Protests and Resistance to Apartheid

A 3D rendering of the ANC flag.
Anti-apartheid protesters in the 1980s.

All whites did not agree with apartheid and some even protested against it. Even so, the strongest opposition to apartheid indisputably came from black, coloured and Indian people.

Among those opposing apartheid was the ANC, a black political party, and their frontman Nelson Mandela. The ANC organized peaceful mass protests and some of their members burned their own passports in defiance of the country’s much detested pass laws, which, as explained in the previous chapter, mandated that black people must have identity papers on them in so called non-black areas. When these forms of protests weren’t enough to topple the apartheid system — and when the ANC saw that the government suppressed even peaceful resistance to the regime — they altered their tactics. As a consequence, from around 1960, the ANC began using a limited form of violence, although the peaceful protests also continued.

Stepping up the resistance

The limited form of violence that Mandela and his co-conspirators in the ANC started to carry out included bombings of non-human targets, such as government power stations. For these acts and for plotting to violently overthrow the government, Mandela and other prominent ANC members were subsequently found guilty in court and sentenced to life in prison in 1964. Thereafter, in the 1980s, when Mandela and much of the old ANC leadership were still in prison, the same organization abandoned the old policy of only attacking non-human targets. ANC sympathizers, frustrated after decades under apartheid, now began carrying out bombings where both security forces and regular civilians were killed.

The government’s justification

Despite the various forms of opposition to apartheid from the ANC and many other groups, the government continued to justify forced segregation as a means to preserve the cultures of South Africa’s different ethnic groups. In line with this purported high regard for cultural differences, a white government official interviewed on a news program even professed to envying certain black people’s social warmth, implying that white people didn’t have such warmth. The official, like so many others, also stressed how much money the government invested in houses and schools for blacks, indicating that the country’s white leadership indeed helped economically disadvantaged people to make progress. Even so, while professing that public policies benefitted everybody, white apartheid apologists often treated non-whites as people in a lesser stage of development in need of white guardians.