Walter Sisulu fellow Robben Island prisoners and the Hon. Justice Langa at his home in Johannesburg in June 2002. ( L to R) Ahmed Kathrada, George Bizos, Saeed Cachalia, Walter Sisulu, Dr Matseke (physician) the hon. Justice Langa and Mac Maharaj. Picture: TJ Lemon
Walter Sisulu fellow Robben Island prisoners and the Hon. Justice Langa at his home in Johannesburg in June 2002. ( L to R) Ahmed Kathrada, George Bizos, Saeed Cachalia, Walter Sisulu, Dr Matseke (physician) the hon. Justice Langa and Mac Maharaj. Picture: TJ Lemon

#ANC107: A brief history of Africa's oldest liberation movement

By Lou-Anne Daniels Time of article published Jan 8, 2019

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Cape Town - As the African National Congress celebrates its 107th anniversary, we look at some of the pivotal moments in the history of Africa's oldest liberation movement.


Josiah Gumede, John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, and Sol Plaatje founded the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in Bloemfontein on 8 January 1912.


The organisation was renamed the ANC.


Anton Lembede started the ANC Youth League to facilitate non-violent mass action against the apartheid regime.


The ANC saw a rise in membership after the National Party came into power, and quickly realised the need for a strong leadership.  Former ANCYL leaders Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo are elected to the party's top leadership structures in December 1949. 

Faced with the enactment of a host of apartheid laws, the party abandons its moderate approach.

Between 1948 and 1952 the ANC, along with other anti-apartheid organisations, embarked on the Defiance Campaign.  More than 8 000 people were arrested for defying the National Party government's discriminatory laws.

A picture taken by Jurgen Schadeberg on October 13, 1958, shows Nelson Mandela, right, and Moses Kotane, left, leaving court, is seen hanging in his room at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. File picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

The Congress of the People, organised by the ANC and other organisations, adopt the Freedom Charter in June.


On 21 March police opened fire on a group of protesters in Sharpeville, killing 69 people and injuring 180 others. The Sharpeville Massacre became the catalyst for a more radical approach to protesting the unjust apartheid regime. The ANC realised that non-violent resistance to apartheid is no longer an option.

Between 1960 and 1990 the ANC was banned by the apartheid government, forcing its leaders into exile. The party continued to functions, and organise, covertly inside the country.

A 1990 picture of former Robben Island inmate and struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada. Picture: Ken Oosterbroek/Independent Media

The ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), was formed to sabotage government operations.  Nelson Mandela was chosen as MK's first leader.


Mandela is arrested and put on trial for treason, along with Lionel Bernstein,  Denis Goldberg,  Arthur Goldreich,  James Kantor,  Ahmed Kathrada,  Govan Mbeki,  Raymond Mhlaba,  Andrew Mlangeni,  Elias Motsoaledi,  Walter Sisulu and  Harold Wolpe. Mandela's co-accused had been arrested during a raid on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia.


The Rivonia treason trialists are sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.


Winnie Mandela, the wife of imprisoned Rivonia trialist Nelson Mandela, was placed under house arrest.  Meanwhile, Govan Mbeki's son Thabo and Walter and Albertina Sisulu's son Max were  sent to the Soviet  Union for political training.

Rivonia trialists Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg sit in the same courtroom where their treason trial took place at the Palace of Justice in March 2016. Picture: Masi Losi/African News Agency (ANA)


Across South Africa, a wave of protests sees university students mobilise under the banner of the ANC and the Black Consciousness movement.

1976 to 1979

ANC operatives continue targetting apartheid institutions with hundreds of bombings while thousands of protesters are detained as South Africa descends into a state of civil war.

1980s and 1990s

The ANC embarks on a campaign of targeted attacks against the apartheid regime. This includes both bombing state institutions and targeted killings.

The apartheid government retaliates by targeting ANC members in exile through parcel and letter bombs which claim the lives of, among others, Ruth First and Dulcie September.

Meanwhile, inside South Africa the campaign to render the country ungovernable gains traction with mass protests which are violently suppressed.

The rise of kangaroo courts and mob justice to deal with dissenters and government informers sees scores of people necklaced in townships across the country,

As the violence inside the country escalated, the National Party government found itself facing increasing pressure from the international community and it begins talks with the ANC on a way forward.


On 2 February, President FW De Klerk unbanned the ANC and on 11 February Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years of his life sentence.


The ANC contested the first democratic general election and Nelson Mandela became SA's first black president.


The Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP started taking strain as the party embarked on radical economic policies, including Black Economic Empowerment.


The ANC contested national elections in a voluntary coalition with the New National Party, which was the successor to the apartheid-era National Party.


The ANC was plunged into crisis after ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption as well as rape. He was acquitted of rape and the corruption charges were also shelved.


Jacob Zuma was chosen as the new ANC president after a bruising election battle with outgoing ANC president Thabo Mbeki which culminated in Mbeki's public humiliation at the ANC's elective conference in Polokwane. 

2008 - 2016 

The rift between the ANC and its alliance partners widened as a scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma asserted his authority on the ruling party.  The ensuing years saw the ruling party beset by infighting and accusations of corruption. The party's support dwindled dramatically as supporters became disillusioned.

2017 - 2018

Jacob Zuma was replaced as ANC president by Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's elective conference in Gauteng in December 2017. The party, which was preparing for the 2019 general elections saw a resurgence of support as "Ramaphoria" swept through South Africa.


The ANC celebrates its 107th birthday just months before the country goes to the polls for its fifth democratic general election.


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