Probably the closest Nelson Mandela came to showing any propensity for violence prior to forming Umkhonto we Sizwe, was in bouts of stick-fighting as a young boy in rural Transkei. This was hardly likely to prepare him for his future as a violent revolutionary.
The ANC had, since its inception in 1912, adopted a strict policy of non-violence. In this they used Mahatma Ghandi, and his peaceful protests against discrimination under British ruled SA from 1893 – 1913, as their role model.
However after the Treason Trial ended in 1964, and tanks rumbled through the townships ahead of the May 29 stay-away, Mandela began to push the reluctant ANC towards abandoning non-violence. He had started the debate as early as 1952, but now was determined that it should be finalized. He told the NEC that he believed that non-violence was a tactic that should be abandoned when it no longer worked, and that the people were ahead of the ANC:
“If we did not take the lead now, we would soon be latecomers to a movement we did not control.”
THE ANC GIVES IN
Chief Luthuli eventually relented. He proposed that a military movement should be a separate and independent organ, under the control of the ANC, but autonomous. Persuading the Indian Congress was, however, an even more difficult nut to crack. In a meeting that went on throughout the night, JN Singh told the joint executive that ‘non-violence has not failed us – we have failed non-violence’. Mandela disagreed. Finally, towards dawn, there was a resolution: the official ANC policy would still be that of non-violence, while Mandela was authorized to go ahead and form a separate military wing: Umkhonto we Sizwe – The Spear of the Nation.
It had taken the ANC 50 years to come to this point; and it took another 30 years of the armed struggle to bring democracy to South Africa.
Approximately 7 000 deaths occurred during the period 1948 to 1990, when Mandela was released. From 1990 to 1994 there were 14 000 deaths.
Why did the ANC hang on to non-violence so grimly, when violent revolution had been the order of the day in Africa for decades?
Who was right – Mandela, or Ghandi?
What might have happened had the ANC not pursued the armed struggle?