State Security and Civil-Political Rights in South Africa

By McKinley, Dale T. | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, June 2013 | Go to article overview

State Security and Civil-Political Rights in South Africa


McKinley, Dale T., Strategic Review for Southern Africa


1. Setting the Frame: The Apartheid Years

After narrowly securing victory in South Africa's 1948 all-white elections Prime Minister Dr Daniel Malan and his Afrikaner-dominated National Party quickly set about the task of instituting a range of laws and decrees that would deepen existing legalised racism and form the foundation for what became known world-wide as the apartheid system. The impetus for these developments came from three main sources: the need to secure the support of those sectors of white society, specifically the white working class and farmers, who were threatened by industrialisation and further capitalist development; the need to meet the new demands of such economic development through the increased exploitation of the dominant black labour force (McKinley 1997: 13-14); and crucially the need to ensure complete political and administrative control of the state in order to manage and suppress rising resistance from the oppressed black majority. (1))

Laws such as the Population Registration Act (providing a national roll according to racial classification) and the Group Areas Act (demarcating all land use according to race) laid the core foundation for the soon-to-follow ideologically saturated securitisation of the apartheid state and society that effectively criminalised any opposition to the apartheid state and socio-economic order. In order to provide some kind of ideological justification and 'moral' legitimation for the move to institutionalise their racial fascism, the National Party sought to equate political and social opposition with ideologies such as communism and liberalism. As one leading National Party politician put it in 1948:

On the one hand we have nationalism, which believes in the existence, the necessary existence, of distinct people's, distinct languages, nations, and cultures, and which regards the fact of the existence of these people and these cultures as the basis of its conduct. On the other hand we have liberalism, and the basis of its political struggle is the individual with his so-called rights and liberties ... This doctrine of liberalism which stands for equal rights for all civilised human beings ... is almost the same as the ideal of communism (Bunting 1969: 196). (2))

Not surprisingly given this discursive equation of basic human rights and liberties with an enemy ideology, 'liberalism-communism', the National Party soon passed the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950. The Act gave the apartheid state the legal basis on which to ban all organisations, protests and publications that were deemed 'communist', alongside banning, detaining and/or restricting those seeking any "political, industrial, social or economic change" (Bunting, 1969: 199). This was quickly followed by: the Criminal Laws Amendment Act of 1953 (outlawing all protest/gatherings not approved by the state); the Public Safety Act of 1953 (allowing states of emergency for up to twelve months as well as associated detentions without trial); and, the Riotous Assemblies Act of 1956 (criminalising 'intimidation' related to strikes/stayaways/pickets, the joining of a non-state approved union and incitement to public violence).

Following the banning of the Communist Party of South Africa in 1950 (under the Suppression of Communism Act) the two main liberation movements; the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned in 1961. As a result, these organisations embarked on campaigns of underground (illegal) armed struggle and began to mobilise support both inside and outside South Africa. Even though none of the subsequent acts of armed struggle--which consisted mostly of limited acts of sabotage on apartheid state infrastructure--represented a serious military or political threat to the apartheid state, it gave the apartheid state the excuse to enact further repressive legislation.

The 1960s saw three more pieces of related legislation being passed to complete the circle: the Internal Security Act of 1963 (allowing for various types of preventative detention and interrogation of political-social activists); the Civil Defence Act of 1966 (providing for the seizure of both people and property during states of emergency or threats of emergency); and, the Terrorism Act of 1967. …

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