White Man's Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era

White Man's Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era

White Man's Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era

White Man's Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era

Synopsis

This major new study examines the use of political trials by the apartheid regime in South Africa against its opponents in the 1970s, the decade when the ideology of apartheid was reaching its apogee. After tracing the early history of the South African Students Organization and the Black People's Convention, it shows how the state reacted to the threat posed by the black consciousness movement by launching a major trials of ideas, using the notorious Terrorism Act. It examines how, at the same time, the authorities sought to crack down on white dissent by prosecuting the leaders of the National Union of South African Students. By making a detailed study of trial transcripts in addition to other materials, it explores how the state sought to infiltrate and crush nascent ANC and PAC structures which were re-emerging in the mid 1970s within South Africa. It shows how the prosecution policy and the legal stategy of the state changed during the decade as the nature of the threats it faced altered, culminating in the trial of the leaders of the Soweto Students Representative Council in 1979 for sedition. Arguing that the political trial was perhaps the only venue where white ideology had to engage directy with black protest, this original and thought-provoking account demonstrates how the trials became platforms for competing views of society and politics, which give a unique insight into the conflict between the political ideals held by blacks and whites in this era. It also reveals how large a part politics played in securing the conviction of many dissenters, and how large a part events beyond the courtroom played, in the detention and torture of many activists.

Excerpt

On 25 September 1974, the South African Students' Organization and the Black People's Convention held two rallies to celebrate independence in Mozambique. Within two weeks, twenty-nine black consciousness leaders were in detention, as the state prepared for a major trial of the black consciousness movement which would see nine leaders of bpc and saso in court and initiate a legal onslaught against the black consciousness movement that was to last until 1979. the trial was to be the longest political case of the 1970s, and a crucial one, for it was a trial of the aspirations of the liberation movement and of the direction South Africa was likely to take if these ideas were given free rein.

The trial reflected the state's concern over the growth of black consciousness, the most serious challenge to its ideology and power for a decade. By 1974, the state saw black consciousness as a serious and potentially revolutionary threat. in its espousal of an alternative vision of society, the authorities saw a concrete threat to the status quo, and drew the conclusion that the line between challenging the ideologies of the state and challenging the state structures themselves in a physical way was a thin one. For that reason, the authorities sought to show the oracles of black consciousness to be real revolutionaries, with crude conspiratorial designs against the state. It therefore focused on the most organized expression of black consciousness, to be found in bpc and saso. in its quest to stamp out opposition, the state exaggerated the immediate threat posed by black consciousness, which was as yet concerned with a tough mental battle, rather than a military one. As shall be seen, in targeting bpc and saso, the state was cracking down on much weaker organizations than it admitted.

The trial was triggered by the 'Viva Frelimo' rallies, which caused something of a panic in white circles. It was easy, in the anxiety that surrounded the rallies, to exaggerate the imminent threat posed by bpc and saso. Yet when the dust had settled, the state still used the pretext of the rallies to show the organizations to be directly revolutionary. in fact, any threat to the state came not from the organizations, but from the ideas they expressed: but the organizations were to be used as the whipping boys for the ideas. in this chapter, we will examine the background of . . .

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