South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

The Defiance Campaign

Summary

The Defiance Campaign in 1952 was the first large-scale, multi-racial political mobilization against apartheid laws under a common leadership – by the African National Congress, South African Indian Congress, and the Coloured People’s Congress. More than 8,000 trained volunteers went to jail for “defying unjust laws,” laws that had grown worse since the National Party came to power in 1948. Volunteers were jailed for failing to carry passes, violating the curfew on Africans, and entering locations and public facilities designated for one race only.

In early 1953, the government imposing stiff penalties for protesting discriminatory laws, including heavy fines and prison sentences of up to five years. It then enacted the Public Safety Act, allowing declaration of a State of Emergency to override existing laws and oversight by courts. Although the Defiance Campaign did not achieve its goals, it demonstrated large-scale and growing opposition to apartheid. Furthermore, the use of non-violent civil disobedience was part of an important international tradition - from the independence movement in Indian two decades before to sit-ins and other non-violent protests in the United States civil rights movement more than a decade later.

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Web Images

Photograph: Defiance Campaign Media Gallery
From: South African History Online
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Web Documents

Personal Letter: "Exchange of Correspondence between the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, and the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa between 21 January and 20 February 1952"
By D.U. Mistry, Y.A. Cachalla, Y.M. Dadoo, M. Aucamp, W.M. Sisulu, J.S. Moroka
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Resource: "Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws"

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Historical Document: "Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws - Document Collection"
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AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH