Opposition in South Africa: The Leadership of Z.K. Matthews, Nelson Mandela, and Stephen Biko

By Tim J. Juckes | Go to book overview

6
Filling the Vacuum: Stephen Biko's Growth in the Polarizing Society

Since it achieved power in 1948, the Nationalist government had pursued a two-pronged policy: while legislating the extension of segregation, it sought to eliminate opposition to its apartheid plan. Thus, in 1963, the arrests at Rivonia and the subsequent trial effectively destroyed the plans of the African National Congress for a military program, while in the same year, government actions against POQO, the military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress, had equally dramatic results ( Gerhart, 1978).

The move to armed resistance was brought about not only by the banning of the ANC and the PAC, but also by a misperception on the part of the nationalist groups that the white government was vulnerable ( Lodge, 1983). Whether or not the leaders in the ANC (and related opposition groups) erred in moving so rapidly to a sabotage campaign before they were fully prepared is debatable ( Johnson, 1977; Lodge, 1983), for the might of the South African government was always far greater than that of the opposition. After their banning, had the opposition forces consolidated their position before attacking the regime ( Johnson, 1977), it is likely that they would have faced an even more powerful regime, as the government was actively developing its strength in the security and military spheres ( Karis & Carter, 1977a). Nevertheless, opposition groups were largely removed from the political stage in South Africa and took time to rebuild ( Feit, 1971) following the state's sudden and to some extent unexpected crackdown in the early 1960s. In a sense, "These movements . . . effectively abdicated [or were forced]

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