ANC Origins and Background
The African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912 as a result of many grievances. This included black dissatisfaction with the South Africa Act of 1910 that established the Union of South Africa, their treatment after the South African War and numerous laws that controlled and restricted black movement and labour.
The end of the South African War (1899-1902) paved the way for the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. The eight years between the end of the war in 1902 and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 was marked by intense negotiations between the four, previously unconnected provinces. Populations of the Cape Province and Natal were considered to owe allegiance to Britain, while Transvaal and the Orange Free State had become independent Boer/Afrikaner republics in 1852 and 1854 respectively. The war was fought over the question of independence of the latter two provinces from British control.
During the eight years of negotiations, it became apparent that delegates of the four provinces were determined to forge a settlement that excluded Africans from meaningful political participation in the envisaged unified South Africa. This galvanised different African political formations, hitherto fragmented and each with a ‘provincial’ appeal, to forge a unified political movement that would challenge the exclusion of Black people. The African People’s Organisation, largely a Cape political formation, the Orange River Colony Vigilance Association and the Transvaal Vigilance Association were all formed during this period.
In 1909, a group of Black delegates from the four provinces met in Waaihoek, Bloemfontein to propose a means to object to the draft South Africa Act, and Union Constitution. This was the South African Native Convention (SANC). A nine man delegation was sent to England. The Convention is considered a precursor to the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). Apart from sympathetic coverage from the British media to the plight of Blacks, little else was achieved by the delegation.
The SANC continued to be active in 1910 and in 1911, objecting to further discriminatory legislation. The need for a permanent body to represent Blacks on a national level was the reason for the transformation of the body into a more representative and dynamic organisation. Pixley ka Isaka Seme, a well educated attorney, and author Solomon Plaatje, pioneered the formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC).
Nelson Mandela in his book Long Walk to Freedom, describes the ANC in this way, “The ANC was the one organization that welcomed everyone, that saw itself as a great umbrella under which all Africans could find shelter.” p110 Nelson Mandela speaks about how under this group different tribes arranged meetings and demonstrations to campaign for the indigenous African rights. The ANC struggled to fight apartheid and many of their leaders were imprisoned. At first they led peaceful rallies but later adopted gorilla warfare tactics when their voices were not heard. Nelson Mandela encouraged the ANC to participate in Bantu political issues. There was a commission created by the government to develop Bantu areas including Transkei the commission also wanted to create separate black and white areas. Nelson Mandela saw this as separating the people and creating a class system.
Following the 1968 NUSAS conference in Johannesburg, many of its members attended a July 1968 conference of the University Christian Movement at Stutterheim. There, the black African members had a meeting among themselves, deciding that they would hold a further conference in December to discuss the issue of forming an independent black student group. The South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) was officially launched at a July 1969 conference held at the University of the North; there, the group’s constitution and basic policy platform was adopted. The group’s main impetus was on the need for contact between centres of black student activity, including through sport, cultural activities, and debating competitions. Biko was elected as SASO’s first president, while Pat Matshaka was elected vice president and Wuila Mashalaba as secretary.
The security services imprisoned Biko at Walmer Police Station in Port Elizabeth, where he was held in custody for almost a month. On arrival, he was kept naked in a cell for twenty days, with his legs in shackles. During his interrogation, he was severely beaten by one of the ten security police officers, although the exact events have never been ascertained. He received three brain lesions that resulted in a massive brain haemorrhage on 6 September.Following this incident, Biko’s captors forced him to remain standing and shackled to the wall.