1 2 3 4 | Next Page

Banned People in Apartheid-era South Africa

Part I: What did it mean to be banned?

Part I: What did it mean to be banned?

Between 1948 and 1991, the apartheid government banned more than 1,600 men and women. Banned persons endured severe restrictions on their movement, political activities, and associations intended to silence their opposition to the government’s apartheid policies and stop their political activity. The banning of political opponents - along with other more severe forms of repression, such as indefinite detention, imprisonment, torture, and political assassination - were weapons the apartheid government used against the liberation movement.

One woman banned for her trade union activities described herself and other banned persons as “informal political prisoners.” Banning orders usually lasted for two to five years but often were re-imposed by the Minister of Justice. Banned people were barred from entering places where large numbers of people gathered or worked, such as factories, mine premises, airports, educational institutions and courts. Also, they often were not permitted to participate in political parties or to publish in newspapers.

Walter Sisulu explained in a 1954 interview how his banning restricted his political activities as Secretary General of the African National Congress (ANC): “I have been banned from the membership of the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress; I’m also banned from attending any gathering. I cannot even attend a funeral as a result of this ban.” [Listen to Sisulu interview]

Ela Gandhi, a social workers who was banned for eight-and-a-half years and restricted to the African and Indian district of Inanda, north of Durban, continued her political work during that time:
We broke the banning order many times,… but we took care to cover our backs, you know, so that we wouldn’t be caught, and fortunately we weren’t… People rallied around us.[Listen to Gandhi interview segment] [Listen to second Gandhi interview segment]
Banning affected people’s personal as well as the political lives. Banning orders forbade them from leaving their town or city of residence and required them to report to their local police station at least once a week. Moreover, government security police monitored their movements and harassed them at the slightest provocation. Despite these measures, banned people often braved the risk of disobeying their banning orders. Political activist Eddie Daniels, banned from 1979 to 1983, explains the terms of his banning orders and what compelled him to break them:
… I had two other banning orders: one was I had to report to a particular police station regularly every Wednesday, and the other prevented me from going into schools, into universities, into the airport, into locations and they sent me to a magisterial area, within the magisterial area I could only be with one person at a time and oh a lot of things. My mother lived outside my banning area, actually I couldn’t see her legally, so I had to go see her illegally. [Watch Daniels interview segment]
The imposition of house arrest restricted the movement of some banned persons even further. This measure required banned individuals to remain inside their home during the weekends and from 6pm to 6am on weekdays. People who wanted to visit the home of persons under house arrest needed to first obtain permission from the security officials; in some cases no visitors were allowed at all (Joseph). The restrictions and stigma associated with being banned generally made it difficult for banned persons to gain or keep employment.

AODL African Studies Center MSU NEH Matrix