The End of Apartheid

685 words | 3 page(s)

South Africa is known to have one of the most stable and reliable economies in Africa. Its fiscal and banking policies are admired globally. Throughout much of the twentieth century, however, South Africa was noted internationally for something an entirely different policy: apartheid. This was governmentally institutionalized and enforced segregation, which worked to the advantage of the minority white population and inflicted violently repressive restrictions upon the remaining 80% of the population, mostly blacks. Although officially declared in 1948 when the National Party took control of the government, early Dutch and later British colonial powers had begun separation of races in South Africa centuries earlier.

Racist policies advocated by NP leader Dr. D.F. Malan, began with restrictions on interracial marriage, then sex, the requirement for racial identification cards, and eventually a reference book. Failure to carry the book resulted in imprisonment or fines. Apartheid enacted segregation in virtually all areas of life, including housing areas (called homelands, to which many were forcibly relocated), public transportation, schools, restaurants, “even doors, benches, and counters” (Evans, 2015). What existed openly for nearly half a century, and was reviled by human rights organizations and activists throughout the world, however, ended fairly abruptly and with little violence, in 1994. A mixture of world events and purposeful leaders coincided at just the right time to end this unjust policy with little fanfare, and to the relief of many, both within and without South Africa.

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One of the leading forces contributing to the end of apartheid was Nelson R. Mandela. A trained lawyer and activist against racial segregation, Mandela helped organize protests and even violent displays throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. At first working through the African National Congress (ANC) to negotiate apartheid’s repeal, he later formed its militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, which endorsed violent resistance as a last resort (Adeleke, 2015). Soon thereafter, Mandela was arrested for illegally leaving the country; later charges against him and many of his associates were raised to treason and inciting riots, and they were sentenced to prison for life. Other leaders of the ANC fled the country and continued to push for international support against apartheid. Mandela himself became a unifying symbol of the fight against apartheid, and his stature increased with the length of his incarceration. Finally, after secret negotiations, in 1990 South African leader President F. W. de Klerk released Mandela and lifted the ban on the ANC.

International events contributed to de Klerk’s willingness to reverse his country’s segregationist policies. The end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union decreased the role of Communism in the region. South African troops suffered defeat at the hands of the Angolans, “undermining the confidence of white South Africans that they could hold on to power indefinitely” (AODL, 2015, p. 4). With shifting power blocs also came increased economic and social pressure on the country, including boycotts and exclusion from such international events as the Olympics. Black labor unions became increasingly powerful, as did the United Democratic Front, an anti-apartheid collection of many organizations and institutions. All of these factors converged around the time of Mandela’s release.

In addition to events, the participants in the ending of apartheid were key. Along with Mandela and de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, stood Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, churchman Beyers Naude, negotiators Cyril Ramaphosa, Rolf Meyer, politician Thabo Mkeki and Communist leader Joe Slavo. These leaders were all able to ensure acceptance by their constituencies of the anti-apartheid agreement. Indeed, the South African people may have surprised even themselves by how tired they were of strife and the facility with which an agreement was reached (AODL, 2015, p. 1). Slowly a democratic constitution was written, and Mandela served as the first President in the nation after apartheid’s abolition.

  • Adeleke, T. (2015). “Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla.” Iowa State University. Retrieved from
  • AODL. (2015). “The End of Apartheid and the Birth of Democracy.” Michigan State Univ. Retrieved from
  • Evans, M. (2015). “Apartheid.” University of Seattle. Retrieved from

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