The Anti-Apartheid Movement of South Africa

South Africa has a long history of racial discrimination.

By Author  |  Published: 28th Jul 2020  7:19 pm

Anti-apartheid movement of South Africa brought about the end of a racially-dominated government where non-whites had fewer rights and privileges than all others.  

South Africa has a long history of racial discrimination. When the Dutch built the first colony hundreds of years ago, they used native black people as slaves. When South Africa became an independent country, they began to hold elections. In 1948, in an all-white election, a political party took power that began to create separate law and systems of rights for whites and blacks, creating the apartheid government. 

The non-whites living in Africa didn’t like these laws. Internationally, the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), a British organization, was founded in 1960 with the goal of eliminating the discrimination.

Opposition to Apartheid

Resistance to apartheid within South Africa took many forms over the years, from non-violent demonstrations, protests and strikes to political action and eventually to armed resistance. 

Together with the South Indian National Congress, the ANC organized a mass meeting in 1952, during which attendees burned their pass books. A group calling itself the Congress of the People adopted a Freedom Charter in 1955 asserting that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white.” The government arrested 150 people, charging them with high treason.

In 1960, at the black township of Sharpesville, the police opened fire on a group of unarmed blacks associated with the Pan-African Congress (PAC), an offshoot of the ANC. The group had arrived at the police station without passes, inviting arrest as an act of resistance. At least 67 blacks were killed and more than 180 wounded. 

  • Sharpesville convinced many anti-apartheid leaders that they could not achieve their objectives by peaceful means, and both the PAC and ANC established military wings. By 1961, most resistance leaders had been captured and sentenced to long prison terms or executed. 
  • Nelson Mandela, a founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), the military wing of the ANC, was incarcerated from 1963 to 1990; his imprisonment would draw international attention and help garner support for the anti-apartheid cause.
  • On June 10, 1980, his followers smuggled a letter from Mandela in prison and made it public: “UNITE! MOBILISE! FIGHT ON! BETWEEN THE ANVIL OF UNITED MASS ACTION AND THE HAMMER OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE WE SHALL CRUSH APARTHEID!”.

International pressure

The United Nations General Assembly had denounced apartheid in 1973, and in 1976 the UN Security Council voted to impose a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985, the United Kingdom and United States imposed economic sanctions on the country.

Under pressure from the international community, the National Party government of Pieter Botha sought to institute some reforms. The reforms fell short of any substantive change, however, and by 1989 Botha was pressured to step aside in favor of F.W. de Klerk. 

De Klerk’s government subsequently repealed the Population Registration Act, as well as most of the other legislation that formed the legal basis for apartheid. De Klerk freed Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990. A new constitution, which enfranchised blacks and other racial groups, took effect in 1994, and elections that year led to a coalition government with a nonwhite majority, marking the official end of the apartheid system.

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