Riotous Assemblies Act, 1956

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Riotous Assemblies Act, 1956
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Act to consolidate the laws relating to riotous assemblies and the prohibition of the engendering of feelings of hostility between the European and non-European inhabitants of the Republic and matters incidental thereto, and the laws relating to certain offences.
Citation Act No. 17 of 1956
Enacted by Parliament of South Africa
Date of Royal Assent 8 March 1956
Date commenced 16 March 1956
Administered by Minister of Justice
Repealing legislation
Intimidation Act, 1982
Internal Security Act, 1982
Status: Substantially amended

The Riotous Assemblies Act, Act No 17 of 1956 in South Africa (Commencement (16 March) made gatherings in open-air public places prohibited if the Minister of Justice considered that they could endanger the public peace. Banishment was also included as a form of punishment.

This act was presumably passed in response to the Congress of the People, which was held at Kliptown near Johannesburg in June 1955. Following a call from the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People's Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, some 3,000 people met with the purpose of adopting the Freedom Charter, which later became the manifesto of the ANC. The Charter affirmed that South Africa belonged to all its inhabitants, black and white. It demanded a non-racial, democratic system of government, and equal protection for all people before the law. It also urged the nationalisation of the banks, mines and heavy industry, as well as land redistribution. Finally, it sought equal work and educational opportunities, and the removal of restrictions on domestic and family life.

Both the Riotous Assemblies Act of 1956 and the Freedom Charter surfaced in the famous Treason Trial in South Africa, which lasted from December 1956 to March 1961. 156 persons were arrested on treason charges for having attended the Congress and signing the Freedom Charter.