Nelson Mandela Timeline 1950-1959

1950

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mandela trained at the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre. He excelled at boxing and shared his love of the sport with his son, Thembekile. He enjoyed visiting the cinema and became secretary of the multi-cultural International Club where he meets whites and forms some life-long friendships.

March, The Johannesburg branch of the Communist Party of South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) jointly organised a 'Defend Free Speech Convention', attracting 10 000 people to Market Square. The meeting proposed a one-day stay-away on May Day (1 May) to protest the banning of communist leaders. Many ANC leaders, including Mandela, distrusted the communist initiative and the ANCYL opposed the stay-away. Mandela and other ANC Youth League members disrupted communist meetings and heckled speakers.

May, The Government publishes the Unlawful Organisations Bill, subsequently known as the Suppression of Communism Act.

The May Day (1 May) strike was immensely successful and the government responded with unrestrained brutality. Across Soweto 18 Black people were killed and Mandela stayed in a nurses' dormitory overnight where he sheltered from the gunfire. The protest also led to the Communist Party being banned. The experience was a pivotal moment in Mandela's life and convinced him that freedom will only come from the forging of a broad-based non-racial alliance against apartheid and white minority rule. Confronted by opposition from the ANC's Africanist wing, Mandela stuck to this new position and together with Tambo and Communists Party general secretary Moses Kotane, they joined their friend Walter Sisulu in forging what came to be known as the Congress Alliance. The ANC and SACP called for a national day of action on June 26th.12 May, The Immorality Amendment Act No 21 of 1950 is passed, and prohibits “adultery, attempted adultery or related immoral acts” between black and white people. The Act in essence criminalised sexual intercourse between different racial groups.

26 June, Mandela's second son, Makgatho, was born.

The ANC and the South African Indian Congress organised a national stay-at-home in protest against the Suppression of Communism Act. Mandela was in charge of the office of the Coordinating Committee.

ANC and SAIC leaders are arrested and charged for promoting Communism in terms of the newly passed Suppression of Communism Act. They are released on £100 bail.

 

1951

Mandela was elected President of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Mandela drove to Natal in a battered Volkswagen with ANCYL colleagues Joe Matthews and Diliza Mji. In discussion along the journey, Mandela argued for closer ties with communist party -relaunched underground as the South African Community Party (SACP)- and these discussions were crucial to the ANC's gradual movement towards a formal alliance with the SACP.

7 June, Pixely ka Isaka Seme president of the ANC from 1930 to 1937 dies in Johannesburg. His funeral is attended by over 2000 mourners.

15-18 June, The ANC’s NEC meets to deliberate further on what actions to take in expressing their discontent against the National Party government. The ANC also invites the SAIC and FRAC to discuss a joint campaign of civil disobedience and general strikes against the government.

The ANCYL threw in its lot with the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and together they organised a national work stoppage on 26 June. Walter Sisulu and Yusuf Cachalia were appointed joint secretaries of the Planning Council. The response was significant in Durban and the Eastern Cape.

29 July, The ANC calls a meeting in Johannesburg in which the SAIC, the APO and FRAC executives are invited to chart way forward for the Defiance Campaign. However APO rejects the ANC invitation and never attends the meeting. FRAC is invited as an observer since it was not a national organisation.

Mandela completes his articles at Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman and started to work for the law firm of Terblanche and Briggish.

23 November, M.B.Yengwa and other members of the ANC Youth League in Natal nominate Albert Luthuli for the position of President of the ANC in Natal and Luthuli is subsequently elected to this position. In his address to the Annual Conference of the ANC in Natal, Albert Luthuli calls for unity among Africans and redefines the challenges that face them in the light of new pieces of apartheid legislation being introduced by the Malan Government.

11 December, Mandela was banned for six months under the Riotous Assemblies Act

28 December, Mandela received his driver’s license.


1952

31 May, The African National Congress (ANC) executive mets in Port Elizabeth and announced a new campaign, the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign, to commence on 26 June.

27 April, Walter Sisulu, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, A.M. Dadoo and Yusuf Cachalia are detained at Idutywa in the Transkei as they entered the area without the necessary permission.

22 May, The leaders of the Congress movement issue a statement condemning the first banning orders under the Suppression of Communism Act.

31 May, The ANC’s NEC meets in Port Elizabeth and announces that the Defiance Campaign would begin on 26 June.

1 June, A day after receiving his banning orders, Moses Kotane, defies the order and speaks at a public meeting in Alexandra Township. He is arrested the next day.

26 June, The Defiance Campaign began. Mandela was appointed volunteer-in-chief with Moulvi Cachalia as his deputy. He was arrested late at night after a meeting at the Garment Workers Hall in Johannesburg and spent two nights in jail. Mandela was elected President of the Transvaal ANC to replace the banned J.B. Marks. Chief Albert Luthuli was elected President-General of the ANC. Evelyn Mandela left for Durban to study midwifery.

30 July, Mandela and 19 others were arrested for their role in the Defiance Campaign. They stood trial and are found guilty on 2 December 1952 of ‘Statutory Communism’. They are sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labour, suspended for five years.

August, Mandela opened his own law office. Zubeida Patel was his secretary.

September, The trial of Mandela, J.S. Moroka, W. Sisulu and other Defiance Campaign leaders, 21 in all, started in a Johannesburg magistrates' court, before Justice F.L.H. Rumpff. They were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act. Moroka appointed his own defence and fell out of favour with the ANC, though he was later forgiven by Mandela. Justice Rumpff found the accused guilty and sentenced them to nine months' imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for two years - a surprisingly lenient sentence.

Mandela was again arrested on charges related to the Suppression of Communism Act along with twenty Defiance Campaign leaders around the country. They were all freed on bail.

Rioting in New Brighton near Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape) left eleven dead, including four Whites.

10-12 October, Nelson Mandela is elected the president of the Transvaal African National Congress at its conference to replace the banned J.B Marks

18 October, Rioting spread to Port Elizabeth and Kimberley and 25 Africans were killed. In East London enraged Blacks kill two Whites, including a nun.

October - November, The government banned 52 people, including Nelson Mandela and Chief Albert Luthuli. The Defiance Campaign is halted towards the end of December. Since 26 June, 8577 volunteers, mostly from the Eastern Cape, had courted imprisonment for defying the unjust laws of the land.

8 November, Police fire on demonstrators in Kimberley. Fourteen are killed and 39 wounded.

A flyer entitled ‘Police Shootings Must Stop!’ is issued by the National Action Committee, ANC and SAIC.

10 November, A one-day general strike is held in Port Elizabeth to protest police attacks in Kimberley and East London, which results in the death of 22 people an injury to 108. The strike also protests against the City Council’s imposition of a curfew and month-long ban on public meetings. In Johannesburg, ANC leaders called on all Africans to remain calm.

12 November, Chief Albert Luthuli is dismissed as traditional chief by the government after he refuses to resign as the leader of the ANC in Natal. In his response Albert Luthuli issues a statement entitled ‘The Road to Freedom is via the Cross.’

December, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened the first Black legal partnership in South Africa in Chancellor House, opposite the magistrates' courts in downtown Johannesburg. About these years Mandela later wrote, "As an attorney, I could be rather flamboyant in court. I did not act as though I were a Black man in a White man's court, but as if everyone else - White and Black - was a guest in my court." He also stated, "In Johannesburg, I had become a man of the city. I wore smart suits, I drove a colossal Oldsmobile and I knew my way around the back alleys of the city... But in fact I remained a country boy at heart, and there was nothing that lifted my spirits as much as blue skies, the open veld and green grass" (Long Walk to Freedom, p. 142, 149).

17 December, Walter Sisulu is served with notification, in terms of section 9 of the Suppression of Communism Act, whereby he is prohibited, for a period of six months, from attending any meeting in the Union of South Africa.

18-20 December, At the annual ANC conference, Chief Albert Luthuli is elected to replace Dr James Moroka as General-President of the ANC. The conference also passed an emergency resolution which would give the NEC the power to “carry out any decision it might consider expedient to assure the continuance of the struggled in any shape or form” (Levy, 2011. 120).


1953

A national conference of the CPSA is called to officially reconstitute the Party. It is attended by 25 delegates representing cells from all over the country. It is the first formal underground meeting and is held behind the retail shop of an Indian merchant in a small Eastern Transvaal town. At the meeting the name South African Communist Party (SACP) replaces the old Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). Dr. Yusuf Dadoo is elected Chairman of the Central Committee and Moses Kotane as the Secretary.

24 April, Chief Albert Luthuli calls off the Defiance Campaign after the introduction of the Criminal Amendment Law Act and the Public Safety Act.

May, An interview with Chief Albert Luthuli appears in Drum Magazine.

June, Mandela's first banning order expired. He threw himself into the campaign against forced removals from Sophiatown and the Western Areas and was banned for the second time. The Congress of Democrats is established following a meeting addressed by Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Cachalia.

Anticipating that the ANC would be eventually banned, Mandela devised a plan, based on a clandestine cell network and contact mechanisms, to continue the organisation underground. The plan became known as the M-Plan and is eventually activated following the ANC's banning in 1960.

21 September, Mandela made his ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’ speech. This speech was his presidential address to the ANC Transvaal Conference. Due to his banning order, the address was read out on his behalf. In the speech, Mandela highlighted the dangers of the Criminal Laws Amendment Act and the Suppression of Communism Act and reaffirmed the ANC’s commitment to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the M-plan.

9 October, The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act No 49 is passed, this is also known as “petty apartheid”. This Act for instance imposed segregation on all public facilities, including post offices, beaches, stadiums, parks, toilets, and cemeteries, and buses and trains amongst other facilities.


1954

Oliver Tambo is banned and forbidden from addressing or attending gatherings. His banning order, however, does not require him to resign from the ANC.

1 January, The Bantu Education Act comes into effect.

15 April, The Riotous Assemblies Act and Suppression of Communism Amendment Act comes into effect.

April, The Transvaal Law Society petitioned the Supreme Court to strike Mandela off the roll because of his involvement in the Defiance Campaign. Walter Pollock QC, head of the Johannesburg Bar Council, successfully defended him, pro amico.

Makaziwe, Nelson's eldest surviving daughter, was born.

The ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the Congress of Democrats, the Congress of Trade Unions and the Coloured Peoples Organisation constitute the Congress Alliance and began preparations to convene a Congress of the People.

23 July, Walter Sisulu is served with notifications which require him, under Section 5 of the Suppression of Communism Act, to resign as member, official or office-bearer from certain organisations and not take part in any gatherings at any place within the Union of South Africa or the area of South West Africa for a period of two years.

24 July, Walter Sisulu is arrested in the Botshabelo Location, Bloemfontein, and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act.

26 July, Walter Sisulu appears before the Magistrate Court of Bloemfontein and is released on R50 bail. His case is set down to be heard before the Supreme Court in August 1955.

1 August, The Native Resettlement Act No 19 is passed. The Act gives powers to the Government to remove Africans from any area within and next to the magisterial district of Johannesburg. In essence, this Act wants to effect the removal of Africans from Sophiatown to Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg.


1955

The government announces that women must carry passes.

February, Moses Kotane and Maulvi Cachalia leave South Africa, without passports, to attend the Asia-African conference in Bandung to be held in April. While on route they are arrested in Cairo, Kotane and Cachalia are detained by the police after their names appeared on ‘The 500 Most Dangerous Communists in the World’ list published by the United States Congress.

5-6 March, The South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), the first non-racial union, is formed. The union emerged out of 19 trade unions representing approximately 20 000 workers. Pieter Beyleveld is elected president and Leslie Massina as general secretary.

1 April, An indefinite school boycott in protest against the Bantu Education Act began with mixed results. Mandela told parents and ANC members that every home and community building must become a centre of learning.

26 June, The Congress of the People was convened in Kliptown near Soweto. 3000 delegates, including 320 Indians, 230 Coloureds and 112 Whites, adopted the Freedom Charter.

The government intensified its bannings. By the end of 1955, 48 ANC leaders were banned, including Mandela.

18 September, Members of the ANC, SACTU and the SACP meet at the Trades Hall, Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, to discuss the Freedom Charter and the way forward.

19-20 September, Police raid the homes of leading political activists across the country seizing papers, telegrams, typewriters, minutes and tape recorders.

27 October, Two thousand women of all races stage a march, co-ordinated by FEDSAW, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to deliver to protest passes for women.

December, Moses Kotane returns home to a welcome party of 400 at Jan Smuts Airport.

Evelyn Mandela gave her husband an ultimatum to choose between her or the ANC. She was also distressed about rumours that Mandela had relations with other women. In December, while Mandela was imprisoned for two weeks, she moved out of their home. He found the house empty when he was released on bail.

17-18 December, At the ANC’s annual conference the Africanist faction launches an attack on the Freedom Charter which accepts multi-racialism.


1956

African women are issued with reference books amid a storm of protest. The Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) was founded and women took to the centre stage in the resistance movement.

Mandela briefly returned to the Transkei with Walter Sisulu to buy land in Umtata near his birthplace, thereby fulfilling a promise he had made earlier.

16 March, The Riotous Assemblies Act No 17 is passed. In terms of this legislation, gatherings in open-air public places are prohibited if the Minister of Justice considered that they could endanger the public peace. Under this legislation, banishment was included as a form of punishment.

31 March – 1 April, The Freedom Charter is finally adopted by the ANC at a special conference in Orlando, Johannesburg, despite the disruptions and scuffle between ANC loyalists and Africanists.

13 April, Mandela wrote to the Minister of Justice asking why he had been served a banning order.

5 December, In the early hours of the morning, police raided and searched Mandela's house and arrested him. Mandela was among one-hundred and fifty-six Congress of the People leaders are arrested nationwide and charged with high treason. Among the accused is the left wing newspaper, the Guardian. All 156 were charged with high treason, thus beginning the infamous Treason Trial.Bram Fischer helps defend the leaders of the Anti-Apartheid movement during the trial, which lasts until 1961.

19 December, the Treason Trial prisoners were held in Johannesburg Prison and undergo a preparatory examination in Drill Hall. Mass protest erupted in reaction to the trial.

20 December, The Treason trialists are granted bail with the court proceedings set for January 1957.

Lilian Ngoyi becomes the first woman to be elected to the ANC’s NEC.


1957

9 January, The defence’s refutation at the Treason Trial began and was overseen by Vernon Berrangé.

28 January, Twelve police witnesses gives evidence dealing with the documents seized from ten accused, including Farid Adam and Mohammed Asmal during the Treason Trial.

29 January,  Sixteen policemen testify during the Treason Trial on documents seized from ten different accused, including Paul Joseph and A.M Kathrada and other banned members of the TIC and the its Youth Congress. Exhibit No. AMK 75 is a letter from A.M Kathrada declining invitation to attend a cocktail party at the Soviet Consulate because of his banning order.

28 May, Chief Albert Luthuli writes a letter, on behalf of the ANC, to Prime Minister J.C. Strijdom suggesting a multiracial convention to address the country’s problems.

17 December, After preliminary hearings the government drops charges against 73 of the Treason Trialists, including Chief Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo amongst others.

1958

February, A strike over wage increases (which had not been provided since 1951) by 3800 African workers erupts at the Amato Textile Mills, Benoni.

17 March, The ANC is banned in several rural districts.

16 April, White South Africans go to the polls in the second general election since 1948.

The Congress Alliance called for a national work stoppage or stay-away. Tension erupted within the African National Congress (ANC) when an Africanist faction within the Orlando branch of the organisation challenged the leadership for deviating from the 1949 Plan of Action, handing over initiative to non-Africans and participating in the Advisory Board elections.

June, Nelson Mandela married Nomzamo Winnifred Madikizela in Bizana.

3 September, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd assumes office as Prime Minister and leader of the National Party.

2 November, The Africanist faction tries to take charge of the ANC Transvaal Provincial Conference by packing it with people who are not accredited delegates. They submit a letter of disassociation from the ANC.

13-14 December, The first ANC annual conference after the Africanist breakaway in Durban emphasises unity in the movement.


1959

The ANC and PAC organised separate anti-pass campaigns.

Dr. H.F. Verwoerd announces the plan to remove all African repre­sentation in Parliament and moots the idea of independent 'homelands' for Blacks.

The ANC’s NEC sends a memorandum to the United Nations to back up the call for international sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime.

January, An interview with Robert Sobukwe entitled ‘Future of the African Movement’ appears in The Africanist.

4 February, Mandela and Winnie's first child, Zenani, was born.

4-6 April, Leaders such as Potlako Leballo, Zeph Mothopeng, Peter Raboroko and Josias Madzunya spearheaded the formation of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in Orlando.They elected Robert Sobukwe as their leader and Potlako Leballo as secretary.To read the PAC’s constitution click here.

19 June, The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act commences. This Act changed existing rural reserves into ‘self governing’ Bantustans according to ethnicity. Blacks were classified into eight different ethnic groups. Each Bantustan area was allocated a Commissioner General who was entrusted with overseeing development of the area into a self governing state.

16 December, The ANC hosts its last national conference before its banning.

Last updated : 25-Jul-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Apr-2011