Ending Apartheid

Vijay Singh

Book Review: Vyacheslav Tetekin:People against Tyranny. Mass Democratic Organisations of South Africa in the Struggle against the Apartheid Regime, Institute of Africa, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 2010. (In Russian).

A book called ‘People against Tyranny. Mass Democratic Organisations of South Africa in the Struggle against the Apartheid Regime’ was recently published in Moscow. It is written by Dr. Vyacheslav Tetekin of the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and it covers the spectacular rise of legal mass movement in South Africa from mid-1970s to the ‘beginning of the end’ of the racist regime in the early 1990s.

It is well known that the elimination of Apartheid in South Africa was a result of many years of struggle led by the African National Congress (ANC) created on the 8th of January, 1912. For over 50 years the ANC influenced from its inception by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of non-violence was committed to peaceful means of resistance to racism and racial discrimination. But after the banning of the ANC and 17 other political organisations in 1960 the Congress and its main ally – the South African Communist Party – had to resort to armed struggle.

By 1963 the first wave of armed resistance was crushed by the security police of the Apartheid government and since that time until the mid-1970s the terrain of legal political activities was virtually empty due to the increasingly strong repressions.

The rebirth of mass democratic movement started immediately after the famous June 1976 uprising of Black students in Soweto township near Johannesburg. The young Blacks were protesting against the introduction of the Afrikaans language as the only means of education. The public reaction to the cruelty with which the uprising was smashed by the Army and Police led to rapid growth of civic, women, youth and student organisations that later played a central role in the development of the legal Anti-Apartheid movement.

Somewhat earlier, in the mid-1970s, independent trade unions started to emerge while various religious bodies began to increasingly acquire an active political role. Some traditional political organisations that became inactive during the period of particularly strong repressions from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s – including the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress – ‘rejuvenated’ themselves.

A lot of attention is given in the book to the analyses of these various components of the democratic movement, in particular to the trade unions, civic and youth organisations. Their history, various stages of structure-building and changes in their positions is vastly covered.

The development of South African NGOs is also assessed through the prism of individual experiences of several leading members of the democratic organisations.

The author discusses the economic and social conditions that led to the growth of political consciousness of Black South Africans, compares the two leading ideological trends – the ‘Black Consciousness’ and ‘Charterist’ (based on the Freedom Charter adopted at the Congress of the People in 1955).

At the same time Dr.Tetekin analyses the social structure of the South African population to see how the changes in this structure influenced the progress of the liberation struggle. Attention is also given to the policy of the White minority Government of South Africa, to its combination of repression and cosmetic ‘reforms’ designed to split the Black majority and to lure to its side the Indian and Coloured communities. It refers in particular to the new South African Constitution adopted in 1983 (that created the so called ‘tricameral Parliament’ with separate chambers for White, Indian and Coloured deputies) and the strong opposition to these plans in the Indian and Coloured communities.

Special attention is given to the United Democratic Front created on the 20th August, 1983 as an umbrella political body that helped to coordinate and guide the activities of the diverse spectrum of legal mass organisations for specific tactical objectives and then to strategic objective of elimination of Apartheid regime.

The author discusses the origin and the moving forces of legal democratic movement, the changes in the strategy and tactics of the movement at various stages of its development.

Eventually the author argues that the development of legal mass organisations – the process supported and encouraged by the underground structures of the ANC – became a new powerful phenomenon that accelerated the liberation struggle. In fact it was the combination of clandestine activities of politico-military machinery of the ANC and the actions of legal mass organisations that created the force that has achieved the decades-long objective of elimination of the regime of racism and racial discrimination.

The author has a vast personal experience of cooperation with the national liberation movement and mass democratic organisations in South Africa. He is a former staff-member of the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee (SAASC) – a Soviet NGO created in 1956 with a specific aim to render public support to liberation movements in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The author was the head of the Southern Africa desk of the SAASC for over 15 year and he was involved in various projects of political and humanitarian assistance to freedom fighters.

He also did extensive research on the subject at the Institute of Asia and Africa of Moscow State University and a Ph.D. paper (1990) on the history of the United Democratic Front of South Africa. Dr. Vyacheslav Tetekin writes extensively for various academic and political editions in Russia on developments in Africa. He is on the editorial board of Sovetskaya Rossiya and is a MP in the Duma.

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