Lessons of Struggle: South African Internal Opposition, 1960-1990

By Anthony W. Marx | Go to book overview

4
Toward a National Front, 1980-1983

In the years immediately following the 1976 uprising and its suppression, a growing number of South African activists had begun to move away from the racial focus and idealism of Black Consciousness toward a more active strategy of opposition and an inclusive national ideology. By late 1979, the economy showed signs of recovering from the recession of the mid-1970s. More significantly, mass militancy and state repression abated, allowing activists to begin to pursue the pragmatic approach they had been discussing. They set out to form local organizations of civil society to press for material gains and later for further political reforms. By 1983, mass participation, rekindled in the 1970s, had been channeled away from outbursts of anger and into more structured forms of mass organization following a national agenda consistent with that originally set forth in the ANC's Freedom Charter. A broad alliance of these Charterist groups, loosely coordinated by the United Democratic Front, managed to ride the wave of mass activism to the forefront of opposition. Those that retained a less pragmatic focus on shaping ideas and racial or class identity, such as AZAPO and others that came together to constitute a National Forum, found themselves caught in the undertow of a decline in mass support.

As the Charterist movement consolidated and moved from ideological realignment to action, its concern with developing an effective strategy began to force subtle changes in its ideology. The rhetorical use of class waned, as it both scared off potential supporters and did not accurately describe a movement that was

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