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The Defiance Campaign against Unjust Laws was presented by the African National Congress (ANC) at a conference held in Bloemfontein, South Africa in December 1951. The Campaign had roots in events leading up the conference. The demonstrations, taking place in 1952 were the first "large-scale, multi-racial political mobilization against apartheid laws under a common leadership."
In 1948, the National Party (NP) won the election in South Africa and began to impose apartheid measures against blacks, Indians and any people of mixed race. The NP restricted all political power to white people and allocated areas of South Africa for different races of people. Workers, trade unionists and others spoke out on October 6, 1949 against apartheid measures and discuss a possible political strike. In December of that year, leaders in the African Congress Youth League (ANCYL), such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, took power. The African National Congress (ANC) also "adopts the Programme of Action" on December 17, which advocated a more militant approach to protesting apartheid.
In 1950, the ANC started promoting demonstrations, mass action, boycotts, strikes and acts of civil disobedience. During this time, 8,000 black people are arrested "for defying apartheid laws and regulations." The South African Indian Congress (SAIC) worked in partnership with the ANC. The NP used the Population Registration Act to ensure that individuals were permanently classified by race and only allowed to live in areas specified by the Group Areas Act. On June 26, 1950, the National Day of Protest took place. The ANC asked that people not go to work as an act of protest. As a result of the protest, many people lost their jobs and the ANC set up a fund to help them.
The Defiance Campaign was launched on the anniversary of the National Day of Protest, June 26, 1952. The South African police were alerted about the action and were armed and prepared. In major South African cities, people and organizations performed acts of defiance and civil disobedience. The protests were largely non-violent on the parts of the participants, many of whom wore tri-color armbands signifying the ANC. Black volunteers burned their pass books. Other black volunteers would go into places that were considered "whites-only," which was now against the law. These volunteers were arrested, with the most arrests (over 2,000 people) being made in October 1952. When protesters were arrested, they would not defend themselves in court, "leading to large-scale imprisonment." Others who were offered fines as an alternative chose to go to prison. The mass imprisonment, it was hoped, would overwhelm the government.
The South African government viewed the protests as acts of anarchy, communism and disorder. The Nationalist newspaper, the Oosterlig, wrote that the protesters "find prison a pleasant abode. These people only understand the lash." Police often used batons to force protesters to submit. On November 9, 1952, police fired on a group of black rioters in Kimberley killing 14 and injuring 39. Other orders to shoot demonstrators "on sight" were issued by the South African Minister of Justice, Charles Swart. Arrests of peaceful protestors "disgusted a section of white public opinion." In July of 1952, there were raids of ANC and SAIC offices.
As a result of the protests, the NP started "imposing stiff penalties for protesting discriminatory laws" and then created the Public Safety Act. The goals of the Defiance Campaign were not met, but the protests "demonstrated large-scale and growing opposition to apartheid." The United Nations took note and called the apartheid policy a "threat to peace."
The Defiance Campaigns, including bus boycotts in South Africa, served as an inspiration to Civil Rights Activists in the United States. Albert Luthuli, the current president-general of the ANC was tried for treason, was assaulted and deposed of his chieftancy of his Zulu clan. Mandela took over the ANC after Luthuli.
- Yusuf Dadoo
- Patrick Duncan
- Bettie du Toit
- Bertha Gxowa
- Ahmad Kathrada
- Albert Luthuli
- Elizabeth Mafekeng
- Nelson Mandela
- Florence Mkhize
- Raymond Mhlaba
- Walter Sisulu
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- Mandela 1990, p. 32-33.
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- Pillay 1993, p. 16.
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- Reddy, E. S. (26 June 1987). "Defiance Campaign in South Africa Recalled". O'Malley: The Heart of Hope. Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
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- Mandela, Nelson (1990). The Struggle is My Life. Popular Prakashan Private Limited. ISBN 8171545238.
- Okoth, Assa (2006). A History of Africa: African Nationalism and the De-Colonisation Process, 1915-1995. East African Educational Publishers. ISBN 9966253580.
- Pillay, Gerald (1993). Voices of Liberation: Albert Lutuli. HSRC Publishers. ISBN 0796913560.
- Interview of Billy Nair about the Defiance Campaign (audio)