In the latter part of 1959, PAC membership was still below expectations, and it became clear to the leadership that the movement would have to produce some concrete results if it vented to hold and increase its following. When the national executive committee convened in Bloemfontein in September, it decided to propose an anti-pass campaign for ratification by the organisation's first annual conference in December.

The conference met in an atmosphere of anticipation. PAC headquarters had announced that plans for "positive action" would be drawn up, and the Golden City Post had mooted that the PAC was preparing to unveil a master plan for liberation. The executive committee's report betrayed a certain pessimism about the movement's organizational efforts, but echoing Leballo's characteristic optimism, it assured the delegates that they had come together with "one aim in view-to take pos­itive steps to crush, once and for all, White colonialism and imperialism in our Fatherland." When delegates complained that the organisation had been taking too soft a position on action, Sobukwe called for the conference to give the executive a mandate to launch an anti-pass campaign. The response as PAC leaders had anticipated, was unanimously favorable. The movement, declared Sobukwe, was about to "cross its historical Rubicon"

Sensing that there was a "do or die" spirit among many of its youthful followers, and that the mood of the country might be favorable, the PAC by early 1960 was asserting, first, that many people had taken its message of nationalism to heart and, second, that many more were ready to follow any clear, determined initiative taken by a bold leadership. This second assertion was a significant one, for it indicated the importance the concept of heroic leadership had assumed in the PAC's outlook. As we have seen, the Africanists, and the early Youth League before them, believed that the African rank and file were politically more advanced than their leaders. The history of the ANC, the PAC alleged, was studded with evidence that leaders hung back at times when the masses were prepared to forge ahead and make sacrifices. If the people had become disillusioned with the ANC by the late 1950s, the PAC claimed, it was because they had seen time and again how the people, at the urging of their leaders, had borne the brunt of government action and suffered imprisonment while their leaders hired lawyers, paid fines, and went free on bail. Dr. Moroka's embarrassing attempts to obtain clemency for himself after his arrest in the Defiance Campaign were frequently recalled as the most egregious example of this "betrayal" by African leadership, but the PAC alleged that there was a pattern of such avoidance of suffering among the ANC's leaders generally. "No bail, no defence, no fine" would be the slogan under which the PAC's leaders would launch their campaign, Sobukwe told a PAC conference in May 1959. Leaders would inspire the masses with their heroic example of self-sacrifice. Given such a courageous lead and spirit of martyrdom, the PAC was confident, the masses too would be imbued with a willingness to suffer and sacrifice for the cause of liberation.

Africanist leaders recognized that they were launching a gamble, but sensed that time might be running out for Africans in their race against a government whose unconcealed intention was to perfect counter­revolutionary controls. They felt that there was at least a chance that the time was ripe for confrontation, and that determined action by the vanguard of politically conscious Africans might snowball and draw the masses into an unfolding campaign of widespread noncooperation. The pass laws and the whole exploitive and humiliating system of labor control which these laws facilitated were universally resented, and this resentment seemed to be intensifying.

In addition, a series of events early in 1960 appeared to shake the government, in some respects, and put it on the defensive. Momentum had begun to gather internationally for a boycott of South African goods. The British prime minister Harold Macmillan, in a speech before Parliament in Cape Town on February 3,1960, goaded the Nationalist Party by criticizing apartheid and proclaiming that "winds of change" were sweeping through Africa. The week before Macmillan's speech, African women Cato Manor in Durban, protesting against police raids for illegal liquor, had sparked a riot in which nine policemen had been murdered by an angry mob. And in Pondoland in the eastern Transkei, resentment against the imposition of Bantu Authorities touched off a series of fierce reprisals by Africans against government collaborators in early 1960. Even within the ranks of the ANC it seemed as though pressure for action was mounting, for at its December 1959 conference delegates had called for bolder action and had chided the ANC executive for its cautious leadership.

In February 1960, Sobukwe, Leballo, and Howard Ngcobo, a PAC executive committee member from Durban, drove to Cape Province to assess the state of the PAC's organization there and to lay plans for the anti-pass campaign. Ngendane joined the group in Cape Town, and Elliot Mfaxa, the party's national organizer, accompanied them as they touched centers of PAC activity in the eastern Cape. In Port Elizabeth and other urban areas where support for the ANC was traditionally strong, popular interest in the touring Africanist delegation was meager. In Cape Town, however, where the ANC was relatively weak and had made little effort in the 1950s to address itself to the grievances of the city's many migrant and semi-urbanized workers, the PAC leaders were enthusiastically received. A crowd of about 2,000 assembled to hear Sobukwe speak at Langa township on February 14. The PAC was guiding Africans toward the creation of a New Africa, Sobukwe told his audience. The first targets in its unfolding program were abolition of the pass laws and the achievement of a guaranteed minimum wage of £35 ($98) a month for all Africans. African men were to prepare themselves, he said, to receive the call from national headquarters. When the call came, all were to leave their passes at home and surrender for arrest at their local police stations; no one was to resort to violence or to let himself be provoked by police or agents provocateurs .

The final aims of the campaign were left somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, passes and low wages were singled out as the chief grievances of Africans. On the other hand, there was a strong suggestion in all PAC pronouncements that the campaign would' not ultimately confine itself to these issues alone: rather, it would be the first step in a rapid march to total freedom. The PAC opposed every piece of the government's apartheid legislation, Sobukwe often told his audiences, but when a man's house was flooding, the solution was not to try to throw the water outside; instead, the PAC aimed at "closing the tap from which all this vile legislation flows, and it would not rest until all white rule was overthrown.

The problems the PAC might face once it had been decapitated by arrests were the cause of some concern to the organisation's leaders, but they did not allow this concern to dissuade them from the course they had set for themselves. With some degree of foresight, they formulated a plan according to which subordinate "layers" of leadership within each region would be chosen and trained so that another set of leaders could come forward when top men were jailed. In practice, however, implementation of this plan had not progressed very far at the time of the March 1960 launching.

Over the doubts of some of the PAC's most influential supporters, including Jordan Ngubane and A. P. Mda, Sobukwe and Leballo pressed forward with plans to launch the campaign in early 1960. The ANC at its December 1959 conference had resolved to launch an anti-pass campaign of its own with March 31 as the date for its initial action. Its campaign was to begin with the sending of deputations to local authorities and Bantu Affairs commissioners throughout the country to demand abolition of the pass laws. The PAC, its national working committee felt, would have to launch its campaign before the 31st if it hoped to seize the initiative and set the tone of resolute action. The choice of an exact starting date was left to Sobukwe.

On March 4, Sobukwe sent his final instructions for the campaign to all branches and regional executives of the PAC. The people were to be instructed to observe the rules of strict nonviolence; no one was to resort to violence and emotionalism in the belief that the PAC was trying to engage in "revolutionary warfare." In a somewhat different vein, a party flyer issued at about the same time declared that the pass laws had to be "blown to oblivion this year, now and for ever".

0n Wednesday, March 16, Sobukwe wrote to Major-General Rademeyer, Commissioner of Police, to inform him that the PAC would begin "a sustained, disciplined, nonviolent campaign" and its members would surrender themselves for arrest on Monday, March 21. Warning of "trigger-happy, African-hating" police officers, he assured Rademeyer that the people would disperse if the police gave them clear orders and adequate time to do so.

On Friday, March 18, Sobukwe announced at a press conference in Johannesburg that the campaign would begin on the following Monday. PAC circulars announcing the launching date were already in the streets. "I have appealed to the African people," Sobukwe told the press, "to make sure that this campaign is conducted in a spirit of absolute nonviolence, and I am quite certain they will heed my call. . . . If the other side so desires," he went on, sounding a prophetic note, "we will provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how brutal they can be. We are ready to die for our cause. ..."

On Saturday March 19, a conference of FOFATUSA delegates met in Johannesburg resolved unanimously to strike in support of the PAC campaign, on the following day the Sunday Times reported the response of the ANC to an invitation from the PAC to join the campaign on March 21. A letter from Duma Nokwe stated that the ANC was unwilling to support action which had "not been properly prepared for, and which has no reasonable prospects of success''; it would carry on instead with its own program of action against passes. Unmoved by this rebuff, PAC leaders geared themselves for Monday morning. On Sunday, March 20, on instructions from Sobukwe, two members of the movement's national executive committee, Nana Mahomo and Peter 'Molotsi, slipped across the Bechuanaland border to carry abroad the case for the PAC's action.


Karis, T. & Gerhart, G. (1977). From Protest to Challenge: A documentary History of African politics in South Africa, 1882-1964, Vol.3: Challenge and Violence 1953-1964, Hoover Institution: Stanford University

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