In 1936 the government disenfranchised the only Africans who had had voting rights — those in Cape Province; in 1948 the Nationalist Party, in control of the government, adopted the policy of apartheid ( apartness); in the 1950s the laws known as the Pass Laws were tightened.
In 1944 Lutuli joined the African National Congress (ANC). In 1945 he was elected to the Committee of the KwaZulu Province Provincial Division of ANC and in 1951 to the presidency of the Division. The next year he joined with other ANC leaders in organizing nonviolent campaigns to defy discriminatory laws.
The government, charging Lutuli with a conflict of interest, demanded that he withdraw his membership in ANC or forfeit his office as tribal chief. Refusing to do either voluntarily, he was dismissed from his chieftainship.
A month later Lutuli was elected president-general of ANC, formally nominated by the future Pan Africanist Congress leader Potlako Leballo. Responding immediately, the government imposed a succession of bans on his movement, the first for two years, the second also for two years. When this second ban expired, he attended an ANC conference in 1956, only to be arrested and charged with treason a few months later, along with 155 others. After being held in custody for about a year during the preliminary hearings, he was released in December, 1957, and the charges against him and 64 others were dropped.