Mass Politics in South Africa

Mass Politics in South Africa

The massive resistance to apartheid in South Africa shows few, if any, signs of abating. From the state of emergency declaration of July 20, 1985 (exempting all security forces from legal responsibility for acts of brutality) until mid-October approximately 250 people were killed, 1,500 injured, and 3,800 arrested (with over 2,000 still in detention). The government has not been able, despite heavy repressive measures, to quell the unrest. There may, perhaps, come a lull, but it will be followed by still larger waves of protest.

In 1960, three months after the Sharpeville massacre when the authorities had detained 11,000 individuals, relative calm returned to the townships. But the present upheaval is not Sharpeville 1960. Rapid industrial development since that time has doubled the black urban population, from 35 percent of total urban residents to over 50 percent. The small black trade union movement of the 1950s (of 50,000 members) had been crushed before Sharpeville. Today the ranks of independent black trade unions have swelled from 150,000 after their qualified legalization in 1979 to close to 750,000. Though the national leadership of the broad nonracial antiapartheid coalition, the United Democratic Front (UDF), has been detained, its decentralized structure seems to generate new leadership daily. And two consecutive generations of grade- and high-school students have been radicalized by the South African Student Organization (which provided the core leadership of the Soweto uprisings, and was banned in 1977) and by the Congress of South African Students (a UDF affiliate, banned last September).

Download the full article as a PDF


Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima