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African Nationalism

Its roots are traced in the 17th century with the first Boer occupation of South Africa. Africans resisted strongly against the interference with their political freedom and economic resources. This was in form of the Xhosa and Ndebele wars of the 17th c and the Zulu wars of 1870s led by Cetewayo.

In 1906, a Zulu chief named Bambata staged another African uprising this time against the British who had annexed the Zululand in 1887.

From 1910, when the union of South Africa was created and the Afrikaners gained political control of South Africa, Africans lost all the political privileges they previously enjoyed like ability to vote and contest parliamentary seats.

Africans founded independent churches and formed organizations like the Orange River Organization.

Factors for the growth of African nationalism in South Africa.

  1. The role of the Christian religion whose ideals encouraged Africans to fight for equality, as all people were equal before God. The Boers however treated Africans with contempt.
  2. The exposure of Africans to severe economic exploitation like land alienation and causing them to be subjected to forced labour on Afrikaner farms. Even the native Land Act of 1913 denied Africans the right to purchase land outside the areas set aside for Africans.
  3. The influence of Pan-Africanism in South Africa as early as the 19th century when people like Rev. Dube founded the Ohlange Institute to educate fellow Africans in South Africa.
  4. The introduction of racial discrimination enshrined in the apartheid law of 1948 convinced Africans that only freedom could save them. All the best hotels, restaurants, schools, recreational centres and most fertile soils were reserved for the whites only.
  5. The Acquisition of western education by many Africans like Rev. Dube, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela enabled them to articulate their grievances more forcefully. They became pioneers of early African political parties.
  6. The return of the ex-servicemen after the second world war which exposed the myth of the white supremacy making Africans ready to fight them. The war also exposed them to democratic ideals elsewhere.
  7. The great exploitation of African labour through Labour regulations and laws. For example, the Mines and Works Act of 1911 effectively excluded Africans from all skilled occupations confining them to manual occupations in Mines and farms.
  8. The development of large urban centres created an enabling environment for Africans to forge close inter-ethnic relations that enabled them to counter the Afrikaner racist policies.

Formation of the African National Congress, 1912

Opposition to the Natives Land Act led to the formation of the South African Native National Congress (renamed the African National Congress [ANC] in 1923) by South Africa’s educated African elite in a meeting at Bloemfontein on January 8, 1912.

The founding president was John L. Dube, a minister and schoolteacher.

Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, a lawyer, was appointed treasurer.

Solomon T. Plaatye, a court translator, became secretary general.

Other members were Thomas Mapikela, Walter Robusana, Solomon Plaatye and Sam Makgatho.

The congress was moderate in composition, tone, and practice. However, In 1940s, a militant form of nationalism emerged under the ANC Youth League formed in 1943 led by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, emphasizing the inalienable right of the Africans to the African continent.

As a result of the League’s activities, violent confrontations between ANC and the government broke out in 1952 in Witwatersrand, Kimberley and Eastern Cape.

The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter

In 1952, Albert Sisulu became the president of the organization and presided over the ‘congress of the people’ which adopted the ‘Freedom Charter’ on June 25 and June 26 1955.

The congress drew 3,000 delegates from;

The black (the ANC).

White (the Congress of Democrats).

Indian and coloured (the the SA Coloured People’s Congress) political organizations ~
The multiracial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU).

The Freedom Charter emphasized that South Africa should be a non-racial society with no particular group assumed to have special rights or privileges.

After adoption of the charter, in 1956 the police arrested 156 leaders, including Luthuli, Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, and others, and put them on trial for treason in a court case that dragged on for five years.

The Pan-Africanist Congress and Sharpeville.

The Africanists, led by Robert Sobukwe, criticized the ANC for allowing itself to be dominated by

‘liberal-left-multi-racialists”. They formed their own organization, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959. In March 1960, the PAC began a national campaign against the pass laws. One such demonstration outside the police station at Sharpeville, the police fired on the demonstrators, killing at least 76 of them and wounding 186. Approximately 18,000 demonstrators were arrested, including the leaders of the ANC and the PAC, and both organizations outlawed.

The ANC and the PAC Turn to Violence.

Prohibited from operating, both the ANC and the PAC established underground organizations in 1961. The militant wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), targeted strategic places such as police stations and power plants. 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.

17 Umkhonto leaders, including Walter Sisulu were arrested at Rivonia farm house. Along with Nelson Mandela, they were tried for treason. Albert Luthuli was confined by government 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 house arrest in Kimberley until his death in 1978. The Johannesburg railway station bomber, John Harris, was hanged.

The Black conscious movement – Soweto, 1976.

In the absence of other forms of political expression, young people sought alternative means to express their political aspirations. African university students, disappointed with the multiracial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), decided to establish the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) in 1969 with Steve Biko, an African medical student at the University of Natal, as president.

In 1972, a Black allied workers’ union and the Black Peoples’ Convention (BPC) was set up to act as a political umbrella organization for the adherents of black consciousness. In 1972, SASO organized strikes on university campuses resulting in the arrest of more than 600 students. On June 16, 1976, hundreds of high-school students in Soweto marched in protest against use of Afrikaans as a Language of instruction. Over 360 African schoolchildren were killed.

On 12th September 1977, Steve Biko, who had been held in indefinite detention, died from massive head injuries sustained during police interrogation. In October 1977, SASO, the BPC and all black consciousness organizations were banned.

The peak of African nationalism in South Africa.

In 1983, P.W. Botha’s government proposed establishment of separate houses of parliament

for each racial group. In place of the single House of Parliament were; ~
A 50-member (all-white) House of Assembly.

A 25-member (coloured) House of Representatives.

A 13 member (Indian) House of Delegates.

Implications and results


Whites thus retained a majority in any joint session.


Liberal government opponents denounced Botha’s plans arguing it would permanently exclude Africans from any political role in South Africa.


Most blacks strongly condemned the new constitution as it reinforced the apartheid notion.


Indians and coloureds also condemned the constitution feeling it weakened their participation in the political process


Radical Afrikaners, led by Eugene Terry Blanche, vowed to use all means, including violence,

to make sure that apartheid was not weakened.

The United Democratic Front (UDF), which was formed in late 1983 and the National Front (NF) aimed to use nonviolent means to persuade the government to withdraw its constitutional proposals and do away with apartheid. The UDF membership included, Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Reverend Allan Boesak, who emerged as its prime spokesmen.

Black trade unions meanwhile resorted to economic and political protests. For example, The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), formed in 1983 by Cyril Ramaphosa, successfully brought work in mines to a stop in a dispute over wage increases. By end of 1985, 879, fatalities and 8000 arrests were linked to political unrest. ANC and UDF were banned.

Meanwhile, Supporters of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the banned ANC clashed in an upsurge of “black-on-black” violence that would cause as many as 10,000 deaths by 1994.

President Botha resigned under pressure on August 14, 1989, the Electoral College named de

Klerk to succeed him in a five-year term as president. In October 1989, De Klerk released Walter Sisulu and others except Mandela. He announced on February 2, 1990, the impending release of Mandela and unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, and the SACP, and the removal of restrictions on the UDF and other legal political organizations.

Mandela was released on February 11, 1990, at age 71 after 27 years in prison. ANC officials elected Mandela deputy president in March 1990, under ailing president, Oliver Tambo. Between June 5, 1991 and June 17, 1991, the government repealed the pillars of apartheid, the Land Act of 1913, the Group Areas Act of 1950 and Population Registration Act of 1950, (the most infamous, which had authorized the registration by race of newborn babies and immigrants). Most international sanctions were lifted soon after the Population Registration Act, Group Areas Act, and Land Acts were repealed.

In mid-1992 due to escalating violence, by IFP supporters on ANC sympathizers in Boipatong delayed the process of negotiation for elections. On March 5, 1993, Chris Hani, the popular general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), was murdered threatening the process again.

On April 12, 1994, a team headed by former British foreign secretary Lord Carrington and former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger attempted in vain to break the logjam that was keeping the IFP out of the elections. However, on April 19, Buthelezi–under intense

pressure from trusted local and international figures—including a Kenyan diplomat professor Washington Okumu, relented and agreed to allow the IFP to be placed on the ballot. When the elections finally took place on schedule, beginning on April 26, 1994, ANC won 62.6 percent of the vote; the NP, 20.4 percent; and the IFP, 10.5 percent. Mandela was unanimously elected president by the National Assembly on May 9, 1994, in Cape Town. He was inaugurated on May 10 at ceremonies in Pretoria.

Key South African Nationalists.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in Umtata, to a Thembu royal family of Transkei. His forename Rolihlahla, means “troublemaker”. Later he was given a clans’ name, Mandiba. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a local chief
and councillor to the monarch. In 1926, Gadla was sacked for corruption. Nelson’s mother was Gadla’s third wife, Nosekeni Fanny, a member of the amaMpemvu clan of Xhosa.

At a local Methodist school when he was about seven, he was baptised and given the English forename of “Nelson”. His father died of an undiagnosed ailment when he was nine. Aged 16, he underwent the circumcision.

Mandela joined Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Engcobo, the best secondary school for black

Africans in Thembuland. In 1937, he moved to Healdtown, the Wesleyan college in Fort

Beaufort where he took an interest in boxing and running. Mandela joined Fort Hare University, where he met Oliver Tambo, a long time friend. He was studying Bachelor of Arts but was expelled in his first year for being involved in a Students’ Representative Council boycott against university policies. Mandela relocated to Johannesburg, fearing early forced marriage, where met with his friend and mentor, Walter Sisulu.

After 1948 Mandela began actively participating in politics. He led in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign as secretary General of the youth league. Mandela and 150 other participants in the freedom charter adoption were arrested on 5 December 1956 and charged with treason. In 1961 Mandela became leader of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). He coordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets. On 5 August 1962 Mandela was arrested and was imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. On 11 July 1963 police arrested other prominent ANC leaders at Rivonia, north of Johannesburg.

Together with Mandela, they were charged with capital crimes of sabotage at the Rivonia Trial. All were sentenced to life imprisonment on 12 June 1964 on Robben Island. Mandela remained there for the next 18 of his 27 years in prison. In March 1982 Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison, along with other senior ANC leaders. In 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison where he remained until his release on 11 February 1990.

Mandela returned to the leadership of the ANC led the party in the multi-party negotiations that led to the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994. Mandela and President F. W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on 10 May 1994 as the country’s first black President after the 27th May 1994 Elections.

As President from May 1994 until June 1999, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid. He helped to resolve the long-running dispute between Libya on one hand, and the US and Britain, over bringing to trial the two Libyans indicted of the Lockerbie bombing on 21 December 1988.

Mandela decided not to stand for a second term and retired in 1999, to be succeeded by Thabo Mbeki.
In July 2001 Mandela was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. In June 2004, at age 85, Mandela announced that he would be retiring from public life.

On 8th December 2012, Mandela was hospitalized at a Military Hospital near Pretoria
suffering from a recurring lung infection. On 15 December, Mandela had surgery to have gallstones removed. He was released from the hospital on 26 December 2012.

Until July 2008 Mandela and ANC party members were barred from entering the United States—except to visit the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan—without a special waiver from the US Secretary of State, because of their South African apartheid-era designation as terrorists.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe

Sobukwe was born in Graaff-Reinet in the Cape Province on the 5 December 1924. He attended a Methodist college at Healdtown and later Fort Hare University where he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1948. In 1949 Sobukwe was elected as president of the Fort Hare Students’ Representative Council.

In 1950 Sobukwe was appointed as a teacher at a high school in Standerton. In 1954 Sobukwe became a lecturer of African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. He identified with the Africanists within the African National Congress. He edited The Africanist Newspaper in 1957, criticizing the ANC for allowing itself to be dominated by ‘liberal-left-multi-racialists”. He later left ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). He became its first President in 1959. On 21 March 1960, Sobukwe led a march of PAC supporters to the local police station at Orlando, Soweto in order to openly defy the Pass laws. In a similar protest in Sharpeville, police opened fire on a crowd, killing 69 in the Sharpeville Massacre. Sobukwe was arrested, convicted of incitement, sentenced to three years in prison and later interned on Robben Island. Sobukwe was released in 1969 and allowed to live in Kimberley with his family under house arrest. He died on 27 Feb. 1978 Due to lung cancer and was buried in Graaf-Reinet on 11 March 1978.

Albert Luthuli

Albert Luthuli was born near Bulawayo, Rhodesia, around 1898 to a Seventh-day Adventist missionary John Bunyan Luthuli and Mtonya Gumede. When His father died, his mother returned to her ancestral home, Groutville in Stanger, Natal, South Africa to stay with his uncle, Martin Luthuli.

On completing a teaching course at Edendale, Luthuli became principal and only teacher at a primary school in rural Blaauwbosch, Natal. Here he also became a lay preacher. In 1920 he declined a scholarship to University of Fort Hare to provide financial support for his mother. In 1928 he became secretary of the African Teacher’s Association and in 1933 its president. He was also active in missionary work. He became chief in1936, until removed from this office by the government in 1952 due to what colonial authority called conflict of interest.

In 1944 Luthuli joined the African National Congress (ANC). In 1945 he was elected to the Committee of the KwaZulu Province Provincial Division of ANC. A month later Luthuli was elected president-general of ANC. In 1955, he attended an ANC conference only to be arrested and charged with treason a few months later, along with 155 others. In December 1957, Luthuli was released and the charges against him dropped.

Luthuli’s leadership of the ANC covered the period of violent disputes between the party’s “Africanist” and “Charterist” wings.

In 1962 he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow
by the students, serving until 1965.

In 1962 he published an autobiography titled: LET MY PEOPLE GO

In July 1967, at the age of 69, he was fatally injured in an accident near his home in Stanger.
Methods used by nationalists in South Africa in their struggle for liberation from white minority rule.

  1. They used force to fight for their independence.
  2. Africans used mass media to articulate their grievances, spread propaganda and mobilize the masses.
  3. Riots e.g. the Soweto riots of 1976 against the proposal to make Afrikaner (Boer language) the medium of instruction in all schools.
  4. There were demonstrations against Press Laws in 1960 at Sharpeville leading to massacres.
  5. Guerilla fighters trained in Algeria, Ghana etc carried out acts of sabotage like bombing strategic installations and power plants.
  6. The role of the clergy .e.g. Desmond Tutu who bitterly campaigned worldwide against apartheid.
  7. Use of diplomacy and negotiations to convince the whites about the futility of apartheid policy.
  8. Use of slogans such as Freedom Charter (1955) which proclaimed south Africa belonged to all races and called for political, social and economic equality
  9. They sent petitions, delegations to international forum.
  10. They formed political parties e.g. ANC, PAC, UDF and trade union activism to pressurize the government to change.
  11. They used job boycotts and strikes.
  12. They organized defiance campaigns and demonstrations in the streets to provoke the police to arrest them.
  13. They formed underground movements after the Umkhonto we Sizwe.
  14. Pressure from youth groups e.g. Steve Biko formed the Black Consciousness Movement as a weapon to counter oppression through organized strikes.
  15. Africans serving jail terms organized hunger strikes. Problems encountered by African nationalists in South Africa.
  16. The colonial government employed the method of Banning of political organizations as a means of frustrating the struggle for independence. .g ANC, PAC, and CP which restricted their activities
  17. The Nationalists were harassed , arrested and detained or jailed by the authorities e.g.

    Mandela, Oliver Tambo Sisulu, Sobukwe e.t.c

  18. Many were forced into exile or flee the country in search of political asylum and restriction.
  19. A lot of violence was unleashed on them/ Killing of many nationalists and Africans such as Steve Biko and the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of school children spreading fear.
  20. Deliberate policy of divide and rule was employed to weaken African unity e.g.

    establishment of black homelands or Bantustans which eventually brewed the conflict between ANC and IFP of Buthelezi.

  21. The racist regime used emergency powers to harass and frustrate Nationalist leaders.
  22. The nationalists faced the problem of lack of money and other resources which slackened the struggle.
  23. Nationalists were denied access to state owned radio and other media outlets. Those media were instead used as a means of propaganda against the nationalists.
  24. Banning of trade unions also frustrated the activities of nationalists. Where they were allowed to exist, they were monitored by the police.
  25. The nationalists faced the challenge of movement restrictions through the pass laws that were introduced.
  26. African Journalists were harasses and their newspapers proscribed by the government.


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EcoleBooks | History and Government Form 3 Notes : African Nationalism


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