Sunday, 15 December 2013

Mandela and South African Apartheid Laws, 1949-1964

This post looks at the laws instituted by the Apartheid government in South Africa which were used first to create legal segregation, then expanded to protect the policies of the government against the public it governed, who sought to remove them.

This series of laws can be used to illustrate the points of Mandela's and other South African's struggle against apartheid between 1948 and 1963 when Mandela was imprisoned the final time.

The Apartheid government that was elected in 1948 passed several segregation laws.  Among these were prohibition of mixed marriages, registration of all South Africans as one of four racial groups, and relocation of racial groups into segregated zones in urban areas.  These laws were passed in 1949 and 1950.  In 1950 the SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNISM ACT was also enacted in response to political groups who opposed the ruling government.  This act was used in Mandela's 1956-1961 Treason Trial and his 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial.

The first laws we will consider are the six laws taken up by the ANC and the South African Indian Congress in their 1952 non-violent Defiance Campaign. the GROUP AREAS ACT of 1950, the STOCK LIMITATION ACT of 1950, the SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNISM ACT of 1950, the SEPARATE REPRESENTATION OF VOTERS ACT of 1951 (with sequels), the BANTU AUTHORITIES ACT of 1951 and the NATIVES ABOLITION OF PASSES & COORDINATION OF DOCUMENTS ACT of 1952.  The Defiance Campaign had three stages: first, the ANC recruited people who would defy these laws publicly by carrying out such acts as refusing to carry passes, entering European-only places and restricted areas.  Second, the recruits were to be increased in order to clog up the judicial and administrative system, and third, "industrial action" would increase political pressure on a countrywide scale.  In this campaign 8400 were arrested and 5000 jailed (speech about the campaign by Mandela).

The SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNISM ACT declared communist parties, promotion of "communist activities", publishing "certain publications", and "certain communist activities" unlawful.   It defined "communism" as "any doctrine or scheme.... which aims at... a system of government based on the dictatorship of the proletariat under which one political organization only is recognized and all other(s)... are suppressed or eliminated," or promotes or uses means which include the promotion of disturbance or disorder by unlawful acts or omissions or threats of same, or acting with directions, guidance, or cooperation with any foreign government or institution whose purpose (professed or not) is to promote a communistic government (as described above), or which aims to encourage feelings of hostility between Europeans and non-European races in order to achieve any such communistic aims.  In this Act, a "communist" is defined as a person who professes or is deemed by the State to have advocated, advised, defended, or encouraged (ever after the passing of this Act) the achievement of any communistic act or omission which is deemed to have furthered any such achievement or purpose.

Mandela was charged under this law several times in the early 50's.  In 1952 Mandela was arrested three times for violating this act and sentenced along with 20 other Defiance Campaign leaders, to nine months imprisonment, sentence suspended two years, and banned from public speaking.

The NATIVES ABOLITION OF PASSES & COORDINATION OF DOCUMENTS ACT of 1952 coodinated and expanded the system of carrying passes applied since 1797 to blacks moving in white areas.  (This act was amended in 1956 to explicitly include women.)

The government's reaction to the ANC's civil disobedience campaigns, particularly the Defiance Campaign, was the PUBLIC SAFETY ACT, 1953, which empowered the government to declare a state of emergency and do whatever they deem necessary to deal with the emergency.  The government also passed the CRIMINAL LAW AMENDMENT ACT No 8, 1953, making any act that may cause another person to commit a crime by way of protest against the law or any passive resistance against any law illegal.

From the PUBLIC SAFETY ACT, 1953; Section 3: "The Governor-General [later, State-President] may... make such regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for providing for the safety of the public, or the maintenance of public order and for making adequate provision for terminating such emergency or for dealing with any circumstances which in his opinion have arisen or are likely to arise as a result of such emergency" Any laws made during a state of emergency could be made retrospective for four days to cover any emergency action taken by the police. The emergency regulations could suspend any act of Parliament, with a few exceptions. If the justice minister or administrator of South West Africa deemed it necessary, they could declare a state of emergency but the governor general had to approve their action within ten days"

From the CRIMINAL LAW AMENDMENT ACT No 8, 1953: "Any person who in any way whatsoever advises, encourages, incites, commands, aids or procures any other person ... or uses language calculated to cause any other person to commit an offence by way of protest against the law... shall be guilty of an offence" Also, "passive resistence against any law (is) illegal." This law also increased penalties for all crimes when a law was broken for political reasons.

In June, 1955 the ANC, South African Indian Congress, the Colored People's Congress, the South African Congress of Trade Unions, and the Congress of Democrats convened.  3000 people attended from these and various other groups.  The Freedom Charter was the main issue at this meeting.

After the 1955 Congress of the People, the RIOTOUS ASSEMBLIES ACT was passed in March, 1956.  This act empowered the Minister of Justice to deem open-air gatherings dangers to the public peace, after which they were prohibited.  It included banishment as punishment.  This law was used in Mandela's 1956-1961 Treason Trial.

In 1956 Mandela was arrested as one of 156 anti-apartheid political leaders who attended the 1955 Congress of the People and signed the Freedom Charter.  All were charged with treason, citing their participation in drawing up the Freedom Charter, which sought to abolish segregation.  The prosecution argued that ending segregation would necessarily mean the overthrow and destruction of the existing state, and this implied necessary violence, since there was no other means by which this end could be achieved.  The defendants were also charged with communism and establishing alternative appendages to the government because the African National Congress sought universal adult suffrage divided into electoral districts and a general election for representatives.  This trial lasted four years, ending in acquittal.  

In March, 1960 a demonstration outside the Sharpville police station where 5000 Africans gathered without their mandatory passes alarmed police, who had no means by which to arrest or imprison so many people.  After a scuffle near a gate through the wire fence surrounding the police station , some police opened fire without orders, and continued to fire upon the group as they fled.  180 were wounded, most shot in the back; 69 killed.  Rioting broke out across South Africa, at which time Mandela burned his pass.  The government declared a state of emergency and proclaimed martial law (under the 1953 PUBLIC SAFETY ACT, used for the first time in this way).  Mandela and 30 other activists were arrested that month and imprisoned without charge.  They were released when the state of emergency was lifted in August.  While Mandela was in prison, a countrywide (95% of the workforce) labor strike took place.  The situation was controlled by the military, townships were cordoned off, and an emergency was declared.  Thousands of people were arrested.

In response to the 1960 meetings of the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress and a few weeks after the Sharpville Massacre, the government passed the UNLAWFUL ORGANIZATIONS ACT, 1960, which allowed the government to ban these organizations.  Another Act passed by the government following Sharpville was the INDEMNITY ACT, 1961, which protected the government and its officers after 224 civil claims for damages served against the Minister of Justice by the victims of Sharpville and their families.

The UNLAWFUL ORGANIZATIONS ACT of 1960 was aimed explicitly at the PAC and ANC, and stated that if the Governor General deemed the public order to be seriously threatened or be likely to seriously threatened by such an organization, or in consequence of the actions of such an organization, he could proclaim it illegal.  This act referred extensively to the SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNISM ACT, 1950 for provisions.

The INDEMNITY ACT of 1961 stated: "No proceedings, whether civil or criminal, shall be brought in any court of law against the President" and other other people working for the government or under its authority, between March 21 and the date of this act, and all proceedings that may have been brought in that time are void.

In 1961, Mandela went underground and organized his movement and protests.  The police put out a warrant for his arrest.  Mandela met with reporters and warned that the anti-apartheid forces would soon begin violence.  Mandela organized the violent wing of the ANC called the Spear of the Nation.  The group began acts of sabotage, including bombings where there would be no loss of life.  In 1962 Mandela traveled around Africa and visited London.  On this trip he raised support and funding, and learned some guerila warfare.

In response to the international tour of Mandela the government passed the GENERAL LAWS AMENDMENTS ACTS, 1962 and 1963 to add more political activities to the list of crimes, including receiving training that could further communism, advocating economic or social change in South Africa by violent means (remember, in 1956 the prosecution for the Treason Trail argued that any political change against the government's policies should be deemed violent because it could reasonably be expected to happen no other way) with the aid of a foreign government or institution.  These amendment acts also gave police power of detention without charge for 12 and then 90 days without legal council or visitors.  It gave the government (though not the police) power to detain those sentenced for sabotage or similar crimes for an unlimited time.

Mandela in prison around 1962

After 17 months underground, Mandela was arrested again in 1962 and charged with incitement to strike, and leaving the country illegally.  He was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

In 1963, while Mandela was serving his 5 years for the 1962 offences, several other leaders were arrested and Mandela was charged with them for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the state. Among the charges were:

- recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage
- conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invaded the Republic,
- acting in these ways to further the objects of communism
- soliciting and receiving money for these purposes from sympathizers in Algeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

Mandela opted to recite a political speech rather than proceed with a regular legal defense.  The trial ended in 1964.  The defendants were found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.  This trial was condemned by many nations and the UN. Some nations placed international sanctions on the South African government.  

Mandela served 27 years of his life sentence, ending in 1990.   In 1989 the South African President had begun meetings with him.  The next President stated that Apartheid was unsustainable and released all political prisoners except Mandela.  Later that year, the same President made moves (opposed by some of his cabinet) to legalize the ANC and release Mandela.  Mandela was released early in 1990.  (The two politicians shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.)

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