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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO)

The Azanian People's Organisation was established in May 1978 to fill the vacuum left by the banning of numerous black consciousness movements in October 1977. Following its establishment Azapo could not immediately get off the ground. Most of the organisation's leaders were arrested shortly after the launch and even before a constitutional or launch conference could be held. Restrictive orders were served on the president and secretary when they were re-leased after six months' imprisonment.

On 30 September 1979 Azapo was established for a second time at a conference in Roodepoort, Transvaal. Curtis Nkondo, chairman of the Soweto Teachers' Action Committee, was elected president and George Wauchope, former leader of the Black People's Convention, became the publicity secretary. The organisation decided on the following broad aims:

To create a political awareness among black workers and to mobilize them by means of the philosophy of black consciousness. (For an over-view, see the Black Consciousness Movement, p 69, and the National Forum, p 140.)

     To fight for an education system which would fulfil the demands of the "Azanians".

To propagate and interpret religion as a liberation philosophy relevant to the black struggle.

To expose the injustices of the system and the exploitation of blacks.

To fight for the unity of the op-pressed in order to distribute the wealth and power among all the people of Africa.

The reference to Azania contained in Azapo's name is derived from the Azanian People's Manifesto drawn up in 1959 by the PAC. In 1965 the PAC adopted the name "Azania" for South Africa. The word is derived from the Greek "azainein", meaning "dry". Some 2 000 years ago the area south of Ethiopia was called "Ajan" or "Azania"; according to experts the term referred to the area stretching down the coast of East Africa, from Somalia to Kenya. The negative con-notation some people attach to the word may be inspired by the corrupt African kingdom named Azania in Evelyn Waugh's novel Black Mischief.

Nkondo was suspended from the national council of Azapo for incorrectly interpreting many of the organisation's policies. (He later be-came active in the UDF and National Education Crisis Committee.) He was succeeded as president by Nombulelu Melana. In contrast to other organisations, the leadership structures of Azapo function on relatively democratic terms. Numerous new presidents were democratically elected in the eighties. Early in 1990, Dr Itumeleng Mosala was elected president. The central committee wascomposed of Dr Nchaupe Mokoape, the vice president; Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, the general secretary; Strini Moodley, the publicity secretary; and Muntu Myeza, the project coordinator. Mosala, a professor of theology at the University of Cape Town, has been a member of the Black Consciousness Movement since 1971.

Mosala was succeeded as president by Pandelani Nefolovhodwe at an Azapo conference held in Langa, Cape Town, in December 1990. A former political detainee on Robben Island, 44-year-old Nefolovhodwe was also involved in the South African Students' Organisation in his youth and later made a name for him-self as trade union leader in Nactu.

Over the years Azapo has remained firmly rooted in the philosophy of black consciousness, although certain shifts in this philosophy have been introduced. Azapo is still the major exponent of black consciousness and consequently opposed to organisations supporting the Freedom Charter (the Charterist tradition). A general misconception holds that Azapo forms part of the PAC; in fact, it is not affiliated to the PAC, nor does its central committee have ties with the PAC. Azapo does, how-ever, see itself as the builder of bridges between the PAC and the ANC..There are closer ties between Azapo and the PAC than between Azapo and the ANC. This was demonstrated when Dikgang Moseneke, deputy president of the PAC, de-livered a message of support during the Azapo conference held in December 1990.

Besides its alleged strong support among black workers, Azapo is well supported by black intellectuals and academics. Over the years it has remained more dependent on the sup-port of intellectuals than of the masses; this possibly explains the strong ideological unity within the group.

Azapo is a fairly small organisation with branches countrywide. Its signed-up members number in the ten thousands, rather than in the hundred thousands. Its scope is further limited by a lack of funds. Membership fees and a small sum of money from abroad are annually supplemented by a donation from the South African Council of Churches. The organisation has little mass sup-port outside the PWV area and the Western Cape. Worker support through the National Council of Trade Unions is considerably less than the Charterist organisation receives from Cosatu.

Azapo consistently refused to participate in government-initiated structures such as local government bodies. It strongly supported a total overseas boycott of South Africa, and was at the forefront of a move to boycott performing artists. Azapo featured often during a visit by Sena-tor Edward Kennedy in 1985. The organisation met Kennedy, here at the invitation of the UDF, with pro-test marches; according to Azapo he was an imperialist. During this period members of the UDF and Azapo clashed on numerous occasions. Violence was prevented only through the mediation of Bishop Desmond Tutu.

As was the case with members of other resistance organisations, certain Azapo activists were restricted during the state of emergency. Azapo was one of 17 extra-parliamentary organisations which were effectively restricted in February 1988. At the time the Azanian Coordination Committee, formed in February 1988, continued the activities of Azapo and Azayo. It did not, however, replace these two organisations.

The liberalization of South African politics since the second half of 1989 and the lifting of restrictions in February 1990, also injected new life into Azapo's activities.

At a conference in March 1990 the organisation appealed to socialist groups to create a "socialist agenda" for liberation. The theme of the conference was "Reconstruction for a socialist Azania". The conference was attended by over 200 delegates and 7 000 interested parties. Unity among the different resistance organisations was stressed throughout the conference. Or as it was put: "Negotiations must take place between resistance organisations and not with the ruling class." These calls for cooperation stemmed in particular from the realization that the ongoing violence between ANC and Azapo supporters in areas such as Kroonstad, Bekkersdal and the Northern Transvaal could not continue. Discussions to end the inter-organisational violence have been held between Azapo and Nelson Mandela. Despite these attempts at cooperation, Azapo did not participate in the boycotts and stay-aways organised by the UDF and Cosatu.

At its annual conference in December 1990 Azapo showed no sign of deviating from its existing policy. The group is sceptical about the invitation to negotiate the future of South Africa. Instead it promises to intensify the struggle. Important conditions it has stipulated for participation are:

The election of a constituent assembly.

The solving of the "land issue".

The social liberation of blacks.

The restructuring of the economy.

Some Azapo supporters regard the stand adopted by the organisation on the establishment of a constituent assembly in particular, as too conservative. In December 1990 two senior members of Azapo, Imraan Moosa and Monwabisi Vuza, respectively chairman and secretary of Azapo in Durban, resigned from the organisation. They alleged that Azapo's views on negotiation were too similar to those of the ANC and PAC, and furthermore that the constituent assembly was "merely a ploy" which would bring in a new repressive ruling class. Their membership of Azapo was later denied. After their resignation they formed the Revolutionary People's Movement.

Youth organisations under the auspices of Azapo did not support theschool boycott actions of the UDF, and consistently dissociated them-selves from slogans like "liberation before education". Azapo rejected ANC proposals for an all-party conference and a patriotic front. This is indicative of Azapo's fear of becoming involved in a situation where it could be manipulated and of participating in issues with which it does not agree. Many youth organisations support the black consciousness philosophy without necessarily having formal ties with Azapo. The most important are:

Azanian Students' Organisation (Azaso), established in November 1979 by students of Fort Hare, Natal, Turfloop, Ngoya and Durban-Westville. After initial close ties with the black consciousness movement, Azaso broke with this philosophy in 1981. Instead it aligned itself with the working class as an instrument for the redistribution of power in South Africa. Azaso was disbanded in 1986 when it joined the Charterist group under the name of South African National Students' Congress (Sansco). At the time the organisation cooperated closely with the Congress of South African Students (Cosas). In August 1990 Azaso was reinstated at the Azasm congress with the aim of serving as a student youth organisation.

Azanian Students' Movement (Azasm), established in Pietersburg in July 1983. Azasm was in conflict with Azaso (later Sansco), in particular after the latter broke away from the black consciousness movement. Since the reinstatement of Azaso, Azasm has functioned only at primary and high school levels. qAzanian Youth Organisation (Azayo), established in June 1987 as a counterpart to the UDF-affiliated South African Youth Congress (Sayco).

Azanian Students' Convention (Azasco), which was formed primarily for tertiary students in September 1990 at the annual congress of Azasm. Xolani Kaloate, of the University of the Western Cape, was elected president.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.