The Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960, which left 69 unarmed black South Africans dead, and more than 180 injured, drew the world’s attention to the evil of the apartheid system practiced within South Africa.
The protest at Sharpeville, a black township about forty miles south of Johannesburg, on 21 March 1960 was part of a campaign against the so-called Pass Laws. The law required South Africa’s black population to carry around at all times an identity book which contained pertinent information about themselves, such as name, address, employer details and even their tax code. Those caught without the books were liable to immediate arrest.
The demonstrations against the Pass Laws were organised and led by the PAC (Pan-Africanist Congress), an off-shoot of the ANC (African National Congress). The march on Sharpeville was to be the first in a series of non-violent actions due to take place over a five-day period. Participants on the march were to present themselves at the police station at Sharpeville without their pass books and demand to be arrested. If enough blacks were arrested and kept from going to work, the country’s economy would collapse. That, at least, was the theory according to Robert Sobukwe, leader of PAC.
Sobukwe fully informed the police beforehand of the Sharpeville demonstration, emphasising the non-violent intention of the marchers.
Down with the passes
Frederik Willem de Klerk was born 18 March 1936 in Johannesburg and obtained a law degree in 1958 from Potchefstroom University. He practiced law until he was elected to Parliament as National Party MP for Vereeniging in 1972.
In 1976, FW de Klerk was appointed Minister in the government of BJ Vorster. In 1978 when PW Botha became Prime Minister, De Klerk was appointed to a succession of ministerial posts. In 1985, he became chairman of the Minister’s Council in the House of Assembly. On December 1, 1986, he became the leader of the House of Assembly.
As Minister of Education his position was to support segregation in universities although advocating equal expenditure on pupils of all races. When he became leader of the Transvaal branch of the National Party he gave no indication of wishing to promote reform. At the time PW Botha was firmly entrenched as State President. Following Botha’s departure due to a mild stroke, De Klerk was somewhat unexpectedly elected to lead the National Party and the country. In 1989 De Klerk was elected State President.
Oliver Tambo was born on 27 October 1917 in the Eastern Cape where he attended primary school. He completed his high school education in Johannesburg and went on to study at Fort Hare University where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in 1941. As a result of joining a student boycott he was expelled and was unable to complete his honours degree.
Programme of Action
Oliver Tambo returned to his high school in Johannesburg as a teacher of science and mathematics and joined the African National Congress (ANC) becoming a founding member of the ANC Youth League. Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and others advocated a spirit of militancy in the ANC, and in 1948 he and Sisulu were elected onto the National Executive Committee of the ANC. This position allowed Tambo to impart impetus to the Youth League’s agenda at the top level of the ANC’s senior body. Tambo served on the committee that drew up the Programme of Action which was adopted as ANC policy in 1949. The Programme of Action included civil disobedience, strikes and other forms of non-violent resistance.
Soon after the adoption of the Programme of Action Tambo left his teaching post and set up a legal partnership with Nelson Mandela, forming the first black law firm in the country.
Campaign of Defiance
BJ Vorster (Balthazar Johannes Vorster) was born 13 December 1915 and attended school in Uitenhage in the Cape Province. He was the fifteenth son of a sheep rancher. He studied law at Stellenbosch University and graduated in 1938. He became registrar to the judge president of the Cape Division of the Supreme Court and shortly thereafter entered practice as an attorney in Port Elizabeth and subsequently in Brakpan.
The Second World War saw Vorster become active in the Ossewabrandwag, a movement that was responsible for various acts of sabotage designed to hinder South Africa’s aid to the Allied Forces. Vorster rose to the rank of general. In September 1942 he was interned in a detention camp until February 1944 when he was released under restrictions. The experience of internment served to increase his anti-British attitude.
Vorster’s first attempt to run for parliament in 1948 failed by a narrow margin, but in 1953 he won the constituency of Nigel for the National Party and took his seat in parliament. He became known for his prowess in debate and rose to deputy minister. In 1961 he became a full minister, responsible for justice, social welfare and pensions. Following the Sharpeville Massacre of the previous year and faced with further underground activities of extra-parliamentary opposition, Vorster developed a formidable security police force supported by harsh legislation that gave wide powers to the police such as detention without trial. His activities as minister of justice bestowed a ‘strong-man’ image on Vorster and after the assassination of HF Verwoerd in September 1966, Vorster was unanimously elected leader of the National party and became prime minister. Continue reading
Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, was born in the Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918. His father died when he was nine and Mandela was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu tribe.
‘He who shakes the branch of the tree’
Universally known as ‘Nelson’ Mandela, this was not his birth name. In his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom (1996), Mandela describes how he became known as Nelson: ‘No one in my family had ever attended school [...]. On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea.’ Mandela’s birth name, Rolihlahla, means ‘he who shakes the branch of the tree’ or ‘troublemaker’ for short, an appropriate name for one who was destined to overturn a regime and change the direction of the nation.
Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943, first as an activist, then, together with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, as a founder and president of the ANC Youth League, becoming its general secretary in 1947.
Walter Sisulu was born in Eastern Cape on 18 May 1912, the same year as the founding of the African National Congress (ANC). He was the son of a white father, Albert Dickenson, and a Xhosa mother named Alice Mase Sisulu. His father had little input into his upbringing and Walter was raised by his mother’s family who were related to Nelson Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase.
Despite having a white father, young Walter was initiated into the Xhosa tradition, his uncle being a local chief. Sisulu attended a local missionary school after which he moved to Johannesburg in 1928 and worked in various manual jobs, jobs which included a stint in a Johannesburg gold mine, a bakery and in domestic service.
African National Congress
Anthony Holmes summarises the life of PW Botha (Pieter Willem), president of South Africa during the apartheid era, from 1984 to 1989.
PW Botha’s father had fought against the British in the Second Anglo-Boer War and his mother had been interned in a British concentration camp. Botha attended school and university in the Orange Free State where he read law, dropping out before graduation to pursue a political career.
In 1939 South Africa entered the Second World War. Anti-British factions coalesced to form the Herenigde (Re-united) National Party which became the National Party (NP). In that year Botha became the leader of the Cape Town branch of the pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag but was expelled for accusing the newspaper ‘Die Burger’ of interference in national politics. The expulsion was fortunate for Botha who thereby avoided internment.
Today, 7 October 2012, is the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 81st birthday. Anthony Holmes summarizes his life.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal and moved to Johannesburg at the age of 12, where he went to the Johannesburg Bantu High School. He expressed a wish to become a physician, but his family could not afford the fees for medical school. Instead he followed his father into a teaching career, undertaking his training at Pretoria Bantu Normal College, following which he graduated from the University of South Africa in 1954.
The National Party had come into power in South Africa in 1948 promising strict segregation of the races. The education system proposed for black students was not only separate but distinctly inferior. Tutu resigned his teaching post after three years in protest to the promulgation of the Bantu Education Act which denied black persons the prospects of a good education. On the advice of his own Bishop, Tutu commenced his studies in theology and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960.