African National Congress
Although its creation predated apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC) became the primary force in opposition to the government after its conservative leadership was superseded by the organisation's Youth League (ANCYL) in 1949. Led by Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, elected to the ANC's National Executive that year, the ANCYL advocated a radical black nationalist programme that combined the Africanist ideas of Anton Lembede with those of Marxism. They brought the notion that white authority could only be overthrown through mass campaigns. The ideals of the ANC and ANCYL are stated in the ANC official web site and state, concerning the "Tripartite Alliance", "The Alliance is founded on a common commitment to the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution, and the need to unite the largest possible cross-section of South Africans behind these objectives." This cites the actionable intent, their goal to end oppression.
Once the ANCYL had taken control of the ANC, the organisation advocated a policy of open defiance and resistance for the first time. This unleashed the 1950s Programme of Action, instituted in 1949, which laid emphasis on the right of the African people to freedom under the flag of African Nationalism. It laid out plans for strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience, resulting in occasionally violent clashes, with mass protests, stay-aways, boycotts and strikes predominating. The 1950 May Day stay-away was a strong, successful expression of black grievances.
In 1952 the Joint Planning Council, made up of members from the ANC, the South African Indian Congress as well as the Coloured People's Congress, agreed on a plan for the defiance of unfair laws. They wrote to the Prime Minister, DF Malan and demanded that he repeal the Pass Laws, the Group Areas Act, the Bantu Administration Act and other legislation, warning that refusal to do so would be met with a campaign of defiance. The Prime Minister was haughty in his rejoinder, referring the Council to the Native Affairs Department and threatening to treat insolence callously.
The Programme of Action was launched with the Defiance Campaign in June 1952. By defying the laws, the organisation hoped for mass arrests that the government wouldn't be able to cope with. Nelson Mandela led a crowd of 50 men down the streets of a white area in Johannesburg after the 11 pm curfew that forbade black peoples' presence. The group was apprehended, but the rest of the country followed its example. Defiance spread throughout the country and black people disregarded racial laws by, for example, walking through "whites only" entries. At the campaign's zenith, in September 1952, more than 2,500 people from 24 different towns had been arrested for defying various laws.
By the end of the campaign, the government arrested 8,000 people, but was forced to temporarily relax its apartheid legislation. In addition, as a direct result of the campaign, membership of the ANC increased and attention was drawn to apartheid's injustices. Once things had calmed down, however, the government responded with an iron fist, taking several supreme measures—among which were the Unlawful Organisations Act, the Suppression of Communism Act, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Procedures Act. Thus, in the longer term, this spelt defeat for the resistance movement. In December 1952, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and 18 others were tried under the Suppression of Communism Act for leading the Defiance Campaign. They received nine months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.
The Criminal Law Amendment Act stated that "[a]ny 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 a law [...] shall be guilty of an offence".
The government also constricted the regulation on separate amenities. Protesters had argued to the courts that different amenities for different races ought to be of an equal standard. The Separate Amenities Act removed the façade of mere separation; it gave the owners of public amenities the right to bar people on the basis of colour or race and made it lawful for different races to be treated inequitably. Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli and other famous ANC, Indian Congress and trade union chiefs were all vetoed under the Suppression of Communism Act. The proscription meant that the headship was now restricted to its homes and adjacent areas and they were banned from attending public gatherings.
Though cruelly limited, the movement was still able to struggle against the oppressive instruments of the state. More importantly, collaboration between the ANC and NIC had increased and strengthened through the Defiance Campaign. Support for the ANC and its endeavours increased. In August 1953, the ANC Cape conference suggested an Assembly of the people.
Meanwhile, on the global stage, India demanded that apartheid be challenged by the United Nations. It led to the establishment of a UN commission on apartheid. This first encouraged black South Africans in their campaign, but, after five months, the African and Indian Congresses opted to call it off because of the increasing number of riots, strikes and heavier sentences on those who took part. During the campaign, almost 8,000 black and Indian people had been detained. At the same time, however, ANC membership grew from 7,000 to 100,000, and the number of subdivisions went from 14 at the start of the campaign to 87 at its end. There was also a change in headship. Shortly before the campaign's end, Albert Luthuli was elected as the new ANC president.
A National Convention of all South Africans was proposed by Professor Z. K, Matthews at the Cape ANC conference on 15 August 1953. The intention was to study the national problems on an all-inclusive basis and outline a manifesto of amity. In March 1954, the ANC, the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the Coloured People's Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats (SACOD) and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) met and founded the National Action Council for the Congress of the People. Delegates were drawn from each of these establishments and a nationwide organiser was assigned. A campaign was publicised for the drafting of a freedom charter, and a call was made for 10,000 unpaid assistants to help with the conscription of views from across the country and the organisation of the Congress of the People. Demands were documented and sent to the local board of the National Action Council in preparation for drafting the Charter.
The Congress of the People was held from 26 to 27 June 1955 in Kliptown, just south of Johannesburg. Under the attentive gaze of the constabulary, 3,000 delegates gathered to revise and accept the Freedom Charter that had been endorsed by the ANC's National Executive on the eve of the Congress. Among the organisations present were the Indian Congress and the ANC. The Freedom Charter, which articulated a vision for South Africa radically different from the partition policy of apartheid, emphasising that South Africa should be a just and non-racial society. It called for a one-person-one-vote democracy within a single unified state and 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 often been interpreted as a call for socialist nationalisation. The congress delegates had consented to almost all the sections of the charter when the police announced that they suspected treason and recorded the names and addresses of all those present.
In 1956 the Federation of South African Women was founded and led by Lilian Ngoyi and the more famous Helen Joseph. On 9 August that year, the women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, protesting against the pass laws. On the morning of 5 December 1956, however, the police detained 156 Congress Alliance leaders. 104 African, 23 white, 21 Indian and eight Coloured people were charged with high treason and plotting a violent overthrow of the state, to be replaced by a communist government. The charge was based on statements and speeches made during both the Defiance Campaign and the Congress of the People. The Freedom Charter was used as proof of the Alliance's communist intent and their conspiracy to oust the government. The State relied greatly on the evidence of Professor Arthur Murray, an ostensible authority on Marxism and Communism. His evidence was that the ANC papers were full of such communist terms as "comrade" and "proletariat", often found in the writings of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Halfway through the drawn-out trial, charges against 61 of the accused were withdrawn, and, five years after their arrest, the remaining 30 were acquitted after the court held that the state had failed to prove its case.