Banned People in Apartheid-era South Africa

Part II: Key Banning Legislation

Though most banning provisions were contained in laws passed after the National Party came to power in 1948, the genesis of banning legislation can be found in the 1930 Riotous Assemblies Act. This Act allowed the South African Minister of Justice to prohibit entry into an area by persons whom he believed promoted feelings of hostility between white and black South Africans.

Once in office, the National Party passed the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950 which empowered the Minister of Justice to issue an order severely restricting the movement and expression of any person who he believed advocated or acted to further the aims of communism. The Act was so broadly written that it prohibited any action that sought to bring about “any political, industrial, social or economic change within the Union [of South Africa] by the promotion of disturbances or disorder.” This Act also gave the Minister of Justice the power to place a person under house arrest. In 1962, the passage of the General Law Amendment Act widened both the range of activities that could be restricted and the definition of a ‘gathering’ to include social as well as political gatherings. It also allowed an individual’s banning period to begin as soon as their name was published in the government Gazette, even if they had not been personally notified.

In 1976 and again in 1982, the apartheid government passed Internal Security Acts that further extending its powers to repress its political opponents. The first Act made it clear that banning orders would apply not only to people accused of furthering communism, but also to any act that was judged by the Minister of Justice as “subversion in general.” The 1982 Internal Security Act streamlined and consolidated South Africa’s previous security legislation. With this Act, it became a crime to quote in a publication any person whose name appeared on the government’s consolidated list of banned people; doing so carried a prison sentence of up to three years.

The apartheid regime’s banning of political activists and the organizations they formed forced the main anti-apartheid organizations underground and into exile, resulting in a lull in anti-apartheid activity inside South Africa during the 1960s and early 1970s. The government’s impeding the progress of the anti-apartheid movement during those years however, failed to break the spirit of the activists or crush the liberation movement. Leading figures such as Winnie Mandela, Steve Biko on whom the government imposed banning orders remained committed to the freedom struggle despite the physical and psychological effects of the apartheid regime’s repression tactics.

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