhuneland, while the Transkei seethed over the proposed introduction of Bantu Authorities. A strike of workers at the Amato textile mills in Benoni was smashed with the utmost brutality by the police, who batoned defenceless workers into submission. But in the face of their desperate poverty, more and more black industrial workers were to resort to the strike weapon in the ensuing months.
Giving evidence to a commission of inquiry into riots at Dube Township in Johannesburg, the Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, the Right Rev. Ambrose Reeves, said: “There is a rising tide of hatred, resentment, bitterness and frustration” among Africans. Parents resented what was happening to their children under Bantu Education, African leaders had no voice in the affairs of their people and workers resented the unsatisfactory conditions of work.
“Another factor contributing to the general tension and restlessness is the attempts being made to persuade African women to carry reference books. In the last year there has been serious trouble in Lichtenburg, Ventersdorp, Pietersburg, Standerton, — Balfour, Zeerust and Nelspruit, all because of the Africans’ deep resentment to carrying passes.
“Visiting Lichtenburg after one faithful member of our congregation had been killed in the riots there, I expressed my regret that this man had been killed, only to be told that I was not to regret his death ‘because he died for us!’ We shall soon face a martyr complex of Africans going to the graves of their heroes; this would be a serious thing in any society. For not a sten gun can hold them back in such a condition."
The people’s shield was their Congress, then set firmly on its course by a National Workers’ Conference in Johannesburg on March 16 which called for the “stay-at-home” from April 14, 1958 in protest against the apartheid laws, passes for women and in support of the demand for a national minimum wage of £1 a day. Trade unionist Marks Shope, addressing the conference, said: “Our demand (for £1 a day) rises from our stomachs because we are hungry." But there were many groups attempting to divert the ANC from its course and from its basic policies. The Africanists were undoubtedly trying to harness black militancy to take over Congress for their own purposes, and in this aim they were encouraged and supported by agents of the South African Government and the US Central Intelligence Agency, as well as virulent anti-Communists like Patrick Duncan and the Contact group in the Liberal Party.
A resolution passed at the Cape provincial conference of the ANC which routed the Africanists (see above) stated: “We recognise the emergence of elements used by the Government to disrupt the National Liberatory Movement as a clear indication of a critical transitional phase in our history which demands unwavering loyalty to Congress policy as set out in the Freedom Charter.” A delegate to the conference commented on the fact that the Special Branch of the police, so prominent and intimidatory at practically every Congress meeting, were noticeably absent whenever the Africanists went into action. Throughout this period, and up to the time it was outlawed, not a single PAC leader was banned by the Govemment.
As for the interest of the CIA, it is a fact that Potlako Leballo, during the period that he was launching his fiercest assault on the ANC leadership, was employed at the United States Information Service in Johannesburg, at whose offices leading officials of SABRA, the pro-Government counterpart of the Race Relations Institute, held discussions with leading Africanists in January 1959. The crypto-Nationalist magazine Newscheck has also alleged “that the CIA had a hand in the breakaway of the PAC from the ANC in the late fifties; some Americans were at that time convinced that a revolution was about to take place in South Africa and they were loath to see a Communist-dominated ANC as a claimant to power; hence their aid to a movement which could shed Communist influence."
In addition to infiltrating its agents, the Government used more direct tactics. In March 1958, when unrest was at its height, the ANC was banned in the reserves of the northern Transvaal. And as preparations for the election week stay-at-home mounted to a climax, the Governor-General banned all meetings of more than 10 Africans in the main urban centres of the country — a ban which was only lifted at the end of August when it was considered the danger was over. The Government also mobilised an immense force of police, backed by the military, to cow the demonstrators during election week.
In the face of all these pressures, plus an anti-Congress barrage from the daily press and threats of victimisation by employers, the stay-at-home was only partially successful. In some areas there was little response, in others like Sophiatown the people fought to the bitter end. The press trumpeted that the Congress campaign had been a “flop”, and the Government, hoping the Africanists might still succeed in disrupting Congress, held its hand. But the ANC stalwarts rallied to defend their organisation. J.D. Matlou and Tennyson Makiwane denounced the sabotaging tactics of Madzunya and Leballo. Assistant Secretary General of the ANC Duma Nokwe, in a statement analysing The weaknesses of the stay-at-home campaign, called for the implementation of the M-plan which had been devised in 1952 to meet the situation created by the passage of the Public Safety and Criminal Law Amendment Acts. The M-plan had been put into effect in only a few areas, said Nokwe. The bans of the ANC, foreshadowing worse to come, now compelled the ANC to reorganise the Congress into small and easily manageable units and to substitute for meetings and printed propaganda the use of close contact by word of mouth.
The Africanists concentrated their attack on two points. One was the allegation that the ANC was dominated by its non-African allies in the Congress Alliance, especially by the white Congress of Democrats. The other was the allegation that the ANC danced to the tune of the Communists. In The eyes of some Africanists, the two charges were one and the same. But the ANC leadership did not flinch from the charges, or seek refuge in evasions. For sabotaging the stay-at-home campaign Madzunya and Leballo were summarily expelled from Congress. Speaking at the first ANC rally in Johannesburg after the Government’s ban was lifted, Chief Lutuli said the Africanists had challenged the basic policy and decision of the ANC, were setting out their own policy and publishing Their own bulletins. It was clear the Africanists, “obeying their master’s voice, the voice of Dr Verwoerd”, had a separate organisation of their own and there was no room for them in Congress.
Congress policy, went on Lutuli, was that all racial groups were entitled to live in the country on an equal basis. The ANC was founded to organise various tribes into one African national group and to demand political rights on the basis of full democracy. The nationalism of the ANC was from the beginning broad and progressive, and remained so today. The Freedom charter and African Claims were complementary to one another and accepted the fundamental truth that all racial groups who had made South Africa their home Were entitled to live here on an equal basis and with equal opportunities.
“Never be ashamed to awaken your people”; he told the crowd. “You may be called agitators and communists.. .1, Albert Lutuli, will work with people of any ideology as long as it helps my people."
And in a feature article in New Age, Oliver Tambo, then secretary-general of the ANC, defended the alliance with the white Congress of Democrats. Whatever the ANC had done was in the spirit of the 1949 Programme of Action, he said.
“Following the lessons of the Defiance Campaign the need was felt for an organisation through which the ANC and other Non-European bodies could make contact with those whites who were prepared to join the Non-Europeans in their fight for freedom and democracy.... the political conflict was developing a dangerously Black versus White complexion. Such a situation no doubt suited the present Government, but it did not suit the ANC nor the movement for liberation, and had to be avoided.”
The COD was formed at the instance of the ANC and the SAIC, said Tambo. In response to their appeal, those whites who admitted the justice of the black cause came forward to found the Congress of Democrats. “Whether they were communists or anti-communists was immaterial. In any event in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act everybody was a ‘communist’ who disliked the Nationalist Government’s policies and said so.” Tambo asked what would have happened to the allied cause if the West had refused Russia’s aid against the Nazis during the war.
“If, as has been alleged ad nauseam, the COD has been dominating or controlling the ANC by virtue of the mere fact that it is a ‘White’ organisation, then the COD cannot be blamed for being ‘superior’. In that event the ‘inferior’ ANC, to save itself from this inevitable control or domination, must either run away from the COD and, necessarily, from the anti-apartheid struggle in which the COD is involved, or, alternatively, the ANC must join hands with the Nationalist Party and fight the COD. The ANC will do neither.
“Those Africans who believe, or have been influenced by the belief, that they are inferior or cannot hold their own against other groups are advised to keep out of any alliance with such groups and, prevention being better than cure, to refrain from joining the people in their active struggle for basic human rights for in such a struggle many races are to be found.
“The ANC is not led by ‘inferiors’. It does not suffer from any nightmares about being controlled or dominated by any organisation; it is not subject to any such control or domination, and will not run away from the political struggle or from any group or organisation. On the contrary, it will continue to lead the movement for liberation against injustice and tyranny to freedom and democracy."
The Africanist challenge was finally defeated at the conference of the Transvaal ANC held in Johannesburg on November 1 and 2, 1958. During Chief Lutuli’s opening address on the Saturday afternoon, a group of Africanists led by Madzunya marched into the hall accompanied by blanketed supporters armed with sticks. They listened in silence to Lutuli’s speech, but afterwards attempted to disrupt the conference by raising innumerable points of order, challenging the chairman’s rulings, jeering and catcalling and abusing the speakers, including Chief Lutlili who was called “a Communist and reactionary.” When it appeared that The Africanists were preparing for a physical take-over, Chief Lutuli personally challenged Madzunya who, in front of the crowded hall, had no word to say for himself. Denouncing narrow African nationalism, Chief Lutuli appealed for unity in the cause of a free and democratic South Africa. “The label of ‘Europeans only’ must be replaced by ‘democracy for all'”, he said. ANC volunteers rallied to the defence of the platform, and Madzunya left the hall, followed shortly by the bulk of his supporters. The challenge was over, a new committee was elected under the chairmanship of Mr Gert Sibande and the ANC issued a statement saying: “The departure of this group of Africanists from the ANC is not a split (as claimed by the daily press). On the contrary, Congress sees it as a good riddance of a clique which has always opposed policy and majority decisions. The Africanists in the Transvaal have taken a bitter beating."
The challenge of the Africanists had, however, caused many Congressmen to re-examine the bases of their policy. Typical of the majority reaction was a statement issued by the executive of the ANC Youth League in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, a few weeks after the Transvaal conference. Recognising that “a vast section of the White population is rooted in the country from birth and have no other home and should therefore share a common South African citizenship with all other national groups who live side by side with it”, the Youth League statement went on:
“The object of African nationalism in a progressive form is to weld all racial groups irrespective of descent and language into a multi-racial unity whose movement in joint resistance can smash the oppressive State machinery that is responsible for the perpetuation of racial disharmony and exclusiveness that dominates the whole fabric of South African society
“African nationalism does not seek to oppress other racial groups, but rather seeks to express the national aspirations of the indigenous people of this Continent and to cultivate a common outlook of unity and peaceful co-operation among all ethnic groups living together, under equal rights and laws. True African Nationalism is not a reaction of disgruntlement for self-interest and rejects the idea of racial separateness, or racial superiority. It is expressed in the Programme of Action and the Freedom Charter. By ‘National Freedom’ we mean ‘Freedom from White Domination and the attainment of political independence. This implies the rejection of the conception of segregation, apartheid, trusteeship or White leadership which are all in one way or another motivated by the idea of White domination or domination of the Whites over the Blacks.”
The Youth League added that “in view of its struggle against colonial and semi-colonial oppression, the Liberation Movement in South Africa is bound up with the liberation movements of Asia in the fight against Western Imperialist oppression and exploitation."
With the Africanists out of the way, the annual conference of the ANC held in Durban over the week-end of December 13 and 14, 1958, attended by over 200 delegates, displayed greater unity than had been witnessed in Congress circles for some time. The conference passed a strong resolution of support for the Freedom Charter and the Congress Alliance, and called for mass action in 1959 in the fight against passes for women and the pass laws in general. Another resolution called for the stepping up of the economic boycott throughout the country, and for the enlistment of support for the boycott from all African countries.
In his presidential speech, Chief Lutuli called on Africans inside and outside the ranks of Congress to support the Congress stand and build a vital force to outmatch the apartheid front. He attacked the black collaborators for being content with the pickings from the apartheid garbage tin, and accused them of striving for a mere mess of pottage to the abandonment of the noble pursuit of man’s worthiest heritage — freedom. Chief Lutuli was unanimously re-elected President-General, O.R. Tambo was elected deputy President-General, Duma Nokwe secretary-general and Dr Letele treasurer-general, with committee members T. Mqota, D. Nyembe, A. Nzo, L. Massina, T. Tshume, C. Mayekiso, R. Resha and W.Z. Conco.
A notable event which helped to clarify the nature and aims of nationalism was the holding of the All-African Peoples’ Conference in Accra early in December, 1958. The African National Congress as the senior liberatory organisation in South Africa was one of the sponsors of the conference, but was prevented by the Government from sending delegates to attend the conference. Nevertheless, the ANC sent a memorandum to the conference and was represented there by the well-known writer and educationist Mr Ezekiel Mphahlele.
After stressing that “Africa must not be allowed to become a battlefield for the interests of foreign powers”, the ANC memorandum stressed that although united by anti-imperialism, the African countries could not be expected to adopt a common ideology and philosophy, and any attempt to do this would only lead to difficulties. The various liberation movements in Africa held differing political and social theories, and should be left to devise the best policies and tactics for their own countries. The ANC in particular called into question the draft Call to Independence issued by the conference organisers reading: “This conference will formulate and proclaim our African Personality based on the philosophy of Pan-African Socialism as the ideology of the African Non-Violent revolution.”
Before this call could be adopted, conference would have to define what it meant by “African Personality” and “Pan-African Socialism.” For its part, said the ANC, it aimed to bring about a democratic South Africa embracing all, regardless of colour or race, who owe undivided allegiance to South Africa and Africa, and the ANC was progressively developing the concept of an all-embracing “Africanism.”
The ANC suggested that the conference should work towards a greater measure of co-operation between the forces of freedom in Asia and Africa on the basis of the Bandung Conference.
In his address to the conference, “Zeke” Mphahlele outlined the ANC’s policy of co-operation based on the Freedom Charter. The blacks of South Africa enjoyed none of the rights set out in the Charter, he said. “If the whites continue stubbornly to refuse to accept this basis for a multi-racial government — as they have done for the last 300, years — then they have no claim to sympathy. Then they must accept what must surely befall them as the liberatory movement gathers strength. Then they will have no choice but to remove their herrenvolk blood out of the country. They have had 300 years to think about it.”
On the issue of non-violence, Mphahlele expressed grim forebodings. “In the face of such a frowning mass of repressive laws, the question keeps imposing itself: how can a peaceful settlement come about? I can’t but take a gloomy view and say we don’t see any such settlement in sight; we are dealing with a modernised and sophisticated brand of barbarism among the whites of South Africa. The issues are clear-cut — multi-racial government or mutual destruction.”
With the Nazi-minded Verwoerd in power in South Africa, things were bound to get worse before they would get better.
Verwoerd “is going to whip up more and more anger among the oppressed, and there will be more and more suffering. This is going to give rise to another and more brutal upsurge of African nationalism which will be most uncompromising towards the whites in its vengeance ... .
“In a country like ours where the police and the army are always itching for action, we have discovered that the Gandhian form of passive resistance succeeds only up to a point. The white police always provoke violence during a campaign, and unless passive resistance is a religion with its peculiar form of discipline such as we know it in India, it is ever so much more difficult to sustain. We may thus find that the local conditions in any setting dictate the strategy.”
In the event, the conference resolution calling for the ending of imperialism and colonialism in Africa stated that “where democratic means are available, it guarantees its support to all forms of peaceful action. This support is pledged equally to those who, in order to meet the violent means by which they are subjected and exploited, are obliged to retaliate.”
The conference also specifically supported a total economic and political boycott of South Africa, including the withholding of labour by African countries from South African industry “which has become the instrument of oppression."
Both Mphahlele’s speech and the conference resolution went further than the ANC had so far officially been prepared to go in contemplating the resort to violence against white domination and oppression. As recently as March 1958, in reply to the Government’s banning of the ANC in the Transvaal reserves, Duma Nokwe, on behalf of the Working Committee of the ANC, defending the right of Congress to function legally, said: “The ANC is an organisation founded on internationally recognised and accepted democratic principles. Its methods of struggle are protests, demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, deputations and petitions. Terrorism, violence, incendiarism or arson are policies alien to Congress.
This was in line with the 1949 Programme of Action repeatedly endorsed by Congress, and Nokwe could say no other. But there is no doubt that the idea of resorting to violence as a defence against the violence of the state, and as the only effective means of promoting the cause of the oppressed black majority in South Africa was beginning to gain ground. The non-violent and peaceful representations of the people’s leaders were ignored, their strikes and demonstrations suppressed by force. The legally elected leaders of the Congresses were removed under the Suppression of Communism Act, and those who were elected to replace them were likewise banned. During 1959, as the economic boycott started to bite and Natal and Pondoland erupted in protest against starvation wages, increased taxes, cattle culling, passes for women and forced labour to fill dipping tanks, Chief Lutuli, Tambo, Nokwe and Resha were banned and restricted for five years under the Suppression Act. In November 1959, Elizabeth Mafekeng, President of the Afritan Food and Canning Workers’ Union and mother of 11 children, was banished from Paarl where she had lived for 32 years and ordered into exile in a desert area of the northern Cape. She managed to escape to Basutoland, but over 80 other peoples’ leaders were already rotting in exile camps in remote areas of the country as a result of their opposition to apartheid. A number of spontaneous outbreaks of violence in various parts of the country, both rural and urban, indicated that the people’s anger was rising against the pass laws and other apartheid measures, that the workers were rebelling against their starvation wages.
Despite the bannings, the ANC had been in the vanguard of resistance everywhere, and had scored a notable success with its potato boycott launched on June 26, 1959 in protest against the slave labour conditions on the potato farms of the Eastern Transvaal. Government threats to outlaw the ANC were coupled with the statement of Defence Minister Erasmus at the beginning of December that he planned to reorganise the Defence Force on the lines adopted by the French in Algeria “to maintain the internal security of the state.” Clearly a showdown was in the offing.
The annual ANC conference held in Durban over the week-end of December 12-13 was described by New Age reporter Joe Gqabi as “The most impressive conference the ANC has ever held. I have never seen such courage, such sense of responsibility, high spirits and determination, as shown throughout this conference. The most impressive feature was the presence of delegates from the rural areas of Natal and the Transkei. The age-old custom of The Zulus prohibiting women from speaking publicly has been broken. Zulu women in traditional dress impressed the entire conference with their determination and militancy. During The debate on Bantustans the Zulu women almost dominated conference as one after another rose to speak, giving a clear exposition of conditions under which they live since The introduction of Bantustans. They realise that the chiefs are selling them out.
The opening session of the conference held at Currie’s Fountain football grounds on the Saturday afternoon was attended by about 8,000 people; the closed sessions in the Bantu Social Centre by 386 delegates from all over the country. The main resolution of the conference called for an intensification of the anti-pass campaign and the economic boycott. In a statement afterwards, the ANC said:
“It is clear from the resolutions of conference and the mood of the people that 1960 can be a year of mass activity even on a higher scale than 1959. It is our duty to make efforts to prepare to bury the racialistic Constitution of the Union and to erect a new South Africa free from the tragic madness of apartheid and racial discrimination ... . We must rid the country of the apartheid monster in the shortest possible time’.”
But perhaps the key to The mood of the conference is to be found in the words of the President-General Chief Lutuli, restricted to his home area of Groutville in northern Natal. In his Presidential address, read on his behalf to the conference, Chief Lutuli said that during 1959 nearly 4,000 people, mostly women, had been victims of the Nationalist Government’s tyranny.
“The task of the ANC in this situation is to encourage and build a spirit of defiance to oppression and the courage to resist oppression ... . White South Africa is vulnerable. We are a giant that does not know its strength."
The conference decided on a major campaign against the pass laws, with several culminating points, the first of which was to be March 31st; other dates would be April 15, African Freedom Day; the run-up to May 31st, planned by the Government to celebrate 50 years of Union; and South Africa Freedom Day, June 26.
One week later the Pan-Africanist Congress held its first annual conference in Orlando, Johannesburg. The PAC’s founding conference had been held in Johannesburg in April, 1959, when Witwatersrand University lecturer Robert Sobukwe was elected President, Potlako Leballo national secretary, E. Mfaxa national organiser and A.B. Ngcobo treasurer. The man who had borne the brunt of Africanist campaigning against the ANC leadership, Madzunya, was passed over. Most of the PAC’s founding conference was held in camera, only one session of three hours being open to the public, and most of this taken up by a speech by Sobukwe in which he said the PAC rejected apartheid, but also rejected multi-racialism. It aimed at “government of the Africans by the Africans and for the Africans, with everybody who owes his loyalty to Africa and is prepared to accept the democratic rule of an African majority being regarded as an African.” But having traded on its pure Africanism as opposed to the multi-racialism of the Congress Alliance, Sobukwe then explained that the PAC was not prepared to guarantee minority rights because it thought in terms of individuals, not groups. It aimed at universal adult franchise.
Asked by a reporter: “Does your organisation intend taking up the issue of the pass laws?”, Sobukwe replied: “We are not interested in alleviating the sufferings of the people. All these laws emanate from Parliament and our duty is to fight for the change of the whole structure.” Asked further whether PAC would work with the ANC, AAC, Liberal Party and other bodies, Sobukwe’s reply was: “We have no common ground with other political organisations”, but later added: “If we are satisfied that the action taken by any organisation will benefit the African people we shall throw in our lot on the issue.” From the outset, however, the PAC had strong links with the Liberal Party. A vice-President of the Liberal Party, the journalist Jordan Ngubane, was a member of the Natal delegation to the conference, and the PAC received steady support from the Liberal newspaper Contact whose editor Patrick Duncan eventually became a fully fledged member of PAC after he and many PAC leaders had gone into exile.
That the PAC’s intention was to take over the mantle of the ANC was demonstrated by the fact that the founding conference adopted the ANC anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, its slogan “Mayibuye” and the colours of its flag (though not the design) as its own.
From the outset PAC was to display the ideological uncertainty and personal rivalry which was to plague the organisation throughout its existence, opening the way both for organisational weaknesses and repeated instances of individual corruption, especially when PAC split into several factions abroad. Only a few months after the organisation had come into existence, Madzunya was reported to have withdrawn the support he had pledged to Sobukwe at the founding conference, allegedly because he objected to the collaboration of the leadership with members of the Liberal Party.
In August 1959 the Pretoria PAC leader Dr Peter Tsele broke away from the organisation to found his own Pan-Africanist Freedom Movement which, he announced grandly “has taken over the organisational and intellectual guardianship of Africans in the Union."Nothing has been heard of it since.
The PAC itself devoted its attention firstly to a so-called “status campaign” designed to secure courteous treatment for Africans in shops, banks, government buildings etc. But after the initial launching of the Campaign, nothing happened, and delegates at the December conference voiced sharp criticism of the leadership for failing to do anything about it. Perhaps the only achievement of the PAC in those early months of its existence was the formation, under the aegis of trade unionist Lucy Mvubelo and PAC “Labour Minister” J.D. Nyaose, of the Africans-only Federation of Free African Trade Unions (FOFATUSA), which allied itself to the white-dominated Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) and through it to the anti-Communist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). At the December 1959 conference of PAC, Sobukwe expressed joy at FOFATUSA’s formation’ saying: “We are happy because this trade union is in line with the continental trade union federation formed at Accra” — presumably the All-African Trade Union Federation of which the non-racial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), a member of the Congress Alliance, was already a senior affiliate. It must have been difficult for uninitiated PAC members to sort out this complicated racial and political tangle.
Strong pressure on the leadership was exerted from the floor of the PAC conference, with delegates demanding a clear programme of action to achieve “freedom in 1963.” But the conference’s main policy decision, as at the ANC conference a week earlier, was on the pass laws, with delegates stressing this was the greatest grievance of the African people. Conference adopted a resolution instructing the National Executive “to call on the nation to take a decisive final undertaking on pass laws”, and it was decided to embark immediately on an intensive campaign of organisation “in order to get the nation ready for action at an immediate time” and to direct the nation “to await a call for this action from now on.” In the event of arrests, conference decided the policy of PAC volunteers should be “no bail, no defence, no fines."
Thus both ANC and PAC were committed to anti-pass campaigns in 1960, reflecting the mounting anger on this issue among the African people. And it was the mass demand for action which led to the huge anti-pass demonstrations in March, 1960, culminating in the. shootings at Sharpeville and Langa and the declaration of a state of emergency. Perhaps it is futile to argue about the respective contributions of the two organisations to the mass upsurge in 1960. What is clear is that the ANC had at its December 1959 conference fixed March 31 as its first target date, and had worked steadily towards that target in the ensuing months; whereas it was only at a press conference on March 18, 1960, that Sobukwe announced that the PAC campaign would start on March 21, with a call to the African people to leave their passes at home and surrender themselves for arrest at the nearest police station. There can be little doubt that the choice of March 21 was an attempt to pre-empt the ANC. Nor can there be any doubt that the PAC’s demand for a minimum monthly wage of £35 was an attempt to up-grade the long-standing Congress Alliance demand for £1 a day. It is also worth stressing, in reply to those who claim that PAC was responsible for the abandonment of non-violence by the South African liberation movement, that Sobukwe insisted that the March 21 campaign was to be non-violent, and wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Police inviting his co-operation to achieve this.
But of course there were a multitude of objective factors goading the people to action. December 1959 saw 11 Africans shot dead by police in Windhoek, South West Africa, while taking part in a demonstration against the forced removal of the people of the Location. In the same month, the ANC appealed to the world to act to save the lives of 14 Sekhukhuneland tribesmen awaiting execution following tribal resistance to Bantu Authorities. In January Steven Segale, President of the ANC Youth League (Transvaal) and a number of other Congress militants in Johannesburg surrendered themselves amidst moving demonstrations of solidarity to begin jail sentences for “incitement” arising from the April 1958 stay-at-home. Towards the end of January 1960, 440 miners (434 black and 6 white) were entombed at Clydesdale colliery, Coalbrook one of the worst disasters in mining history and a painful reminder of the hardship and suffering endured by the black workers in return for a beggarly pittance. In Cato Manor, near Durban, intense resentment at unceasing police raids led to the killing of 9 policemen (4 white and 5 African) in a surge of fury by the residents. Following the killings, hundreds of Africans were rounded up by the police for screening, and one young man, the father of three children, hanged himself after seeing his mother in jail with a bruised, swollen face as a result of the beatings she received from her interrogators. One by one the spokesmen of the people were being struck down by a steady stream of banning orders emanating from the office of the Minister of Justice, while harrowing stories of the harsh life of the increasing number of exiles and the destruction of their families began to appear in the press. A tense and explosive situation continued to build up in Natal and Pondoland, where riots broke out in February 1960.
In many areas the tense atmosphere, heavy with foreboding, could be cut with a knife. Black South Africa was bursting with anger; and the bitterness of the people was compounded by the knowledge that in the rest of Africa, the colonial peoples were breaking their bonds, with 8 states due to get independence in the course of 1960. In next-door Lesotho, the first-ever elections for district councils resulted in a decisive victory for the Basutoland Congress Party led by Mr Ntsu Mokhehle and Mr B.M. Khaketla, both former members of The ANC of South Africa. Even British Premier Harold Macmillan could sniff the “winds of change” sweeping across Africa, and in a moment of candour astonished the South African Parliament on February 3, 1960, by telling them that the most striking of all the impressions he had formed during the tour of Africa which preceded his arrival in Cape Town was of the strength of Affican national consciousness.
When the inevitable explosion occurred on March 21, a total of 69 Africans were shot dead at Sharpeville, while five people were killed in the disturbances at Langa location, Cape Town, with the number of wounded and injured running into several hundred. Before going into action, the PAC had invited the ANC to join it, but the ANC refused. It said that its national anti-pass campaign was aimed to prepare the people for a powerful, united national action which alone could destroy the pass law system. This could not be done by ill-defined forms of action, less still by action in isolated areas. Written after the Sharpeville massacre had taken place, the statement said that while the ANC could not oppose any people’s spontaneous demonstrations, it was convinced that ill-organised, ill-defined action could cause harm and reduce the struggle’s effectiveness.
The events of Monday, March 21, showed the Pan-Africanists to be a strong force in only two areas — Cape Town and the Sharpeville-Evaton-Vereeniging complex. In all other centres the PAC campaign elicited practically no response. In Johannesburg, Sobukwe’s stronghold, only 200 people surrendered themselves for arrest; in Durban 12, in Port Elizabeth none.Nevertheless, the police massacre set the whole country alight and shocked the outside world. The ANC issued an immediate call for Monday, March 28, to be observed as a day of mourning, and Chief Lutuli, in the Transvaal to give evidence for the defence in the treason trial, called on the African people to burn their passes. From his prison cell, Sobukwe smuggled a message saying: “I have read of Chief Lutuli’s call to observe a day of mourning for the Vereeniging dead. The position is that we invited the African National Congress to co-operate in the campaign against the pass laws and they refused. If they have now changed their minds, however, and want to join, they are welcome to do so, but on our terms. These are: “No bail, no defence, no fines. The leaders must go in front.” Another PAC leader in Johannesburg said: “We are not opposed to Lutuli’s strike call. We go further. We say the people must stay away for ever."
The ANC never accepted the “no bail, no defence, no fines” slogan — in fact, before many weeks had passed many PAC leaders were accepting bail, defence and fines, and some were skipping bail and the country at the same time. But Chief Lutuli was the first man to burn his pass, and was followed by ANC leaders Duma Nokwe, Walter .Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Gert Sibande, John Nkadimeng,. Phineas Nene and others. In most of the main townships, people gathered at street corners and made bonfires of the hated pass books. Backed by both ANC and PAC, the March 28 stay-at-home obtained 100 per cent support from Africans in most urban areas, and the Western Cape was gripped by a strike of African workers which lasted for over three weeks. The Government threw into the battle to restore order not only its police but also military and naval forces and some reserve battalions. On March 30 the Government declared a state of emergency under the Public Safety Act of 1953, and rounded up 2,000 of the people’s leaders who were held without trial for up to five months. An Unlawful Organisations Bill was rushed through Parliament, and on April 8, immediately after the Act had been promulgated, the Governor General signed a proclamation declaring the ANC and the PAC to be unlawful organisations. New Age and Torch newspapers were banned for the duration of the emergency.