The Internal Security Act (Suppression of Communist Act) of 1950 and the General Laws Amendment Act (Sabotage Act) of 1962 defined political crimes very broadly. For example, sabotage included any willful act that obstructed “the maintenance of law and order.”
The government refused to reveal the number of political prisoners it held. From 1961 to 1991, more than 3,000 political prisoners were incarcerated on Robben Island maximum security prison off the coast of Cape Town. (There were political prisoners at other prisons, as well, including about 45 white activists held at Pretoria Central Prison.) In addition to these prisoners tried for political offenses, many more people were detained without trial.
International organizations sought to provide support for legal representation and subsistence for political trialists, prisoners, and their families. The International Defense and Aid Fund, based in London, played a very important role in this regard. Many international campaigns were conducted calling for the release of political prisoners, particularly in the 1980s.
The release of political prisoners and the suspension of armed struggle were regarded as preconditions for negotiations in the early 1990s between the National Party government and the African National Congress.