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Pan Africanist Congress of Azania

Pan Africanist Congress 2008 Commemoration of the 32nd Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising
Pan Africanist Congress 2008 Commemoration
of the 32nd Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was officially established on April 5-6, 1959 with the goal of ending white domination in South Africa and returning the land to its original and rightful owners.  The PAC came into being after a group of African National Congress (ANC) members began to formulate different goals for the Congress.  These individuals, who became known as the Africanists, had been trying to influence the leaders within the ANC on various issues such as curbing their “communist” way of operating.  

Their most significant grievance was the ANC's adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 which envisioned a multi-racial democracy in South Africa.  The members of the ANC who supported the charter were labeled as Charterists.  The Africanists, however, felt that the Charter should exclude any concern for whites.  The Charter, for example, claimed that the land should be available to all, which to Africanists, was in direct conflict with the idea that the ANC initially represented.  As different viewpoints became more embedded within the ANC, the Africanists led a walkout during the Congress's annual conference in December 1958 and five months later formed the Pan Africanist Congress.   

At its first national conference in December 1959 in Johannesburg, the PAC elected Mangaliso Sobukwe as its first president.  That conference also announced that there were 153 branches and 31,035 members nationwide.  The foundational difference between the two groups rested in the fact that the PAC’s sole interest was in the African, which was reflected in one of their slogans, “Africa for Africans.”  

After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the PAC was banned by the South African government through the Unlawful Organizations Bill on April 8, 1960, for its involvement in the demonstration.  After it was banned, many of the members who were not imprisoned took part in violent resistance, which up until then had not occurred and the organization itself went underground.  The PAC became legal again in 1990, adopting the name, Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, their term for South Africa.  Four years later it took part in South Africa’s first multiracial elections, winning five seats in the National Assembly.                     

Mokgethi Motlhabi, Challenge to Apartheid: Toward a Moral National Resistance (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmann's Publishing Company, 1988); “Pan-Africanist Congress," A Dictionary of World History, 2000, 3 Mar. 2009.

Evans, Marissa K.
University of Washington, Seattle

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