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    South Africa The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter
    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    In 1943, during World War II, young members of the ANC, critical of what they considered its passivity, formed their own organization, the Congress Youth League (CYL). Anton Lembede, president of the CYL from 1944 until his death in 1947, stressed that South Africa was "a black man's country," in which the concerns of Africans should take precedence. He argued that African society was socialistic, but, because he considered the conflict in South Africa to be primarily a racial rather than a class struggle, he repudiated any alliance with the Communist Party in bringing about "national liberation." After the war and Lembede's death, and faced by the implementation of apartheid, the CYL's leaders, Peter Mda, Jordan Ngubane, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, strove to take charge of the ANC. They called on the organization to adopt the use of strikes, boycotts, stay-at-homes, and various forms of civil disobedience and non-cooperation to make the apartheid system unworkable. Overcoming the opposition of ANC president Alfred Xuma, the CYL succeeded in 1949 in electing James Moroka to the presidency, in seating three CYL members (Sisulu, Tambo, and Mandela) on the party's national executive body, and in persuading the congress formally to adopt the program of action.

    The ANC's new leaders formed a Joint Planning Council with leaders of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) (unlike Lembede, the Mandela, Sisulu, and Tambo team believed strongly in working with other groups) and in February 1952 called on the government to repeal all unjust laws or face a Defiance Campaign starting on April 6, the tercentenary of Jan van Riebeeck's arrival at the Cape. Malan rejected the ultimatum. The ANC and the SAIC, led by Yusuf Dadoo, then organized mass rallies and stay-at-homes for April 6 and June 26. These actions drew the support of thousands of men and women. The government reacted by banning leaders and newspapers under the Suppression of Communism Act and by arresting participants in the demonstrations. By December 1952, approximately 8,500 people had been arrested, most of them in the Cape, and the Defiance Campaign had largely come to an end without bringing about any change in the laws. The ANC had grown enormously, however: its paid membership had increased from fewer than 7,000 at the beginning of 1952 to more than 100,000 by the end of the year. Its leadership had also changed: James Moroka had been dismissed in disgrace for having pleaded guilty to charges placed under the Suppression of Communism Act, and Albert Luthuli had been made president.

    The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter

    House arrests, bannings, and other forms of government restriction limited the ability of ANC and SAIC leaders to organize publicly in 1953 and 1954, but in 1955, approximately 3,000 delegates met on June 25 and June 26 near Soweto in a Congress of the People. They represented black (the ANC), white (the Congress of Democrats), Indian (the SAIC), and coloured (the Coloured People's Congress) political organizations and the multiracial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). The congress was held to develop a new vision for a future South Africa, one that reached beyond protest politics. The prime document discussed was the Freedom Charter, which had been drafted several weeks before the congress met. The charter emphasized that South Africa should be a nonracial society with no particular group assumed to have special rights or privileges. The charter stated that all people should be treated equally before the law, that land should be "shared among those who work it," and that the people should "share in the country's wealth," a statement that has sometimes been interpreted to mean a call for nationalization. The congress delegates had ratified almost all the sections of the charter when the police surrounded the meeting, announced that they suspected treason was being committed, and recorded the names and addresses of all those in attendance.

    Data as of May 1996

    NOTE: The information regarding South Africa on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of South Africa The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about South Africa The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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