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There was much opposition to Apartheid up to 1959 from when it was first implemented in 1948 by the National Party. The National Party introduced Apartheid into legislation as a system of racial segregation to create white supremacy in South Africa. To judge the extent of the successfulness of the opposition we must first establish what opposition there was and how successful each individual measure was to eradicate Apartheid.
In the 1940’s the resistance movement was fairly moderate as there was little laws passed to codify Apartheid and therefore little resistance but in the 1950’s it turned more confrontational yet still non-violent. The ANC is argued to be the most influential and successful opposition of the National Party and its ideology with their use of boycotts and peaceful protests but other forms of resistance to Apartheid included PAC, SACTU, the Congress Alliance.
The ANC was out of touch with the Africans needs and wants by 1940 and the growing gap became more cautious which led to a new age of activists that formed the ANC Youth League which was based on self-determination and African Nationalism from Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. In 1949, the Youth League drew up a Programme of Action; calling for strikes, boycotts and defiance which was adopted by the ANC. The Defiance Campaign was the beginning of the mass movement of resistance to Apartheid which entailed Africans to break the pass laws, whereby other races entered townships without ‘permission’.
These organisations with SACTU formed the Congress Alliance. After several months of civil disobedience and 8,000 arrests, rioting broke out in a number of cities, which resulted in significant damage to property and 40 deaths. Black protest and white repression continued. In 1956 three black women were killed when thousands of them confronted the police because of their inclusion in amended pass laws, which had previously only applied to black men and now applied to them.
In 1958 Robert Sobukwe left the ANC and founded the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in April 1959. The PAC insisted on a militant strategy based on black support in contrast to the ANC’s multiracial approach as many members felt like the ANC were being disloyal. Black attitudes toward the liberation process changed dramatically, however before 1960 not much had been done by the PAC to implement or force change from the National Party in regard to Apartheid which conveys that they were not very successful in these early years of Apartheid.
The Treason Trial can be seen as a catalyst for the opposition to Apartheid. The government’s aim was to completely break the power of the Congress Alliance, since the previous law enforcements and banishments had not worked to the extent the National Party had wanted. The treason trial was set up and unusual measures were taken to make sure of the verdict, including specific legislation being passed by parliament for the trial; this legislation authorised for a Special Court to be created, with three judges rather than one as well as the courts being granted the Minister of Justice to handpick the judges.
However the consequences of the arrests actually gave the resistance leaders opportunity; they were confined to two adjoining cells where they could meet “openly and uninhibited”. According to Chief Luthuli “What distance other occupations, lack of funds, and police interference had made difficult – frequent meetings – the government had now insisted on.” — as the government had been trying to prohibit these meetings between them for years. Therefore the impact of Apartheid was neither strengthened or weakened during the arrest. Mandela however, in his biography stated how he thought the Treason Trials verdict was what inevitably led the African government to a “new level of conflict with anti-apartheid organisations”.
Another event during the Treason Trial was the National Party being re-elected, conveying that the Whites were still very supportive of Apartheid, suggesting its strength in their principles of life. This was a success for the opposition to Apartheid because it created strength and unity among them and because the judges ruled them not guilty it meant they were seen credible, this shows that even though they didn’t necessarily change any legislature they still weakened the National Party’s credibility and their reasons for implementing Apartheid.
Therefore, it is fair to say that by 1959 there had been little to no physical change to the Apartheid regime, even with the efforts of the ANC, PAC, Congress Alliance etc. because the laws were being implemented a lot later. The ANC were revolting in the form of protests and boycotts but they weren’t serious enough to sway the National Party to change. The ANC were successful in creating their rallies and gaining support against Apartheid but it is hard to say that they accomplished what they had set out to do by 1959 as these were still early days in the Apartheid era.
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