The 1949 ANC Programme of Action

Today marks exactly 68 years since the ANC adopted the Programme of Action.

In 1943, during World War II, young members of the ANC, critical of what they considered the passivity of the ANC, formed their own organization, the Congress Youth League (CYL). Overcoming the opposition of ANC president Alfred Xuma, the CYL succeeded in 1949 in electing James Moroka to the presidency, seating three CYL members (Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela ) on the party’s national executive body, and in persuading the congress formally to adopt the Program of Action. The Youth League put pressure on the ANC leadership to adopt the Programme which included mass resistance tactics such as boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and non-co-operation. It also stressed the need to organize African Workers into unions.

Anton Lembede. Founding President of the ANC Youth League.

This was to be a more radical approach to resistance, as they shunned the traditional moderate stance of ANC leaders like Xuma who believed in appealing to the conscience and common sense of the oppressive regime. This shift was especially necessary after 1948 when the National Party (NP) was voted into power by the white electorate and began implementing strict apartheid measures. The Programme of Action laid the foundation for a new era of active resistance in the form of the Defiance Campaign of 1952, anti-pass campaigns and acts of civil disobedience.


‘African National Congress Youth League.’ (ANCYL)

‘The Congress Youth League and the Programme of Action.’