Rivonia 4: The African National Congress

December 15 2013

“The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act. For thirty-seven years – that is until 1949 – it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But white governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater. In the words of my leader, Chief Lutuli, who became President of the ANC [in 1952], and who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I quote:

“‘Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately, and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of moderation? The past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all.’ Unquote.

“Even after 1949, the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past. The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. Pursuant to this policy the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, in which I was placed in charge of volunteers. This campaign was based on the principles of passive resistance. More than 8,500 people defied apartheid laws and went to gaol. Yet there was not a single instance of violence in the course of this campaign. I and nineteen colleagues were convicted for the role [which we played in the campaign] and this conviction was under the Suppression of Communism Act [1950] although our campaign had nothing to do with communism, but our sentences were suspended, mainly because the Judge found that discipline and non-violence had been stressed throughout. This was the time when the volunteer section of the ANC was established, and when the word ‘Amadelakufa’ [self-sacrifice] was first used: this was the time when the volunteers were asked to take a pledge to uphold certain principles. Evidence dealing with volunteers and their pledges has been introduced into this case, but completely out of context. The volunteers were not, and are not, the soldiers of a black army pledged to fight a civil war against the whites. They were, and are, dedicated workers who are prepared to lead campaigns initiated by the ANC to distribute leaflets, to organise strikes, or do whatever the particular campaign required. They are called volunteers because they volunteer to face the penalties of imprisonment and whipping which are now prescribed by the legislature for such acts.

“During the Defiance Campaign, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. These Statutes provided harsher penalties for offences committed by way of protests against laws. Despite this, the protests continued and the ANC adhered to its policy of non-violence.

“In 1956, 156 leading members of the Congress Alliance, including myself, were arrested on a charge of high treason and charges under the Suppression of Communism Act. The non-violent policy of the ANC was put in issue by the State, but when the Court gave judgement some five years later [in 1956, in the Treason Trial], it found that the ANC did not have a policy of violence. We were acquitted on all counts, which included a count that the ANC sought to set up a communist state in place of the existing regime. The Government has always sought to libel, to label all its opponents as communists. This allegation has been repeated in the present case, but as I will show, the ANC is not, and never has been, a communist organisation.

“In 1960 there was the shooting at Sharpeville, which resulted in the proclamation of a State of Emergency and the declaration of the ANC as an unlawful organisation. My colleagues and I, after careful consideration, decided that we would not obey this decree. The African people were not part of the Government and did not make the laws by which they were governed. We believed in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that ‘the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the Government’, and for us to accept the banning was equivalent to accepting the silencing of the African people for all time. The ANC refused to dissolve, but instead went underground. We believed it was our duty to preserve this organisation which had been built up with almost fifty years of unremitting toil. I have no doubt that no self-respecting white political organisation would disband itself if declared illegal by a government in which it had no say.

[Two paragraphs by Mandela about misleading evidence are omitted here and are in a comment below.]

“My Lord, I would like now to deal with the immediate causes [of the decision to form Umkhonto]. In 1960 the Government held a referendum which led to the establishment of the Republic. Africans, who constituted approximately 70 per cent of the population of South Africa, were not entitled to vote, and were not even consulted about the proposed constitutional change. All of us were apprehensive of our future under the proposed white republic, and a resolution was taken to hold an All-In African Conference to call for a National Convention, and to organise mass demonstrations on the eve of the unwanted Republic, if the Government failed to call the Convention. The conference was attended by Africans of various political persuasions. I was the Honorary Secretary of the Conference and undertook to be responsible for organising the national stay-at-home which was subsequently called to coincide with the declaration of the Republic. As all strikes by Africans are illegal, the person organising such a strike must avoid arrest. I was chosen to be this person, and consequently I had to leave my home and my family and my practice and go into hiding to avoid arrest.

“The stay-at-home, in accordance with ANC policy, was to be a peaceful demonstration. Careful instructions were given to organisers and members to avoid any recourse to violence. The Government’s answer was to introduce new and harsher laws, to mobilise its armed forces, and to send Saracens, armed vehicles, and soldiers into the townships in a massive show of force designed to intimidate the people. This was an indication that the Government had decided to rule by force alone, and this decision was a milestone on the road to Umkhonto.

“Some of this may appear irrelevant to this trial. In fact, I believe none of it is irrelevant because it will, I hope, enable the Court to appreciate the attitude towards Umkhonto eventually adopted by the various persons and bodies concerned in the National Liberation Movement. When I went to jail in 1962, the dominant idea was that loss of life should be avoided. I now know that this was still so in 1963.

“I must return, however, My Lord, to June 1961. What were we, the leaders of our people, to do? Were we to give in to the show of force and the implied threat against future action, or were we to fight it out and, if so, how?

“We had no doubt that we had to continue the fight. Anything else would have been abject surrender. Our problem, My Lord, was not whether to fight, but was how to continue the fight. We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.

“It may not be easy for this Court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence – of the day when they would fight the white man and win back their country – and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to pursue peaceful methods. When some of us discussed this in June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial state by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism.

“It must not be forgotten, My Lord, that by this time violence had, in fact, become a feature of the South African political scene. There had been violence in 1957 when the women of Zeerust were ordered to carry passes; there was violence in 1958 with the enforcement of Bantu Authorities and cattle culling in Sekhukhuneland; there was violence in 1959 when the people of Cato Manor protested against pass raids; there was violence in 1960 when the Government attempted to impose Bantu Authorities in Pondoland. Thirty-nine Africans died in these Pondoland disturbances. In 1961 there had been riots in Warmbaths, and all this time, My Lord, the Transkei had been a seething mass of unrest. Each disturbance pointed clearly to the inevitable growth amongst Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out – it showed that a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it. Already small groups had arisen in the urban areas and were spontaneously making plans for violent forms of political struggle. There now arose a danger that these groups would adopt terrorism against Africans, as well as whites, if not properly directed. Particularly disturbing was the type of violence engendered in places such as Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, and Pondoland amongst Africans. It was increasingly taking the form, not of struggle against the Government – though this is what prompted it – but of civil strife between pro-government chiefs and those opposed to them conducted in such a way that it could not hope to achieve anything other than a loss of life, and bitterness.”

Mandela timeline (post here).

One Response to “Rivonia 4: The African National Congress”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The omitted paragraphs about misleading evidence:

    “I now want to deal, My Lord, with evidence which misrepresents the true position in this case. In some of the evidence the M-Plan has been completely misrepresented. It was nothing more than a method of organising [the ANC] planned in 1953 [and named after Mandela], and put into operation with varying degrees of success thereafter. After April 1960 new methods had to be devised, for instance, by relying on smaller [less visible] committees. The M-Plan was referred to in evidence at the Treason Trial, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with sabotage or Umkhonto we Sizwe [the armed wing created in 1961], and was never adopted by Umkhonto. The confusion, particularly by certain witnesses from the Eastern Cape is, I think, due to the use of the word or the phrase ‘High Command’. This term was coined in Port Elizabeth during the [1960] Emergency, when most of the ANC leaders were gaoled, and the [ANC] Gaol Committee set up to deal with complaints was called the High Command. After the Emergency this phrase stuck, and was used to describe certain of the ANC Committees in that area. Thus we have had witnesses talking about the West Bank High Command [East London on the west bank of the Buffalo River] and the Port Elizabeth High Command. These so-called ‘High Commands’ came into existence before Umkhonto was formed, and were not concerned in any way with sabotage. In fact, as I will subsequently explain, Umkhonto, as an organisation, was, as far as possible, kept separate from the ANC. This explains, My Lord, why persons like Bennett Mashiyane and Reginald Ndube heard nothing about sabotage at the meetings they attended. But, as has been mentioned, the use of the phrase ‘High Command’ caused some dissension in ANC circles in the Eastern Province [Eastern Cape].

    “I travelled there in 1961, because it was alleged that some of these so-called High Commands were using duress in order to enforce the new Plan [smaller committees]. I did not find evidence of this but nevertheless forbade it, and also insisted that the term ‘High Command’ should not be used to describe any ANC committee. My visit and the discussions which took place have been described by Zizi Njikelane, and I admit his evidence in so far as it relates to me. Although it does not seem to have much relevance, I deny that I was taken to the meeting by the taxi driver John Tshingane, and I also deny that I went to the sea with him.”


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