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

By Michael Lobban | Go to book overview

10
Conclusion

Although this study ends in 1979, there was to be no interruption in the number of political trials. In contrast to the late 1960s, the early 1980s saw no lull in political activism or in the state's oppressive response. Security trials remained a permanent feature.1 As well as bringing charges under the Internal Security Act (the successor to the Terrorism Act), the state turned increasingly to charges of treason.2 With the imposition of annually renewed states of emergency after 12 June 1986,3 with major trials being supplemented by large-scale, long-term detentions,4 and with the courts increasingly being by-passed by the executive, it is apparent that political repression was clearly on the increase.

Nevertheless, there are clear reasons for treating the period after 1979 as a distinct era for the purposes of study. First of all, it is clear that liberation politics were changing fundamentally at this time, as the focus of political activity and ideology changed from being one primarily associated with black consciousness to one which looked towards non-racialism and the Freedom Charter. As has been seen, a number of youth activists in the 1970s were already turning their attention towards the ANC and its ideas. This was beginning to be matched by changes in the ANC's strategic thinking, which saw the movement seeking to become more actively involved in political organization by legal and semi-legal bodies operating with a mass base within the country.5 Although the 'Charterist'

____________________
1
Thus, in 1982, 117 people were charged under the Internal Security Act (which replaced the Terrorism Act). In the year from July 1982 to June 1983, 49 cases were heard involving security legislation, affecting 180 accused. In 1986, 76 people were charged with terrorism in 27 trials, while in 1987, 120 faced charges of terrorism in 26 trials: South African Institute of Race Relations, Survey of Race Relations in South Africa 1983 ( Johannesburg, 1994), 557; Race Relations Survey 1986 ( Johannesburg, 1987), Pt. 2, 880; Race Relations Survey 1987/88 ( Johannesburg, 1988), 577.
2
22 such trials were held in 1984 alone. See Albertyn, ' A Critical Analysis of Political Trials in South Africa 1948-88', unpublished Cambridge Ph.D thesis, 1991, 329-35 for a discussion.
3
A partial state of emergency had been declared on 21 July 1985, and was lifted on 7 Mar. 1986. The emergency regulations were relaxed in Feb. 1990: see Stephen Ellmann, In a Time of Trouble: Law and Liberty in South Africa's State of Emergency ( Oxford, 1992), 20-5.
4
See David Webster, "Repression and the State of Emergency", in Glenn Moss and Ingrid Obery (eds.), South African Review 4 ( Johannesburg, 1987), 141-72; and Webster and Maggie Friedman , "Repression and the State of Emergency: June 1987-March 1989", in Moss and Obery (eds.), South African Review 5 ( Johannesburg, 1989), 16-41.
5
See Howard Barrell, "The Turn to the Masses: the African National Congress's Strategic Review of 1978-79" ( 1992) 18 Journal of Southern African Studies64-92.

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