Social change normally is the result of an accumulation of forces, and this was the case with the ending of apartheid in South Africa. Of course, the most significant force for change were the many South Africans who organized against the minority regime or refused to comply with its myriad oppressive laws, using a changing combination of tactics over time. International allies supported the South African struggle for freedom and democracy, as people around the world responded to the Defiance Campaign in the 1950s; the Sharpeville Massacre, banning of the African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress, and Rivonia Trial in the 1960s; the student uprising in the mid-1970s; the death of Steve Biko and banning of Black Consciousness Movement organizations in 1977; and the formation of the United Democratic Front, the increased state violence during State of Emergency, and the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners in the 1980s.
Support from the African frontline states was crucial, and it came at great human and economic costs. The Soviet Union and Cuba provided support for the armed struggle, after the liberation movements’ requests for assistance from the West were rejected by the United States and other governments that saw white-controlled South Africa as a Cold War ally and a source of strategic minerals. Scandinavian countries provided considerable support to the freedom movement. And anti-apartheid movements in Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand took action in many arenas – lobbying their governments for sanctions against South Africa, conducting sports and cultural boycotts, and mobilizing direct support for the liberation movements. The U.S. Congress’ adoption of economic sanctions over President Ronald Reagan’s veto in 1986 was an important signal to the apartheid government that it could no longer rely on support from the West and it should begin negotiations with the liberation movements.