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

By Michael Lobban | Go to book overview

5
From Ideas to Action: Terrorism Trials before the Soweto Uprising

At the same time that BPC and SASO were being tried for their ideas, the authorities were becoming increasingly aware that blacks were seeking more positive action beyond what those organizations offered. The state had always been alive to the danger of exiled organizations seeking to recruit in South Africa: now they became conscious of the danger of youthful activists themselves seeking to make contacts, particularly through the exiles of black consciousness, who were ever-growing in numbers. By 1975, the police were no longer seeking to put together cases based on the public actions and comments of oppositional groups: they were concerned to penetrate the private world of the intentions of black youths to crush any nascent underground revolutionary movement.

The number of people tried under the Terrorism Act for offences committed before the Soweto uprising was relatively small, compared with the number thereafter.1 Moreover, in only a handful of cases did the state manage to penetrate nascent structures involving the ANC and PAC. The most important of these was the major trial of Harry Gwala and others concerning attempts before the Soweto uprising to relaunch the ANC in Natal.2 Other cases were less significant. For instance, Zolile Keke and four others were charged early in 1976 under the Terrorism Act with recruiting for the PAC.3 Stanley Nkosi, Petrus Mothlanthe, and Joseph Moseu were tried in 1977 for conspiring with the ANC in early 1976 to form an ANC cell, train people in sabotage, and commit acts of sabotage themselves, and for being in possession of arms and explosives. Nkosi and Mothlanthe were both convicted, and, in his statement to the court, Nkosi said he had joined SASO when he believed the doors for peaceful change had not been closed, but that when he saw the reaction of the white regime to that activity, 'I reached that painful realization that the only means now available was armed struggle.'4 Sibusiso Ndebele and three others were charged in October 1976 with furthering the aims of

____________________
1
See the survey in the app.
2
See Ch. 7 below.
3
Rand Daily Mail, 12 May 1976. Keke was acquitted but tried for similar offences in the 'Bethal' PAC trial of Zephania Mothopeng and others, after his plea of autrefois acquit failed.
4
Quoted in Glenn Moss, Political Trials. South Africa: 1976-9, Development Studies Group Information Publication 2 (Johannesburg, 1980), 113. For Mothlanthe's similar statement, see 113-5.

-111-

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