South Africa’s apartheid regime was a political system by the National Party that forced racial segregation between 1948 and 1994.

Like Mandela, many individuals were crucial to the eventual success of anti-apartheid and the ANC party.

Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu – 1912-2003

Walter Sisulu was a key figure in the ANC in the 1940s.

Sisulu was elected as ANC secretary-general in 1949 and organised many strikes and boycotts to protest apartheid laws. He played a key role in the formation and planning of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

In 1952 he devised a plan of civil disobedience and called for blacks to openly disobey the government, to overcrowd the jails. He was arrested and jailed several times.

He and Mandela went underground in 1963 and was arrested later that year at Liliesleaf, convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. He was released four months before Mandela, in 1990.

Oliver Tambo – 1917-1993

Oliver Tambo became a founding member of the ANC Youth League, after joining the ANC.

In 1952, Tambo opened the first black law firm South Africa with Mandela, called Mandela and Tambo.

He deliberately broke apartheid laws during the ANC’s Campaign of Defiance and, in 1955, was arrested and accused of treason. In 1959, he left South Africa and set up a Mission in Exile. He subsequently served, in exile, as acting president and then elected president of the ANC.

Throughout the 1970s Tambo promoted the cause of the ANC worldwide, including an address to the United Nations.

He notably spent 30 years in exile (1960-1990).

Steve Biko – 1946-1977

Steve Biko was an activist and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement who was regularly targeted by the South African authorities.

In 1973, he was banned from speaking at public gatherings or talking to more than one person at a time.

Biko was instrumental in the 1976 Soweto student protests that saw 170 people shot dead for protesting against Afrikaans – the language associated with the apartheid government.

He is widely credited for the slogan ‘black is beautiful’.

Desmond Tutu – 1931-Present

Desmond Tutu is an Anglican cleric who became Secretary of the South African Council of Churches in the late 1970’s.

He began speaking out against the apartheid system soon after and continued to draw international attention to South Africa throughout the 1980’s.

In 1984, Tutu was recognized for his efforts with a Nobel Peace Prize.

He famously chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996 to ease the suffering of those oppressed under the apartheid regime.  

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe – 1924-1978

Robert Sobukwe was a South African black nationalist leader.

Sobukwe was an early advocate of the idea that South Africa be returned to its indigenous inhabitants.

He became a leader in the Pan-African movement in 1959 when he rejected the ANC – believing it to be contaminated by non-African influences – and founded the Pan-Africanist Congress.

Sobukwe was arrested for anti-apartheid activities in 1960 and spent the rest of his life in prison or under house arrest.

Govan Mbeki – 1910-2001

Govan Mbeki was a leader of the ANC and of the South African Communist Party.

After the Rivonia Trial, he was imprisoned from 1963 until 1987 on charges of terrorism and treason, with Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba, Kathrada and other eminent ANC leaders.

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada – 1929-2017

Ahmed Kathrada’s involvement in the anti-apartheid activities of the ANC led him to his long-term imprisonment following the Rivonia Trial, in which he was held at Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison.

Following his release in 1990, he was elected as an ANC member of parliament.

Denis Goldberg – 1933-Present

Denis Goldberg became a technical officer for the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe when it was founded in 1961.

In 1963, he was arrested at their Rivonia headquarters.

Goldberg was sentenced in 1964 at the famous Rivonia Trial to four terms of life imprisonment.

He was the only white member of Umkhonto we Sizwe to be arrested and sentenced in the Rivonia Trial to life imprisonment.

Albert Luthuli – 1898-1967

Previously supported by the apartheid regime, Albert Luthuli’s public support for the 1952 Defiance Campaign brought him into conflict with the South African government.

On his refusal to resign from the ANC, he was dismissed from his post as chief in November 1952.

At the annual conference of 1952, Luthuli was elected ANC president-general by a large majority.

He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 for his activism against racial discrimination.

Raymond Mhlaba – 1920-2005

Raymond Mhlaba joined the ANC in 1944.

From 1944, Mhlaba maintained dual membership of the ANC and the SACP.

He rose through the ANC ranks becoming the chairman of the ANC’s Port Elizabeth branch from 1947 to 1953.

Mhlaba was later elected to the Executive Committee.

He was the first to be arrested for disobeying apartheid laws during the nationwide Defiance Campaign of 1952.

African National Congress (ANC) – 1912-Present

The ANC is a South African political party.

It was founded as the South African Native National Congress, with the aim of maintaining voting rights for black Africans and people of mixed-race.

It was renamed the African National Congress in 1923.

From the 1940s, it spearheaded the fight to eliminate apartheid.

The ANC was banned from 1960 to 1990 by the South African government. During this time, it operated underground and outside the South African territory.

The ban was lifted in 1990, and Nelson Mandela, the ANC president, was elected in 1994 to head South Africa’s first multiethnic government.

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