A fateful year for the country

In February, British prime minister Harold Macmillan delivers his famous “Winds of Change” speech – critical of apartheid, and warning of the end of colonialism in Africa – in Parliament in Cape Town. Nine months later, white South Africans vote in a referendum on whether or not South Africa should become a republic. The issue is a divisive one, and the result is close: 52.3% vote for becoming a republic. Black South Africans reject the new republic as illegitimate without their participation in the referendum.

On 21 March, a protest march against the hated pass laws ends in the Sharpeville massacre, in which 69 people are gunned down by police. Seven weeks later the apartheid regime bans a range of left-wing and black liberation organisations, including the ANC, and ruthlessly works to suppress them. The bans will remain in force for 30 years.

Chief Albert Luthuli is ANC president at the time of Sharpeville. In this year, he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle against apartheid and his campaign for civil rights for the disenfranchised majority. A man of peace, he is deeply ambivalent about the need for an armed struggle which begins in 1961 under his tenure as ANC president.

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