Eight narrative units arranged chronologically form the backbone of this site. Units 3 through 7 contain the greatest wealth of material, focusing on apartheid (Unit 3), the struggle against apartheid (Units 4 and 5), negotiations (Unit 6), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Unit 7). All resources can be accessed from these units. Also, a full list of Units, Essays, and Multimedia Pages appears in Contents.
Apartheid describes a system of racist laws and policies of total segregation in South Africa that began in 1948, when the National Party came to power, and ended in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected President in the first democratic elections. This unit briefly summarizes the region's pre-colonial past and its connections to world history. It describes South Africa's diversity and highlights how African societies underwent important transformations before the arrival of European colonizers in 1652.
This unit explores the history of South Africa from the colonial occupation of the Cape in 1652 through the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the segregation period (1910-1948). The emphasis is on patterns of economic and political transformation and how racism and segregation increasingly restricted the lives of black South Africans. Topics include: slavery at the Cape; the mineral revolution caused by the discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886); loss of African independence and the South African War (1899-1902); the creation of the Union of South Africa (1910) which enforced racial separation in economy and society and promulgated an ideology of white supremacy before the advent of apartheid.
This unit examines the rise of apartheid and its subsequent development. In 1948 the Afrikaner ethnic nationalist Reunited National Party (renamed National Party in 1951) won a national election on a racist platform of total segregation under the slogan of "apartheid" - or "apartness" in the Afrikaans language. Apartheid built upon earlier laws, but made segregation more rigid enforced it far more aggressively. With the support of big business and other white interest groups, the state signifcantly extended its power and control. Apartheid led to a systematic and profound deterioration of the position of black people in South Africa for the next four decades.
This section investigates the activities of twentieth-century political movements and individuals who fought for freedom, democracy, and equal rights in a racist South Africa. It charts the rise of the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, and the Communist Party of South Africa and their adoption of polite constitutional protest tactics before the 1940s. After 1948, the liberation struggle gained mass support at home and abroad; a powerful leadership propelled the movement's growth as tactics changed from polite protest to direct challenges to apartheid guided by the principle of "one person, one vote." Brutal government repression resulted in the banning of the main liberation organizations and to the arrest of Nelson Mandela and many other leaders; others fled into exile. A decade of relative quiescence followed.
After a decade of relative quiescence due to the government crackdown on liberation movements in the early 1960s, black workers and students reignited resistance against apartheid in the 1970s. The apartheid regime responded with a mix of harsh repression and modest reforms inside South Africa and violent attacks on the liberation movements and their allies outside the country. Yet a combination of growing protest, international support, and significant changes in the political context of the region changed the balance of power by 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and negotiations for a new democratic South Africa began in earnest.
The final stage of apartheid's demise happened so quickly as to have taken many people in South Africa and throughout the world by surprise. As the Cold War ended, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990 and the ban of the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements was lifted, thus leading to political negotiations out of which emerged a democratic constitution and the first free election in the country's history. The final transfer of power was remarkably peaceful; it is often is described as a "miracle" because many thought that South Africa would erupt into violent civil war. But democracy did not emerge spontaneously; it had to be built laboriously, brick by brick.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was almost certainly the most extensive investigation into past human rights abuses the world has known. It was more successful than other truth commissions, for example in Chile or Guatemala, and often is seen as a model of effective conflict resolution. A product of political compromise and of South Africa's need for political stability, the TRC helped reveal the worst excesses of apartheid and its lessons to the world for conflict resolution were profound. Despite its shortcomings, the TRC process had a cathartic effect that enabled the country to transcend the violence and acrimony of the apartheid years.
After almost two decades of freedom, South Africa's democracy is a work-in-progress. Economic growth, a stable currency, and the respect of international financial institutions has come at the cost of jobs and wealth redistribution. While the government has built many houses, it has been unable to meet demand. Land redistribution stands at less than 5 percent, well short of the ANC's targets. The government made some serious mistakes, as in the case of HIV-AIDS policy. Also, corruption is an increasingly serious concern. On the other hand, South Africa has achieved impressive gains in a relatively short time. Basic services now reach millions of people previously denied access to them, and the government has established a progressive constitutional democracy, maintained peace, and fostered unity and reconciliation in a divided society.